The clock ticked down, nearing the hour. Our gillnetter, the FV New Life rose and fell with the swells, drifting with the tide, the 3208 turbo Cat engine idling. In the pilot house I discussed alternatives with Keith, my partner in our commercial salmon fishing business. Out on the famed Bristol Bay grounds, site of the world’s greatest red salmon fishery, with time approaching a big opener, we tried to guess where the fish might be concentrated.
Full partners, Keith and I alternated year by year skippering the boat and running the operation. Though we discussed such major decisions as where to set on this opener, this was my year and the final call would be mine. I prayed for guidance as fervently as I knew how. “God, where, in all this vast expanse of water, should I point our bow to position us in front of the densest schools?” There were fish moving out there somewhere in net-sinking masses, but where?
Iditarod Central recently requested all official finishers to contribute a thumbnail of their experience. Submissions will be published as part of the Forty Years of Iditarod History celebration. I sent this:
By definition, “adventure” involves a bold undertaking featuring hazard, risk, and an unknown outcome. Beyond question the trailblazing race qualified far beyond any other as the most daring Iditarod adventure of all time. Thirty-four intrepid men rose to the irresistible challenge. Their headlong plunge into the unknown would test an incredible new concept in sled dog racing, a contest so novel and extravagant in all its facets that few believed something so audacious could be brought off.
The Iditarod had one unique chance and one only. It was, truly, in that very year of 1973, make or break, do or die. Would it ascend to heights of glorious success and international renown? Or would it go down to the grave in ignominious death, never to be heard from again? Not only out on the trail, but back at race headquarters (where major logistical failures were being dealt with on the fly and the failure to secure the promised prize money had organizers utterly panicked, as the racers were already in the Alaska Range) the race and its hoped-for tomorrows truly hung in the balance.