Nick J from Fairbanks had just arrived, and I was helping him get his boots out of his ski bindings.  We got them off and headed into the wall tent which is the Iditarod Trail Invitational racers’ lodging while in Rohn.  Just after entering the tent, there was a big gust of wind, and with a loud bang, the chimney blew off, followed by one of the walls blowing in.  I asked Nick to hold the wall down, then ran to go wake up Adrian to help fix the stove.  With Adrian’s help, I got the stove back together and then got the wall firmly tacked down again, and Nick got to sit down and enjoy his brats, soup, and hot Tang. 

Another evening in Rohn! 

In 2013 I was welcomed into Rohn by Rob Kehrer.  He fed me, dried my stuff, and offered me as much pilot bread as I could eat.  I was so thrilled by the unlimited pilot bread!  Ever since then I have been looking for a chance to give back, and in mid-January someone from the ITI posted to Facebook saying they needed someone to volunteer for Rohn.  I responded, and I was in – after checking with my boss and family. 


Rob and O.E., in 2013


Me, 11 years later, wearing a “Team Heavy” sweatshirt and thinking of Rob. Photo compliments Laura R.

A few weeks later I was boarding a Beaver with my fellow volunteer Tony, and we were off to Rohn.   The flight was beautiful! 

ITI Rohn

ITI Rohn

The next few days were a bit of a blur directed by the ITI’s Adrian  – putting up tents, splitting wood, moving things around, etc, as we got ready for the racers’ arrival in Rohn.  Sam and Brian, who snowmachined in from the Willow area with Adrian, were wood-cutting machines.  So much firewood was cut up!  Adrian served more meat with breakfast and dinner than I have had in years. 

ITI Rohn

The Rohn wall tent is ready to go! ITI Rohn

Tony, ready to cook brats!

ITI Rohn

Banner ready!

ITI Rohn

Rohn cabin ready!

ITI Rohn

Tony, splitting wood like a mad person!

The first to arrive were Clinton and Kevin, followed by a continuous stream of other people.  

ITI Rohn

Clinton, first in!

ITI Rohn

Kevin, second!

ITI Rohn

Kevin, under the banner!

ITI Rohn

Tang and hot chocolate..

It was the beginning of five days of chaos.  Fortunately Tony is a night person, and he was willing to do the night shifts, while I did the mid-morning to midnight shift.  It worked out (at least for me, Tony might disagree as he did all the night shifts).  Soon we were settled into the routine of feeding racers, handing out hot drinks, drying their stuff, stocking the wood stove, preventing racers from hurting themselves or wrecking their stuff on the wood stove, etc.  After a while I felt a bit like a crazy laundry person, always drying stuff!  It soon became just a blur.   

ITI Rohn

Drying boots.. well labeled?


Laundry up with a full house..


P.B. resupplying..

It was great seeing the racers though, and I got to see Petr, Nick, and other folks I knew from past trips on the Iditarod trail as they passed through.  There was a strong Fairbanks contingent and it was great to see NIkki, Aaron, and Ben! 

ITI Rohn

Aaron ready to head out

ITI Rohn

Aaron showing how he can get a whole bag of doritos in his snack bag – I was impressed!

ITI Rohn

Tomas! He was a rookie, and rode from Rainy Pass Lodge to Nikolai (and possibly Mcgrath) solo!

And it was great to see Steph who I met in an Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic years ago – I didn’t know she was doing the race! 

At times it was fun.  I really enjoyed catching up with the various people I have traveled with in the past.  At times it was frustrating – as when I had to prevent someone from putting plastic containers on the (very hot) wood stove to warm up. The wood stove was an issue, as people didn’t seem to understand how hot it was, and how fast things melt, heat up, etc.  At times it was a bit depressing, mostly when helping folks dry out their gear.  At one point I was handed a fancy down jacket that was oddly heavy with weirdly chunky, hard, and large things in the pockets, only to discover the chunky things were frozen chunks of ice inside it – the jacket was soaked, and had several pounds of frozen water in it.  Coming in with puffy layers soaked with frozen sweat was oddly common. Really folks, if you are sweating out your puffy layers you need to take them off.   Mike C puts it bestdon’t sweat.  In another case it took over 20 minutes for someone to get his facemask off, having frozen it to his beard – i have no idea how he ate or drank before getting it off. Maybe he hadn’t eaten most of the day.  Partially frozen Hydro Flask style bottles were also common.  It is odd they are so popular, they are not really all that good at keeping beverages warm. 

Eventually, things died down, and the last racers, Doug and Sunny, were off.  I missed Sunny’s departure, but I walked Doug to the edge of the trees and saw him off. 

ITI Rohn

Doug, heading out. He let out a huge whoop just after I took this photo – I don’t think he believed me how nice it was going to be – sunny, warm, with a fantastic view!

Some regrets: the Rohn tent only sleeps eight people, and there is supposed to be a first-in-first-out policy. I tried to be nice about kicking folks out, but it always backfired and just delayed the whole process.  I should have just kicked folks out ASAP to speed up turnover.  A huge thank you to everyone who just slept outside when the tent was full, or quickly got out when asked, it was really appreciated!   Live and learn.

It was amazing to me how busy things got.  While racing, I had only shared the tent with four other people at most, and several times had the place to myself.  At one point there were thirteen people in the tent including me: eight sleeping, and five standing or sitting – totally crazy! 

As things wound down, some of the Iditarod staff at Rohn suggested we stay for a few days and volunteer for the dog race.  A quick check with my family and with work (thanks for ghostwriting my Inreach message to work Laura!) and I was staying for the Iditarod.  

“Mystery Meat, Mystery Meat, Yummy Yummy Mystery Meat” 

In a bit of a sleep-deprived haze I sang to the dropped dogs while ladling soup made out of chunks of meat, fish, fat and kibble taken from mushers’ leftovers.   

“Yum, yum, so good to eat, Mystery Meat” 

The newer dogs looked at me like I was crazy, while the dogs dropped earlier looked on excitedly for their chance for a yummy ladle of meaty soup.  

“Mystery Meat, Mystery Meat, everyone loves Mystery Meat” 
Who knows what the vets resting in the nearby tent thought…

ITI Rohn - the dog part

Rohn, in the middle of dog race madness..

Volunteering for the Iditarod by staying on at Rohn was a bit odd – there wasn’t any paperwork, I was never given any rules or anything, so I wasn’t quite sure what was allowed and not allowed.   However, it started just like the ITI – lots of moving stuff around and getting ready – sorting drop bags, counting drop bags, putting up lights, etc, etc.    Eventually, other volunteers showed up, including vets, race materials, and other random people like me. 

ITI Rohn - the dog part

Mike, waiting for the action to start

ITI - Rohn

Rohn, all ready to go – just needs dogs!

The first sign of the actual dog race was when the Iditarod trail breakers arrived. It was a bit odd to see them and not really care that much – normally I am eagerly waiting for them in hopes for a better trail – or any trail at all.

ITI - Rohn

The Iditarod trail breakers passing though..

Eventually, the dog teams started arriving and then it was busy – moving stuff, parking teams, getting water, helping with dropped dogs, and doing other random tasks. I ended up spending a lot of time with the dropped dogs. The dogs dropped for overuse injuries (“orthopedic” I think the vets called it) perked up quickly, and started wanting attention and love.  The first two dogs dropped, a mixed-color male, and a darker-colored male, whose teams I don’t remember, and a dog dropped later, “China Cat” from Paige’s team from Squid Acres, in particular, were love bugs.  

ITI Rohn - the dog part

I am horrible at names, and even worse when sleep-deprived.  After around 20 hours of mostly nonstop activity, the last dog team left, and the cleanup began.  After the last dog team took off, there was a brief lull as everyone took a moment to relax.  While staring off into space I noticed the vets had all disappeared, so I went to go track them down and found them raking straw up in the dropped dogs area.   This sort of blew my mind – instead of taking a break, and getting the next flight out (vets are in demand, and three of the four at Rohn had assignments at other checkpoints after Rohn), they were off cleaning up and setting an example.   Shortly after that, everyone else started raking straw and cleaning up.  

ITI Rohn - the dog part

ITI Rohn - the dog part


After the last dogs left, a person on an Elan from the mid-1970s showed up. It turns out it was Lance, whom I met in 2016 when he was taking a mid-80s Bravo to the north slope via the Iditarod trail.  He said the Bravo was much nicer..  Lance is touring the Iditarod trail using all 1970s vintage gear.  He looked quite tired out!  

ITI Rohn - the dog part

The next day was spent tearing everything down and packing everything up, and the following morning Tony and I flew out. 

Tony used to help run AWACs for the Air Force and had a blast talking with our pilot about the various gadgets on the plane on our flight back, as well as sightseeing and looking for moose and wolves. 

ITI Rohn - the dog part

Rainy Pass Lodge!

ITI Rohn - the dog part

Enjoying the new fangled aviation gadgets!

All in all, it was a great experience!  My apologies to anyone whose name I repeatedly got wrong in my sleep-deprived haze.  I think I randomly started calling Tony “Antonio” at one point. 

It was great spending time with everyone at Rohn. Tony, Adrian, and the rest of the crew are fantastic human beings and it was great spending time with you all!

My apologies to anyone I forgot the name of called the wrong name, all the burned brats, and anything else I might have messed up while out at Rohn!

I would like to thank Steph the vet tech and NOLS instructor for her help inspecting various frostbitten parts and help calming down the traveling partners of folks with frostbitten parts – thanks, it was appreciated!  A big thank your to the people behind the ITI – thanks for making it happen, and thanks for letting me be part of it for a year! And of course my family for letting me disappear for two weeks!

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4 Responses to “Rohn”

  1. Ben p says:

    Thanks for the great support of all the volunteers at Rohn! Everyone did a fantastic job, so nice to leave with dry gear.

  2. Corrine Leistikow says:

    Love this post. Sounds fun and exhausting all at the same time.

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