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Writers covering the Iditarod race have the best seat in the house: a heated airplane cockpit. (John Phillips)

Above & Beyond: The Iditarod Air Force

Not all the action in dogsled racing is on the ground

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Day Five: Mark pointed to an airplane and said, “Look at that guy stuck in the snow. He’ll give it full power, then he’ll nose that thing prop-first into the ice, then onto its back.”

“Shouldn’t we try to help?” I asked.

“Nah,” Mark replied. “I like watching guys wreck equipment. Kinda like an object lesson for professionals, like farmers who stick their arms into giant threshing machines.” Disappointing us both, the pilot unstuck himself.

Right after our own takeoff from a checkpoint in Takotna, the Cessna briefly shuddered, then we heard some banging.

“Left ski,” Mark said. “Dislodged, flappin’ around down there.”

“Can we land?”

“Planes always land,” he said. “It’s their nature to land. Course, you got some leeway in how they land.”

It was our softest-ever touchdown. Mark glided in with the right wing dipped so that the left ski bore little of the initial impact. When it eventually struck the snow, however, the ski nearly ripped off, smacking the fuselage as it randomly pinwheeled astern. Still, I was impressed. “Nice job,” I said. “My Limping Nancy landing,” he replied.

“Limping what?”

“Kerrigan,” he said. “Nancy Kerrigan. I got a Tonya Harding version too, but you probably don’t want to see that.”

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