Dispatches from the Trail: Skwentna Roadhouse

 The Skwentna Roadhouse(KTUU)
The Skwentna Roadhouse(KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Mar. 2, 2019 at 3:55 PM AKST
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DeeDee Jonrowe’s first Dispatch from the Trail was filed as she and her husband took a pre-race trip to the Winter Lake Lodge by snowmachine earlier this year to give a presentation to Chinese tourists. Here’s her recounting of the voyage, and of years’ past in the checkpoint.

February 13, 2019 (Wednesday) Winter Lake Lodge

Arrived yesterday on our expedition snowmachines; it was my first trip with my machine. Mike had done a lot to make it just right for me. Track studded, front skis widened, pink handwarmers. Weather was clear and beautiful, as we were just zipping up to be, Carl called and said clear, beautiful GUSTING 40 knots.

We left knowing planes may not be flying. The wind started to increase when turned at "Scary Tree" onto the Skwentna. Mike thought it was good to fill the machines at the Skwentna Roadhouse in case we had to turn back before reaching Finger Lake (that had happened to us once years ago). The trail was nice but I was happy I had taken the time to add my wind parka over the layers.

We had coffee and visited with Joe at Shell Lake. Between Shell and the big swamps, it was like we were in another universe. The wind was swirling with a ground storm from the loose snow. When it caught me on my machine from the side, it gusted me off the packed trail. I was happy for the drifts. They were the softest place to land when I was airborne. It was clear there would be no flying in today.

We were greeted by Carl and 11 of the friendliest gifted staff, each eager to warm us up and visit. I went out to play with my 2 canine family members Chardonnay and Dill. It was clear they remembered my voice and were snug in their house packed with straw.

I remember a number of years pulling into this checkpoint when I personally would have loved to be snug in a dog house. One year, the wind was blowing so hard no team could find the trail. We began to stack up behind Rick Swenson's team until he pulled them aside to rest his leaders.

At this point, it was dark, no hint of the trail and even if someone's leader was eager, no one knew where to direct them to. By that time, the whole field of competitors was parked one behind the other, all the dogs barking and yanking. Our checkpoint was Gene Leonard's cabin, so we all decided to try and move Gene's team up to the front and have him lead us in. That required helping Gene's team pass 20+ dog teams in narrow trails through the woods with deep snow. This was in the 80's, and I can still hear all the dogs barking for nearly a mile long team.

Feb. 14, 2019 (Thursday)

Woke up listening to the wind. Yeah, it's quite a day, looks promising. It's Valentine's Day! By 9:30 a.m., it was all-go for the plans that had been delayed. I called to rearrange Friday's plans making room to do my presentation after dinner tonight. The "Otter" just landed with 25 guests from China. Game on!!

It was impressive how this remote lodge came alive when the 3 planes on skis landed delivering 25 excited people from China. The 17 of us (staff, Carl, Mike and I) all began our tasks. Everyone was busy and having a wonderful time. Even the weather was perfect.

The guests were divided into 4 groups with different activities and then could rotate. Orientation was held in the big room with a dog sled brought inside of the carpet so people could practice balance (didn't really help a lot, as the trail was not at all like the carpet). Guide Eli used my snowmachine to lead the fleet of 10 guests on the lodge machines.

DeeDee stopped at the old Skwentna Roadhouse on the way to the Winter Lake Lodge. Above, she gives a quick walk-through of the stop that for many years was used as a shelter along the trail.