After fixing her busted sled runner in White Mountain, Aliy was hoping things would hold together for her 77 mile final run into Nome. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.
About five miles into their run, the team approached some pretty nasty "overflow" which happens when a river that's running deep under its frozen surface builds up so much pressure that it breaks through the ice and water flows on the surface. Dogs don't like to go through overflow, not just because it is very cold and wet, but also because underneath the water is the former ice surface on which they can get no traction. As a result, it is very easy for them to slip and end up taking a very, very cold bath. Dogs do not like cold baths!
If a team is very enthusiastic and moving very fast, their momentum will sometimes just carry them through overflow. At the thousand mile mark of the Iditarod, however, Aliy's dogs -- not even her best leaders -- were quite gung ho enough to power through the foot-deep overflow in front of them. So, they came to a screeching halt and Aliy had yet another problem to overcome: How to get the team across this very nasty river of very cold, swift running water.
You can see in this photo that Aliy did the only thing she could: She got off the runners, walked up to the front of the team, grabbed the leaders' tug lines and pulled the team across. In the process, her Neos boots not only got thoroughly soaked on the outside, but became full of water on the inside. Once she had the team across the overflow she had a new problem: What to do about her over boots, inner boots, socks and feet that were rapidly freezing into a solid block of ice. You cannot just "tough it out" in circumstances like these, you have to tend to your feet or you will lose them. Aliy was not going to make the same disastrous mistake others have made.
As you know from our in-depth series on drop bags, Aliy had sent a lot of extra gear -- including extra boots -- out to checkpoints on the trail. To make the dogs' load as light as possible, however, she had left everything but the bare minimums back at White Mountain. With her feet starting to freeze, she had the option to either go back to White Mountain for replacement boots -- which would not only mean an additional 10 mile detour for the dogs but also a demoralizing "turnaround" for them as well -- or to improvise.
Choosing the latter option, Aliy quickly took off her rapidly freezing boots while she still could and started improvising with a pair of thermal wind pants. She first cut the legs apart, then wrapped and lashed them around her feet. Next she took a number of the dogs' extra wind jackets and added them in lashed layers. Satisfied that her feet would stay reasonably dry and warm, she got back on the runners and got the team going down the trail.
A few miles later, Aliy saw something that looked like it might be useful hanging on one of the trail markers and stopped to investigate. There, out in the middle of nowhere, she had found another pair of wind pants! Presuming that some musher or snow machiner must have lost them and not come back for them, Aliy claimed dominion over them and repeated the process of cutting them apart and adding them to her functional -- and now quite fashionable! -- footwear.
As we all watched Aliy approach Nome from a distance, we saw these big "blobs" on her feet. We speculated as best we could that she had for some reason undone her Neos and they were flapping around her feet. When we got a closer look at her coming down Front Street, Aliy's mom said as only a mother can, "What is she wearing on her feet?!?" When we got to the dog pound after the finish line, Aliy started unwrapping her feet and telling us the story. Yet another tale of the trail that you have to see to believe!