The trip west had been bursting with activity and a sense of anticipation. The race felt different each time the terrain and climate changed, and that frenetic quality drove our timetables.
With the race over, the trip back east made the country below seem almost desolate by comparison. No dog teams to look for; race checkpoints already taken down; even the Iditarod Air Force pilots' radio frequency had gone silent.
But getting home, flying east across Alaska, was as challenging as some of our flying legs last week. The story of the weather on our return flight was all about the wind, which was persistently strong, and constantly on our nose. During the climbout from Nome we briefly saw a groundspeed of 25 knots. Along many places, snowmachines could have passed us by. We saw a lot of 60-knot groundspeeds, and it was only when we got into the Yukon River valley that we could find better winds close to the surface. Down at less than 1,000 feet it was pretty bumpy, but we could eek out 80-90 knots of groundspeed there.
It was uncanny how the wind stayed exactly on our nose throughout the entire flight.