UPDATE: Daily News reporter Kevin Klott caught up with Akiak musher Mike Williams late yesterday just before Williams departed from his mandatory 24-hour layover.
They talked on the northern bank of the Takotna River as snowflakes fell from a partly cloudy sky.
Williams is carrying the mementos of Anchorage Dr. Roger Gollub in a Ziploc bag that rides in the front of his sled. To recap: Williams mushes to promote sobriety, and Gollub was killed in a collision with a snowmobile while mushing near Kotzebue. Troopers say the snowmachine driver, who has been charged with murder, had been drinking.
Here's what Williams had to say:
-- "I heard about the accident. It was a horrible accident. Roger loved the Iditarod so much. He was a huge supporter of the race."
-- "His wife, Diane, and some doctors got together and thought about what we should do in terms of upping my message of sobriety. There are so many accidents when people are under the influence of alcohol."
-- "All six of my brothers died from accidental deaths and suicide. I’m the only one standing. That is why I started to mush for sobriety to continue my healing process. I’m still grieving. Running the Iditarod is my healing process."
-- "When the diphtheria was run, why did the dogs make it to Nome? To save lives. The Alaska Native people have been hit hard. We need to turn that around. There have been millions (of dollars) thrown at the problem, but they don’t seem to be working."
-- "My heart goes out to her (Gollub's wife). That’s why I’m running and I’ll continue to no matter how long it takes to get to Nome. I’ll get there. I have a reason to finish."
-- "I’ve carried ... sobriety pledges since 1991. I’ve carried their signatures for years. They do their part and I do my part. I face the challenges."
-- "It’s not for glory. I’m just a survivor."
As Yupik musher Mike Williams races for Nome on the Iditarod trail this week, he’s carrying a little something extra in his sled:
These are keepsakes and mementos remembering Anchorage pediatrician Roger Gollub, who was killed by a snowmachine while trying his hand at mushing in November outside Kotzebue. Troopers say the man who hit him, Patrick Tickett, had been doing drugs and drinking the day of the crash.
That's where Williams -- known across Alaska as the "sobriety musher" -- comes in. Born in Akiak, he lost six brothers to alcohol. One brother fell through ice of the Kuskokwim River, where searches found a whiskey bottle floating in the open water. Another shot himself after drinking homebrew. In 1992, Williams began running the Iditarod to send a message about stopping alcohol abuse across the state.
The musher and Gollub’s widow, Diane Abrahams-Gollub, caught up with each other while Williams was training in Big Lake last month. “He explained how alcohol had affected his family and that he mushes simply for the cause of calling awarenesss to alcohol abuse in the Bush,” Diane said.
As you can imagine, Diane’s been having a hard time since her husband died. She made Williams a pot of beef stew -- “I frankly hadn’t cooked since Roger’s been gone … There’s nobody here,” she said -– and brought the musher a collection of keepsakes to take on the trail.
Diane said she didn’t want to weigh him down, and figured he’d pick and choose what to take. As far as she knows, Williams decided to carry it all to Nome, including:
* A 25-year-old love letter Diane wrote Roger just before they married.
* Notes to their father from the couple’s adult daughters.
* Roger’s stethoscope.
* A plush toy in the shape of the virus that causes the common cold – a nod to the doctor’s life’s work for the Indian Health Service. (He was semi-retired and periodically went to Kotzebue to treat local children.)
* The wool socks he wore as a hiker. Gollub wanted to hike every trail in Alaska and was an Iditarod junkie who would e-mail friends with race updates throughout the day.
“Some kids have baseball cards, Roger had Iditarod,” Diane said.
On a side note: Williams and Diane Abrahams-Gollub met through a mutal friend, Dr. Lily Lou. Lou is medical director for the Providence newborn intensive care unit, which takes care of babies born prematurely.
She’s launched a program where mushers take the footprints of premature babies from around Alaska along with them on the Iditarod trail to drum up support for funding, prevention and research.
This year, mushers DeeDee Jonrowe and Jessie Royer are carrying the footprints, which will be mailed in envelopes back to the babies’ parents – plus state lawmakers, Gov. Sarah Palin and President Barack Obama.
Here’s Jonrowe and Royer signing the envelopes: