Where we’re going we don’t need roads, Ilha Grande

For years I’ve heard about Ilha Grande, a tropical island off the coast of Brazil with one of the richest ecosystems in the world. There are no roads, cars are illegal and the island is largely underdeveloped.

Orien and I threw a few articles of clothes into a backpack, grabbed a tent and took off for Angra dos Reis, where we could catch a boat to Isla Grande.

On the bus ride alone we saw many sights; An abandoned Santa Clause theme park, wandering road cows, a bombed out mosque made from brightly colored stained glass, an epic junkyard display of airplane parts, tanks and bizarre vehicles, a half-built carnival float inside a giant dilapidated warehouse, an açaî factory, giant tunneling machinery, miles of graffiti, a tire fire… our eyes were glued out the window the whole way.

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The harbor of Angra dos Reis

We arrive in Angra dos Reis and hop on a fast boat ($40 real each- about $20 US) to Abraão, the largest settlement on the island. The wind whips our hair around as the sun sets majestically behind the mountains. About twenty minutes later we arrive at the dock of Abraão. 

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Topographical map of Ilha Grande at the boat terminal

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The fast boat from Angra dos Reis

The place is full of little shops and restaurants, and as we soon realize… there are no banks or ATMs; no way to get cash. We are visiting in the off season, but still, as we anticipated, most everything is numbered with island prices. Hotels are expensive, which is why we brought a tent. But the first camping spot we check out, a sucker trap at the end of the dock, is $40 Real per person (about $20 each). We ask a local guy instead and he leads us down a labyrinth of dirt paths to his buddy’s house who lets people camp in his yard for $10 Real a head.

Our luck is on, our host cooks up sardines for us and shakes a tree in the yard for limes… caipirinhas flow late into the night and we drink them happily.

We wake up the next day and break down our tent and prepare for our journey into the island’s lush rainforest. We’ve heard that it’s prohibited to camp on the beach or in the jungle, but we are determine to find a good, hidden spot so that we don’t get trapped staying at a pricey island hotel.

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We fill our bag with water, cheese and guava paste (a pairing know in Brazil as Romeo and Juliet) and set off down the trail into the wild unknown.

Niteroi, Caves and the Mothership

We venture across the water, taking the ferry to the New Jersey of Rio, Niteroi. Niteroi is known for its contemporary art museum, which looks like a spaceship. It is designed by the renowned Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer.  

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On the ferry

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Passing the Rio-Niteroi bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world.

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The Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Oscar Niemeyer

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As we approach the museum, we notice a series of caves carved into the cliff. We decide we must explore them before we go to the exhibit. And so we roll up our pantlegs and cross many perilous rocks to see what lays inside the caves. The first two prove to be shallow and empty. One of them was curiously partially bricked over. 

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We continue to the largest cave, getting half soaked by the incoming waves, and find it is inhabited. Someone had been there before us and made it there home. Rent free beachfront property.

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Lean to inside the largest cave

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The museum from below in cave-land

After the caves we made our way to the sexy entrance of the museum, a curving red ramp. For 10 Real we paid our way ($5 US each). 

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I realized only afterwards that I didn’t take any photos of the art. The exhibit was very small… only two floors of art. None of it grabbed me like the architecture of the museum. For me it was the best art there.

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As we admired the view, we noticed a very curious island nearby (pictured above). All the buildings on the island were boarded shut and it seemed completely abandoned. There was a bridge connecting it to the mainland and after visiting the museum, we went to check it out.

The bridge was all locked up with chains and barbed wire, but it wasn’t long before we figured out we could just walk across the shallow water to the island.  

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imageThe only accessible area was a small house with a bunch of rowboats ties up to it. We climbed out of the water, up the stairs and walked up to a locked gate. There was a man on the other side… an unofficial resident. “Desculpe me,” (excuse me) I said, “Podemos passar?” (Can we pass?)

The man explained that the gate above him was locked tight and there wasn’t a way onto the island. We had spotted a long staircase cut out of the rock on the other side of the island and if we just had a boat, we could reach it. 

"Podemos alugar um de seus barquinho?" (Could we rent one of your row boats?) we asked.

The man told us that it was too late in the day, but if we came back early in the morning we could rent one of his rowboats for 30 Real (about 15 bucks). 

We smiled from ear to ear.

"Voltamos" (We will return)

Stay tuned for our trip back to the abandoned isle off the coast of Niteroi. but in the meantime we’ll visit Ilha Grande, a much larger and more remote tropical island full of wonders… 

Grandma’s House, Ayahuasca in the Jungle~ Part 2

The singing increased as the night pressed on. I sat cross legged on my mat next to Orien, on his. Being his first time drinking the brew, naturally he was apprehensive and so it was wonderful for me to see his first reaction to feeling the effects. “I feel amazing! This is f***ing great!” 

I had yet to feel any sensation and sat waiting, trying to sing along to the portuguese songs. An hour passed and I still felt nothing. They called us up for an optional second dose. I took a “heroic” one. 

About forty minutes later there were still no visuals, no visions or images, but sensations crept in like jungle vines. 

I felt the sadness that I’ve known well slithering in, taking hold of me and bringing me down with it. Then something remarkable happened and I became aware of my choice to be happy or sad. I transformed the sadness into an inner laughter. 

Lying on my back, my energy was so tangible. I had an intuition to explore my heart and I put my fingertips curled inward over it, resting on my chest. It might sound crazy, but my perception was on such a level that I could explore my astral heart and as I worked my way into it I found damage; pain from the past, a sort of scar. 

I had the intuition that I could heal it myself. I gathered the pain, like a dark spot, in my hands and then threw it far away from me. A great sense of relief rushed over me.

A common effect of drinking ayahuasca is to expel the mixture with often forceful vomiting. Buckets were placed around the room for this possibility. Shaman and healers say that this process is a healing one and that when you puke, it cleanses you on a physical, mental and emotional level.

An hour after the second serving I had yet to purge, although I felt pretty nauseous. I knew that the option for the third and last dose was coming up and was hoping that the purge would come before that. I knew that if it didn’t it would surely come right after.

But it didn’t come and so when they called for people to drink the third serving, I came up and nauseously drank the cup full of brew. Immediately after I felt it coming up and I ran outside. And then, with the violent upheaving of the ayahuasca, came the visions. As I vomited I saw all kinds of dark and creepy looking entities, kaleidoscopes of centipede-like crawly creatures, beady eyes, legs, teeth, horrifying imagery swirling around. It all seemed to come out of me as I heaved the contents of my stomach onto the jungle floor. 

It was intense to say the least and when I was finished I spit the last of it out with a sentiment of good riddance and turned around to find Arielle, the host waiting, like an angel, with a handful of tissue for me. I took it gratefully and said “Obrigada” (Thank you).

After that I lay on my mat for the rest of the night, next to the lambent candlelight,  somewhere in between dreaming and awake, full of feelings of tenderness and love.

Afterwards we all had breakfast together and people spoke of their experiences. I am so happy that we went.

I highly recommend this experience to anyone who finds themselves in Rio de Janeiro or Baja, Brazil. You can get in touch with the organizers, Arielle and Italo through their Facebook group: COMUNINDIOS RIO.

Happy Travels.

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Orien in the morning after the ceremony

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Leaving “grandma’s” house with an extra skip in his step.

Speaking of travels our next excursion is across the bay, to Niteroi, to visit the museum of Contemporary art. I am curious to see the New Jersey of Rio and to explore the interior of the great spaceship building by architect Oscar Niemeyer. 

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Grandma’s House, Ayahuasca in the Jungle~ Part 1

When my friend Zel told me of a group who held Ayahuasca ceremonies in the jungle of Brazil I signed on instantly. I have consumed the brew of the “Spirit Vine” a few times before; Once in New York and a couple times at an ashram called Arca de Montaña Azul in Rio de Janeiro, but had never had the chance to have the experience in Nature.

Here’s a post from my experience at Arca de Montaña Azul.

Ayahuasca, also called “Grandmother Spirit,” the “Vine of the Soul” or “yagé,” amongst other names, is a psychedelic brew composed of Amazonian plants that contain the hallucinogen DMT. For centuries, the indigenous cultures of the Amazon have drank the vision inducing brew to receive insights and instructions directly from plants and plant spirits.

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The Ayahuasca vine. Photo courtesy of Wakingtimes.com

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A cross section of the vine. Photo courtesy of Kerryfargo.com

Orien, my love, who is visiting me from New York agreed to go with me. It would be his first time drinking the brew. He had heard a lot about it, but was put off by the New York Ayahuasca “scene,” and so had never ventured to experiment with it. New York has a way of taking authentic things, like Ayahuasca or elements from different cultures and making them trendy. The ayahuasca scene that I was familiar with in New York, while good intentioned, seemed to me to be a sort of fashion show, with people arriving for the ceremony in their best white flowing clothing, beaded necklaces and headbands, long feather earrings and sometimes even face paint. I can understand how someone might be put-off by it.

Orien and I took a bus from Rio de Janeiro to Baja and after about an hour and a half arrived at Sitio das Pedras, the site of the ceremony. Arielle, and Italo, our hosts had made a thin soup for dinner and we drank it as we sat with the other people who had come for the ceremony, about 10 in all.

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Soon it was time to go and we each grabbed a straw mat and headed up a dark stone path. We were led through an archway between two large rocks to a house that was built in between several gigantic stones. It was breathtaking, one of the most awe inspiring houses I’ve ever been in. The walls were literally made of boulder.

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The stone house in the daytime

We unrolled our mats onto the stone floor and prepared for a long night.

Arielle went around and lit a candle on the ground in front of each of our mats. The room flickered with anticipation.

One by one we were called up to drink the sacred slurry. Finally it was my turn and I went up to the front and accepted the little wooden bowl with the dark ayahuasca concoction filled nearly to the top. I closed my eyes and swallowed it quickly, chasing the bitter brew immediately with sour maracuja juice.

Then I went back to my straw mat to sit and await the Grandmother.

To be continued…

 

Cavernas, Cavernas

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It’s another sunny day in Rio and Orien and I decide to go to explore the caves, or cavernas (in Portuguese) rumored to be on the hill behind where we’re staying. We’ve heard stories about the bodies of slaves being thrown inside, stories of escaped murderers who headed to the hills and lived inside these caves and also tales about people who ventured inside and disappeared forever. We grab a headlamp and head up the trail with a crude map of their approximate locations.

We bring the neighbors black lab, Nero with us. He bounds ahead of us down the trail and we follow, stopping along the way to marvel at bits of nature that are new to us; Strange seed pods, weird bee funnel hives, long, dangling plants, and unusual insects, Rio is rich with bizarre and exotic life.

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The trail

We come upon the first cave and peer inside. The entrance is fairly large, about waist high and a shallow pool of water, filled with shimmering bits of mica, sits just beyond the entrance. Orien brought minimal clothing to Brazil and so happened to be wearing his white linen pants and shiny white boat shoes. Not the best cave spelunking gear, or perhaps the very best. I was wearing sandals, so I dipped in and crossed the pool of water to report that the cave was very shallow and there wasn’t much of a point for him to get his feet wet because the only notable thing about this cave was a broken shovel propped up along the wall in the back. And so we continued on to the next cave. We find it quite close to the first. 

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It was formerly cemented over by someone and then broken through. Orien enters, white shoes first, into the soft, gravely mud, committing to the soilage of his white linen pants. This one is deeper, splitting off into two parts. I follow him and so does Nero. This cave is more interesting but there are no skeletons in sight. Just some traces of candle wax, an old speaker, and some roots dangling from the ceiling. 

We muse over the idea of creating some kind of hidden dwelling on the mountain in one of the caves. Rents have become so crazy in New York that the idea of building a secret underground lair free from the chains of monthly rent is somehow very appealing. I suppose it always has been. I remember my brother and I making plans for underground forts when we were kids. Our favorite idea was to find some old McDonalds playground tubes and repurpose them into a fort by burying them. 

Who knows… maybe Orien and I will disappear from civilization to build our grand fortress of McDonalds tubes far under the earth.

But first we have to attend an ayahuasca ceremony. We’ve RSVPed for a session with the grandmother vine in the jungle in Baha, about an hour away from Rio. Word has it there is a cave there too. This is likely to get interesting…

More soon~

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Up Up Up the Mountain

My love is in Brazil visiting me. His name is Orien. He is a wildly creative artist and craftsman with a great sense for adventure and good tmies. We have a lot of fun and exploring planned here together in addition to the painting and planning I am doing for The Aces of Perception with my creative partner Perola Bonfanti. One of the things on our list was to scale the mountain behind the house at which we are staying. I heard rumors of a staircase cut into the rock, made long ago by slave laborers. 

So today a few hours before sunset, Orien and I set off up the mountain, first past the Hostel, Rio Nature where I used to stay with our crew when we were working on the FlutuArte project in 2012. We continue up a faded trail, overgrown with vines, fallen leaves and rotten, moldy Jack fruit. 

The path grows steeper and we cling onto branches and small trees to help us up. And then we arrive at the rock. The great massive rock jutting out from the top of the steep hill as giant rocks in Rio often do. Protruding out of the side of the stone are rusty metal steps, some broken away… they amble up the side of the mountain and we follow them.

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Orien going up

After awhile the metal stairs cease and are replaced by steps carved out of the stone. With great excitement we climb them, up, up, up…

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They seem to go on forever, certainly as far as our eyes can see.

We continue up, sweating and breathing heavily, gripping on to the rusty metal posts that stick out of the rock as we go. The mountain is very steep and there is the sense that the slightest slip of the Havianas (quintessential Brazilian flip flops) and you’d tumble down, down, down to your death. 

We arrive at what appears to be the top of the carved-out steps. Only a questionable rusty cable remains to lead us further up. We decide to chill there by a patch of bushes growing out of the rock. The view is remarkable. We can see all of Botafogo Bay, Urca, the Santa Marta favela the cemetery and Flamengo beach disappearing into the distance.

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We look at the time. 6pm. “What time does the sun set?” We ask each other. “Hummmm… I think soon… we should probably head back down.” Orien says. And so we descend. And as mountains often are… it is much more perilous to go down than it was to come up. We take on several methods of descent. First, face first, holding onto the cable, then, ass first, gripping the rock in front of us, and finally, ass to the mountain, scooting down like a crab. It’s really steep and really sketchy. We take of our Havianas and go barefoot to reduce the chance of a wardrobe malfunction-caused plummet to our doom.

I fit our sandals together in a connected stack and throw them down the mountain. Eyebrows raised, we watch as they hop down the giant rock and then break apart, scattering in many directions and settling, unsettlingly on the face of the mountain, far from the steps. We look at each other with wide eyes. The overgrown path we hiked up on would be brutal to walk down without shoes.

It is getting dark at a rapid pace and soon were squinting in the dusk… still descending the stone steps. We pass our sandals, it’s much too dangerous to try to get them without some kind of long stick or branch. Now our main concern is getting down before it is completely dark… a very dangerous possibility.

We reach the metal stairs and they are barely visible. One by one, with bare feet, we grab each rusty stair and lower ourselves down onto the next, gripping the ridges of mountain to stable ourselves. Finally our feet find the ground and we make our way down the path we came, dodging (to the best of our ability) holes, drop offs, thorns, possible snakes… and stepping directly in all those rotten, moldy Jack fruit. 

Home again.

We vowed to return to retrieve our sandals and to explore the nearby cave that we heard rumors about. 

To be continued…

The Praça Quinze flea market, Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I’ve been back in Brazil for just a few days and let me tell you, I found the spot. Up until just recently I didn’t think that Rio had flea markets or vintage stores or anything of the sort. I had just assumed that it didn’t fit into Carioca culture. But I was wrong. My friend Bruno told me about Praça Quinze, an enormous outdoor flea market in the Center of Rio. And so I went to check it out. 

We arrive and are greeting by stands upon stand of interesting trinkets, tools, toys, furniture, fixtures, clothes, stuff, stuff, stuff. 

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Shaded from the sun by a massive overpass, we are over the moon. Our excited eyes sort through every item in each stand before moving to the next, sometimes picking up an interesting thing and asking “quanto custa?” (How much does it cost) We find that as far as bargains go, this flea market is not so cheap. Many vendors won’t even bargain with us.

I set my eyes on a japanese Daruma doll. “15 reals” the man says… “é vindima” (It’s vintage). Thats about $7… I raise my eyebrows. “Its not vintage,” I mutter under my breath in uninterpretable English, “it’s just dirty.” “How about 8 real?” “No,” he responds “10 real?” “No.” The man won’t budge. HUMPH, I put it down and we walk away.

We wander on, commenting on how each booth is a unique reflection of the seller, their interests and their old belongings.image

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A collection of swiss army knives

There are food stands peppered around the stuff stands and we stop to try caldo de cana, sugar cane juice. We order one for just 2 reals (about 1 us dollar) and a man runs several lengths of sugar cane through a press. He presents us with cold, sweet, delicious juice. Everyone should try sugar cane juice, it has much more flavor than you might imagine.image

We’ve covered nearly every stand and now the vendors are starting to pack up. We know its our time and circle around back to the man with the Daruma doll. He is carefully wrapping his items in newspaper and storing them away in a box. The doll still sits on the table. With cash money in our hands we offer 9.90 reals. “Ok,” He says and takes our money.

We go to find a place to have lunch and leave the market happy with three items, a metal counter, a plastic aardvark and the Daruma doll.

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A still life of mustard, olive oil and our flea market finds

Tomorrow we plan to hike the mountain behind where we’re staying in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio. I hear there are steps carved into the mountain, chiseled away by slaves years ago… and there are rumors of an old cave, where many people have disappeared. I brought my headlamp, and really can’t resist an old cave. Stay tuned~

Fountain Art Fair, NY

Manhattan, New York~

Alaska was another world. Where survival seems to have been the driving force for ages. Dog sleds still have their place, hunting, fishing, furs, the great outdoors. I loved it. The people are kind and friendly.

Now I am headed back to Brazil. On my way to Rio I got to take an extended layover in New York and check out the Fountain Art Fair. 

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Me in front of a wall of colorful paintings at Fountain

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Some Moving art

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View from the balcony of the Armory

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Live silkscreening

Fountain Art fair, now in its eighth year is filled with accessible, alternative art. It fills out the enormous Armory building on Lexington Ave and 25th st. in Manhattan with white walled booths. The vibe is DYI and down to earth. Most of the artists are there in person and available to chat about their work.

Tomorrow I arrive in Brazil to continue working on the next “Portals” project for Vienna, Austria with my partner Perola Bonfanti. The project will debut in the Museumquartier of Vienna this September.

More soon~

And she’s off!

My mother has been training for the Iditarod for four years and this will be her third race. We arrive in Willow, on the frozen lake bed from where the racers of the Iditarod start. There’s a buzzing in the air as one by one another truck full of dogs and gear arrive.

My mother seems calm in the storm.

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My mother packing her sled

She unloads the dogs. They begin calling the first numbers. She is number 40, so I have time to walk around and survey the action before she leaves.

People come from all over Alaska and who knows where else for this special event. They spread out over miles to cheer on the mushers as they take off on their epic journey.

The trails are especially precarious this year as there is virtually no snow in some spots. They are calling it the Idirtarod of 2014. My mother has purchased body armor for the occasion.

"Number 30!" I hear on the loud speaker. My mother is harnessing up her dogs. "Number 31!"

My mother looks a little tense now. The course ahead of her is no cakewalk.

They call her to bring over her sled. I stand next to her on the back of it as we ride over and wait to approach the starting line.image

Waiting to approach the starting line

"Number 39!" People cheer as #39 takes off down the gauntlet of roaring people. I am instructed to get off the sled and my mother approaches the finish line, alone… her and her dogs.

"10…9…8…"

"Over a thousand miles," I think.

"7…6…5…"

Moose, and wolves and avalanches,

4…3…2…

"I hope she will be ok"

…1!

…and She’s off into the Alaskan Wild!

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Helpers walk to the sidelines after launching my mother and her dogs into the Alaskan wild.

Goodbye Momma, 

I am rooting for you!

Now back to Brazil to do some painting…

More soon

The Ceremonial Start of the iditarod, Pt 2

(…continued)

Willow, Alaksa

My mother stands on the main dog sled and i sit inside it. Her friend Cindy is trailing on the back in another sled… this one to keep us from going to fast. The ceremonial start, taking place one day before the official start, is not competitive. 

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Photo by Donna Quante

We speed through the gauntlet of crowds of people, smiling and waving and shouting. We wave back to them as we jet down the street and around the corner. These dogs are crazy fast! The course continues, weaving through the back trails of Anchorage, sometimes along the highway, over many bridges and up and down hills. “This is wonderful,” I think as the cold wind hits my face. In front of me is a bag of worn dog booties that I toss to the kids for souvenirs.

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Dog “booties”

They are fanatical about these dog shoes. As we cruise by the kids yell, “BOOTIES BOOTIES BOOTIES!” Some hold up colorful handmade signs and one clever parent used a basketball hoop over a bag that had “Booties here!” Written on the backboard. I am impressed at how much people want these old worn out dog socks. They are a part of history now i suppose. I try to be fair in my throwing… attempting to count the number of children far ahead of us so that I can throw the right number and not leave anyone out. It’s a fun game to play. 

As we cruise down the trail people toss muffins, bottled water and hotdogs in our sled. 

I am smiling and waving and extending high fives back to all the kids who reach out their hands. All the sudden we fly down a big steep hill and my stomach leaps into my throat. It’s thrilling like a roller coaster ride. We swing around a sharp turn at the bottom of the hill and we lose Cindy, our tail rider. My mom throws down the ice break and we come to a skidding stop. The dogs look back at us, as if to say “What’s the holdup now?!” Cindy hops back on resiliently and we take off straight away, narrowly escaping a collision with the team behind us.

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Cindy’s sled tips. She holds on for dear life. At the Iditarod, if your dogs leave you behind, you’re pretty screwed. Photo by Jeff Schultz

We pick up speed and round another sharp corner and onto a wooden bridge. We slam into the side of the bridge while trying to straighten out and somehow the ice break comes loose and sticks into one of the wooden fence posts. This time all of us are shocked. Cindy, my mother, me and the dogs are snapped to a forceful stop and I fear we are going to tear the whole bridge down! We don’t get out of this one with out some bloodshed. Cindy’s finger is smashed and bleeding profusely, but we manage to yank out the metal ice break from the fence and she, feeling that it’s broken, heroically laughs it off and we push on. After about an hour and eleven miles on the trail we come to a gradual stop at the finish. I look up at my mother and her eyes are beaming. She wears a passionate smile. “Thanks momma,” I say, looking up at her. “Oh you’re welcome, kiddo,” she beams.

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Tomorrow begins the official Iditarod race. I look forward to sending my mother off on her epic journey across the Alaskan wild over 1,000 miles away, all the way to Nome!