On Sunday at Skwentna, the Iditarod Trail was lost -- gone beneath a couple feet of terrain-leveling new snow.
On Tuesday at Finger Lake, the Iditarod Trail was like Cream of Wheat, making travel difficult to impossible for man or beast.
On Wednesday at Happy River, the Iditarod Trail was a nicely frozen, safely bermed luge run.
Conventional wisdom is that the year 2001 will see a relatively slow Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race due to bad trail.
That's a good bet, but don't wager the house.
The only given about conditions along the trail this year is that there are no givens. Blink twice and the weather changes. The trail changes with it -- hard packed and fast one day, lost in the snow the next, melted to glop the day after, blown bare two days further along.
Trail manager Jack Niggemeyer, whose job it is to worry about the trail, has had trailbreakers stationed at Finger Lake and Rainy Pass for the past week with orders to do nothing but drive their snowmobiles back and forth on the trail to make sure that stretch stays open.
It has been that kind of year in the Alaska Range.
Every time it rains in Anchorage, it snows on the south slope of the range. Sometimes it snows a foot. Sometimes it snows two feet. Sometimes it snows more.
The snow is so deep it's threatening to bury some trees. The frozen beaver ponds the trail crosses above Red Lake on the climb to the Happy River are no longer identifiable as such. Even the biggest of the beaver lodges, which can tower to 6 feet or better, have disappeared beneath the snow.
And with another low-pressure weather system expected to rumble into Southcentral Alaska from the Gulf as early as Monday, there could be another big dump in the Range.
Does everyone remember the details of the weather that allowed Libby Riddles to come out of almost nowhere to become the first woman to win the Iditarod?
Yes, everyone knows she snatched the victory by mushing out into a storm on the Bering Sea, but how many remember how she ended up in position to do that?
Snow in the Alaska Range, lots and lots of snow.
In 1985, snow stopped the race for two days in the range, then again a couple days later at McGrath. The high-speed teams never had a chance to pull away from the likes of Riddles. Storms kept bunching up the field, opening up a once in a lifetime opportunity for a woman who came here from Minnesota and pretty much lived all over the state before settling in the Susitna Valley in recent years.
The weather is what makes it difficult to say what the Iditarod Trail will be like tomorrow, let alone a week from now.
A few days ago, the first stretch of trail up the Yentna River from Willow had a lot of standing water on it. Now, the water has frozen and disappeared under new snow. Go figure.
Niggemeyer, who marshals a small army of trailbreakers for this race, promises there will be a trail to follow to Nome this year just like always. He makes no promises as to what sort of trail.
Probably the only thing mushers can count on is that there will be rough, largely snowless trail through the Post River country between Rohn and Nikolai. There is always bad trail there. The Post River country never has snow.
This is why it grows grass so well, and why the Farewell bison herd winters in the area. Year to year, the only real question about this stretch of trail is how long the bad spot will be.
Iditasport Extreme cyclists who just pedaled through on the way to McGrath report there is about 30 miles of frozen dirt this year. This might prove to be the worst stretch of trail the 68 mushers see until they get to the Bering Sea coast.
Then, it's anyone's guess what they'll see as open water threatens to force trailbreakers inland to places the trail has rarely run. One thing for sure, it should make the race interesting.
Outdoors editor Craig Medred can be reached at email@example.com.