Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ravens and Food Drops

To the Native Alaskans the Raven holds a special place in their traditions – many consider the Raven as the Creator of the world, the nurturer of the first man. To all he is a trickster, a shape changer.

To modern man the Raven is a P.I.T.A. – a big black bird who I has been described as a rat with feathers. To me the Raven is fascinating – when I was in Anchorage my hotel room overlooked the back of a restaurant where the ravens gathered each day to visit the dumpster and shop for dinner. I would sit and watch them interact with each other and once they discovered me in the window, interact with me. I saw a level of intelligence similar to that of the African Gray Parrots I have known. Ravens also have a sense of humor – actually, I tend to lean towards the belief that they are the creators of the Arctic and they made the Malamute in their own image.

There are many stories of Ravens interacting with the dog teams on the trail, Karen Ramstead tells in her Iditarod Journal of Ravens who traveled with her team for miles. I can see how these beautiful big black birds can be seen as special spirits.

(to really learn what it is to be an Iditarod Musher – I recommend you read Karen’s Diaries and blogs – from her rookie year in 2000 to this year’s Yukon Quest 300 to the training going on today- she is a wonderful writher who is able to make it seem you are there on the runners )

However – remember they ARE tricksters – one year during the race there was a remote camera set up so a picture of the checkpoint could be broadcast to the outside. Wonderful idea and the cutting edge of technology at the time, but there was this Raven ----- the Raven pecked at the camera, sat on the camera with his tail over the lens and finally was able to move the camera enough that all we got was a nice picture of a snow bank. Maybe Ravens created the stars that elude and fight off the paparazzi.

This year the Ravens out did themselves at the Rainy Pass checkpoint. This is a snip from an article in the Anchorage Daily News 3-10-09:

“(Check point worker)A former Iditarod musher, Anderson hadn't been quite so jolly earlier in the day when he had to chase off a flock of ravens that tore into some drop bags. The all-volunteer Iditarod Air Force leaves the bags of food and extra gear at most of the 22 checkpoints along the 1,000-mile trail days before the race.

These were covered with blue tarps to keep wild animals out, but the ravens saw through the ploy.

"(The tarp) was like a bull's-eye for them," Anderson said. "Those ravens are pretty smart."

The big, black crows on steroids were gathered along the lakeshore singing and dancing in celebration of what they'd found Monday morning, Anderson said. Between them and the foxes, about a dozen bags had been scavenged.

About the Raven

On the subject of food drops – this is a technical aspect of the race that takes several Iditarods to refine. The musher must ship out everything he will need on the trail – dog food, people food, clothing, extra sleds. If they think they will need it, it must be shipped. The Drop bags are labeled with both the Musher’s name and the checkpoint it will go to. This is a good source of information on the food drops:

But the mushers aren’t the only ones who prepare for the long haul of the Iditarod – many of the fans or should I say, FANATICS who will spend the next 2 weeks glued to their computers also prepare ‘food drops’. After all who has time to cook dinner and bake snacks when updates are coming every few minutes? One of the posters on the BSSD forum posted her recipe for 5 minute chocolate cake – which she had made several kits consisting of the dry ingredients in sandwich baggies and stored, ready to mix and bake during the race. She shared the recipe with me.


4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well..
Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again..
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired

Dollop of husky hair with a cherry on top optional.

I have gotten some questions on choosing the trail for the race and thought this site might be interesting – the bush villages have done an excellent job of creating on line educational sites and the kids really are in to connecting with their Native roots through studying the race.

Web site for Shageluk School Iditarod Project – interviews and history of the Southern Route

I did my food drops early – frozen dinners, snack mixes, a stock of sodas. Having to choose between eating and keeping up to the minute on what’s happening in the Race?

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

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