Mike Williams Jr. is showing into Takotna (11:30pm) while Pete is just around the bend from McGrath. I fully expect Pete to push on through the night to the waiting hospitality in Takotna. (And the lack of Press, People, and Noise) Time to settle in for a short winter nap!!
The Pies are waiting!! Most of the front runners are taking their 24′s in Takotna, “the Spa of the Iditarod Trail.” Steak dinners for the mushers and a lunch bag for every musher on the way out. Now that’s Bush hospitality!!
Zuma’s Paw Prints– The trail used by Iditarod that runs from McGrath to Takotna (tuh-KOTT-nuh) is a well traveled snowmachine route. The 18 mile distance can be covered in two to three hours. At night or on cold days, the route is generally fast but on warm days, the path can be slow. Most of the distance runs either on or along the the Kuskokwim and Takotna Rivers.
Takotna, as a checkpoint, is known for its hospitality and has been called the “friendliest little checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail.” The checkpoint is located in the community center. which overlooks the Takotna River. The food is plentiful and delicious. Every musher is treated to moose steak, fresh fruit, lettuce salad and for dessert there is an abundant choice of pies and cakes. Its no wonder that mushers like to take their 24 hour rest here – delicious food and friendly folks. Takotna is a lot quieter than other checkpoints as there isn’t lodging for reporters so they tend to congregate at McGrath and move further up the trail. Now with the Iditarod Air Force – that’s a different story. If a plane happens to be heading back to McGrath for fuel or lodging, the pilot often sets down on the frozen river in front of the checkpoint and enjoys some of the famous Takotna food, especially the pie.
The village has 55 residents. It’s a big deal when Iditarod comes through – everyone needs to help. Folks from the lower 48 who have relatives in Takotna head to the little village to share in the work load. The school children are on vacation so they can help. The checkpoint is manned day and night by residents, friends and relatives in 12 hour shifts. Handler worked with school children who were on the 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. cleanup crew. When a musher left, the children would rake up the left over straw, food and poop then bag it. Another crew would work from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Takotna is an amazing place and Iditarod is truly a labor of love.
Takotna is known for its cold winters and cool summers. On Average, temperatures range from -42°F to zero degrees in the winter and between 42 and 80°F in the summer. Precipitation would be very similar to McGrath with 10 inches of rainfall including around 7 feet of snow. The river is frozen from November through May. The community has electricity. The school and community center have running water and flush toilets. Water is hauled from the waterworks for home use and honey buckets and outhouses are used for sewage disposal. Travelers come and go from the village by either plane or boat. The local road system covers about 15 miles including a road that climbs to the airstrip located high above the village. Handler made the 1.5 mile trek up to the airstrip and was treated to a distant but breath taking view of Denali.
The population of the community is a mixed group of non-Natives, Ingalik Athabascans and Eskimos. Some residents have jobs with the school district, post office, health clinic or local businesses like the small grocery store or seasonal construction companies. A great majority of the area residents rely on moose, salmon, gardens and wild berry crops as food sources. Take a close look at this picture of the inside of the checkpoint. What items do you see that also appear on your table at home? Think about this – this tiny village is in the interior bush of Alaska – accessible only by plane or boat – they hunt and fish for most of their meat – yet we have many things in common.
Now for a little history that Handler and I learned from the Alaska Community Data Base. Over the years, Takotna has been known as Berry Landing, Portage City, Takotna City, Takotna Station and Tocotna. In 1908 after gold was discovered in the Innoko District, Arthur Berry was hired to bring supplies up the river. The village was founded at the spot where the river became too shallow for Berry’s sternwheeler to continue. The village prospered during the gold rush having several commercial companies and roadhouses as well as a post office, radio station and news paper. The water level changed from year to year and so it was not always possible to get supplies to Takotna thus a landing was established further down river. Later in the 1930’s mining activity declined, the Alaska Commercial Company closed the store and McGrath became the supply hub for the area.