Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Anchorage Ceremonial Start

Across this great country of ours there seems to be a tremendous amount of confusion regarding the phrase, “March Madness.”  In forty-nine of the fifty states, many people believe that March Madness has something to do with college basketball.  Here in Alaska everyone knows that March Madness means only one thing, IDITAROD!!!

If you are one of the confused, I would like to invite you to reconsider.  The Iditarod kicks off on the first Saturday in March.  Sixty to eighty dog teams converge on Anchorage prepared for the challenge known as the Last Great Race.  Thousands of fans from around the state who by March have succumbed to varying degrees of cabin fever, looking for any excuse to get outdoors and have a little fun, come out to wish their favorite mushers well, enjoy the almost spring like weather, and to celebrate the historical role that huskies and mushers have played in Alaska’s history.   Add to the mix the enlightened few from every corner of the globe who show up to see what this Iditarod thing is all about, and you’ve got a world class championship sporting event mixed with what only can be described as an Alaskan version of Mardi Gras.

Some say that the downtown Anchorage start is merely ceremonial, others think of it as a spectacle, some mushers even think of it as one of the challenges to running the Iditarod, few folks if any think of it as the official start of the Iditarod.  For me, the Iditarod officially started on that preceding Thursday, when I arrived at the Millennium Hotel to attend the driver’s meeting.  The crystal water glasses placed at each seat made it obvious that this was a little different than let’s say the Copper Basin or the Knik race.  The meeting itself wasn’t much different, just longer.

The first half of the meeting was spent taking care of business.  We were informed about how the GPS tracking device worked and who would be installing them and when.  I received my vet book, which I must sign and have signed by a vet at every checkpoint.  I signed for receiving the symbolic mail cache, which I also must have at every checkpoint.  I then got an hour or so of practicing my autograph.  I signed posters, hats, and five bottles of wine with my mug on the label.   

Just before lunch, they had the Iditariders come in, these are folks who won online bidding wars in order to ride in the sled of one of the mushers on Saturday’s ceremonial start.  As each stepped up to the podium, their respective musher was announced and stood up, so the Iditariders could get a chance to put a face to the name they were obviously anxious to meet.

We were then escorted out into the foyer for the annual champagne toast and photo shoot.  We were short a couple of seats, and I got sandwiched between Zoya Denure, and Brendan Norden.  Any guesses as to whose chair I opted to share?  A comment was made as to how silly this was.  I responded by saying that I thought it was really cool.  I couldn’t help but think of all the old grainy black and white photos of all the great dog mushers, the explorers, trappers and miners of that era that I relished as a kid.  These images have a lot to do with who I’ve become.  I can’t help but think that in a hundred years people will look back on our current mega pixel digital images as archaic relics, just like we do those old black and white photos of yester year.  Perhaps, in the future some kid somewhere will relish these now current photos, and emulate all of us as I did my predecessors, and just maybe they will inspire that person to challenge themselves in their own personal way.

After the photo shoot there was a pizza lunch for Iditaroders and Iditariders.  I didn’t have an Iditarider just yet, so I got a little break.  My sled was randomly pulled from the bidding.  Iditarod does this just in case an Iditaroder were to pull out before the event placing the Iditarod in the sticky situation of having more Iditariders than Idtaroders.  In the event that no one pulls out, the Iditarod puts the remaining sleds up for bid at a live auction held on Friday night during their presenting sponsors diner party, which was the case this year. 

The remainder of the meeting was dedicated to the trail and conditions.  Very frustrating for a rookie, “In and out of Rainy just like last year,” “Hot water available at the same spots as last year,” And my personal favorite and the line that every race marshal needs to memorize before accepting the position, “The trail is in the best shape it’s ever been in.”  Guess I’ll just have to figure it out as we go along.

That evening we headed over to the banquet, which was held at the Dena’ina center downtown.   I drew bib number twenty-seven and got a chance to thank my sponsors.  Caitlin thought that twenty-seven was a really cool number because it was a cubic number and she thought it was a really, really cool number because it’s cubic root was three.  Yikes!

Until all of the personal pre-race parties start, Friday is sort of an off day, unless you’re still putting your sled together or something like that.  Kidding, my sled was good to go despite what you all might have heard.  It had five miles on it going into Saturdays run. 

Now I’m not the kind of guy who believes in rituals, or superstitions, I even have a hard time believing in luck.  However, I do have one particular quirk, which I myself find difficult to explain, and that is, I must stay at the Inlet Towers on Good Friday, (that’s what I call the day before Iditarod.)  It’s where I’ve stayed on Good Friday every year since 2006, or since I’ve been in Alaska.  Just good vibes I guess, (vibes, that’s not superstitious is it?)

My pre-race party was held in the lounge of the Mixx Grill, at the Inlet Towers.  A few of my neighbors from Cantwell came down, as well as a few of my mushing buddies, Mark, (Prez, as in president of the ITC,) and Debbie Moderow made an appearance, Lindsay’s, (one of our handlers,) mom and grand-mom flew up from Oregon to attend, a few of my sponsors and plenty of folks that were staying at the hotel for the Iditarod joined us.  My friend Scott Smith presented me with a bundle of shaved spruce bows and pipe clamps wrapped together neatly with pink duct tape, (didn’t even know they made pink duct tape,) as a repair kit for the sled I’d built which he was confident was never going to make it.  I christened it the Spruce Bow Award.  I’m thrilled to report that everyone had a great time.  The manager excitedly reported that it was his second biggest night of the year.  Can’t imagine what the biggest night of the year was, but I’m confident we will rise to the challenge next year.  I will be very disappointed with myself if I haven’t already convinced you that Anchorage is the only place on the planet to be on Good Friday, so I’m just going to assume that all of you will be in town next year.  So here it is, in writing, a personal invite to our pre-race party. 
When:  Good Friday, 2012. 
Where:  The Inlet Towers 1200 L Street. 
Time:  6:00 P.M. 
Why:  Help us be number one!    

I mentioned earlier that the Iditarod was planning to auction off my sled on Friday night, and I thought that I was obligated to be there for the auction.  Well, I was really disappointed when they told me that they didn’t need me there.  So I asked if I could come if I wanted to.  They said sure, but they didn’t sound so sure.  I just couldn’t believe that they would raise as much money for the ceremonial ride as they could if I was present.  I mean who would go crazy bidding on a no name rookie musher like me without knowing a darn thing about me.  Lets face it I’m not exactly Martin Buser.  So, despite the hesitation I perceived, I showed up anyway.

I entered the banquet room, and to my surprise there was Lance, as in Sir, strutting around the room in a full-length fur coat that the crowd was very actively bidding on.  Apparently, admittance to such events is one of the perks of being ordained, “Sir.”  The auctioneer saw me standing there and jumped over the remaining items to put my ride up for bid.  I didn’t get as much, “Mike time,” as I would’ve liked but I managed to get one joke in and, yes, even Lance laughed. 

The bidding started at what I thought was a ridiculously low dollar amount, but it quickly increased which made me feel a whole lot better.  A live auction is something I’ve never participated in, and after having been involved in one, I now have all the admiration in the world for auctioneers.  I thought I could talk a lot, but wow, the dialogue was so fast it was impossible to follow.  I didn’t understand a word the guy said.  I never saw a hand go up, nothing.  All I can remember was that occasionally a higher dollar amount was announced.  That’s got to be good, right?  I hope so, because every time I heard the figure go up I stuck my thumb up like I knew what the hell was going on.  Before I could determine if attending was a good idea or not, a gavel struck the podium and I had been sold to Meg Smith.  I practically jumped from the stage and gave her a big hug.  Although I was ecstatic to be the first musher in Iditarod’s history to attend the auctioning of their Iditaride, I was at the moment very relieved to have had the whole ordeal behind me.  As it turns out Meg had been an Iditarider in 2009, and was bidding on behalf of her husband Mike.  I retreated form the event thrilled to finally know who my Iditarider would be, and more than happy to hand the remainder of the evenings festivities back over to Lance.

I haven’t had the opportunity to watch much TV since the glory days of serial television, when Dallas was the must see on TV. And I would like to remind readers that the reason they didn’t tell you, “who shot Jr,” in the first episode of the season was because the network wanted you all to stay glued to your sets for the remainder of the season. So if you really want to know how the 2011 iditarod unfolded from my perspective, you’ll just have to drag your laptop along with you all summer. I’ve got a lot of miles to cover, and I’m just not as fast as I once was.

Our trip down the Avenue, as in 4th, and the re-start coming soon.


Friday, March 25, 2011

The big question answered

This was sent to me via Email from a long time friend:

    “Welcome back!  We followed you and Catlin’s comments during the race, and are proud of your progress down the trail.  (Great Photos, by the way).  And, now we’re looking forward to your Iditarod account.
     So, get busy!  WRITE, WRITE, WRITE… we know you can do it.  We want to know what you experienced on the trail, and how you felt about it.  You know the big question, everyone is going to ask, don’t you?  … i.e. Will you do it again?  You might have to address this, before too long, too.”

    I was just finishing up part two of my Iditarod wrap up, which chronicles our time in Anchorage and the ceremonial start, (which will be posted no later than tomorrow morning, I promise.)  Part 2 of my Iditarod experience does not however answer the question that everybody is going to ask.  Honestly I hadn’t thought that the question everybody was going to ask was a question at all.  A huge part of the reason it takes me so long to get material posted is because I’m already busy preparing for the 2012 Iditarod, running two teams of yearlings everyday.  My afternoons are occupied running two teams of puppies, in preparation for the 2013 Iditarod.  Oh yeah, and this time of year we also invest a ton of our time dealing with our breeding program which would take us into the 2014 Iditarod.  (ATTN: anybody driving to Alaska via Arkansas, please give me a call I have a new lead dog down there that needs a ride.)  ANY MORE QUESTIONS!

    Yes I plan to run the Iditarod until my knees, back, and fingers completely give out, or until there is a mini  me  wishing to take over,  (hint, hint.)

    Shortly before the re-start in Willow a good friend Mike Ellis, (crazy Quester,) stopped by our rig, and while we were talking I commented that I couldn’t wait until next year, and he laughed and said your already thinking about next year, and I said Mike you gotta see what I’ve got at home.

    Jason Reppert who I worked with briefly during my tenure at Jeff King’s operation, was one of the volunteers at Nikolai.  He called Caitlin shortly after his stint in Nikolai to report that I was totally in my element.  

    Don’t get me wrong, I often wish this wasn’t the case.  During my 24 in Takotna, I was talking with Sonny Linder, he asked me how it was going and I told him that I sort of wished that I was having a miserable time of it, so that I could give this crazy lifestyle up, and live a normal life, maybe take an annual vacation with the wife to Hawaii or someplace where normal people vacation, maybe even have the money to have plumbing installed in the house, (man I often dream about flushing something, anything.)  I might even take the time to see my doctor more than once every ten years, (huh, funny, if I got a doctor I can’t remember his or her name,) I probably would even start thinking about a retirement account or something like that, (Anybody have any Idea who the hell this IRA fella is, has he ever run the Iditarod?)   

    The bottom line:  It took me almost twenty years to admit it, but I’ve got a serious problem.  I’m an addict.  Dogs, dog mushing, and the Iditarod are all that I think about.  Poor Caitlin.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Iditarod Wrap Up

Shortly after arriving back in Anchorage, I received a call from a friend who was apparently surprised by the manner in which I answered the phone.  She said, “I’m glad to see your ego is intact.”  I have no idea why my ego, great or small, should’ve been altered in any way.  Yes, it’s true that less then 24 hours earlier I was in Unalakleet making the difficult decision to withdraw from the 2011 Iditarod.  I suppose some people might think that withdrawing from the Iditarod would be devastating to one’s self esteem, but as I look back on my rookie experience, which was Iditarod 2011, proud is how I feel.

I am first and foremost very proud of the group of dogs with whom I had the privilege to travel the Iditarod trail.  I have been impressed by the athletic feats and determination of sled dogs for years, but the dogs and their performance still managed to astound me. I’m very proud of the people who have worked with us all winter in order to get us to the starting line.  Friends and family gave up hours, days, and months of time to help us train and prepare the supplies and equipment needed for the race.  I’m also very proud of the companies and friends, whose financial help made Iditarod possible.  It was fun to see their excitement at being involved with our team and this incredible adventure and encouraging to know that they were behind us. And I’m awfully proud of my wife for being as always the backbone of everything we do. 

As I sit here trying to capture my thoughts and opinions of the 2011 Iditarod my memory is a little overwhelmed.  There is just too much to process in such a short time.  So Iditarod junkies keep your refresh buttons warm and check back as we begin the Last Great Race again.  I plan to take you with me, checkpoint by checkpoint, as I try to relive the 2011 Iditarod.

Prelude to future installments

As the sun set on our first day of racing, I noticed that the green and red lights of the GPS tracking device mounted to my sled would, every fifteen minutes or so, blink alternately.  I assumed that the flashing lights indicated that the tracking device was sending out its signal indicating my location, speed, etc.  I immediately thought of Caitlin at home waiting anxiously for the next blip of info.  By the second night, which was spent heading over Rainy Pass and then down the Dalzell Gorge, I caught myself referring to the GPS unit as Caitlin.  Sunrise, day three, heading out of the Rohn check point I started to question my sanity, after all, only seriously delusional individuals name inanimate objects.  I began to compare my behavior with that of Tom Hanks’ character in the movie, “Cast Away.”  As the dogs scurried up and over the Post-Rohn Glacier, I was preoccupied trying to determine if talking to a basketball named Wilson was as crazy, or was it in fact, crazier then me naming my GPS tracker Caitlin.  By the third night I had completely given up trying to evaluate my sanity.  I was convinced that, if I concentrated on a particular thought when the unit now known as Caitlin blinked, I could transmit subliminal messages home via satellite.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Over to the coast

I am watching Mike and the dogs make good progress towards Unalakleet.  As of right now they have 19 miles left to go.  Many of you noticed that Mike took a long layover at Kaltag.  The dogs have gotten a stomach virus and Mike has been working hard to keep them hydrated.  Just like people sometimes get sick when traveling on crowded airplanes, dogs can share viruses when they come together at races.  In Kaltag Mike used every trick he knew to try to get more liquid into the dogs.  He also consulted with the veterinarians.  One thing that Mike has stood out for is his commitment to providing the best possible care for his dogs.  During the All Alaska Sweepstakes, in 2008, Mike impressed our veterinarian, Jayne Hempstead, with his resolve to put the needs of the dogs before his own ambitions. 

This morning, after giving the dogs a long rest, Mike decided to withdraw three dogs from his team, Nestor, Zazu, and Ziplock, and continue on towards Unalakleet.  While fighting a virus is not how Mike would choose to be running his first Iditaord, he may get a kick out of the article about his dilemma by the Iditarod news titled "Should I Stay or Should I Go."  Here in Cantwell, Mike has a local radio station, WOOF FM 102.1, and on that station he has included the song "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash.  I think Mike would be pleased that at least his struggles have a rock and roll connection. 

As Mike made his way accross the Kaltag portage, he chose to give the dogs a break at Old Woman Cabin  (Thank you GPS for keeping me in the loop.)  Old Woman Cabin has a rich Iditarod history.  Many mushers have stopped there over the years.  Part of Mike must desire to be moving up the trail at a winning pace.  However, having the opportunity to take a moment to see some of the places along the way is an incredible opportunity. 

This evening I spoke to a friend who was working at the Nikolai checkpoint.  He said that Mike and the dogs looked great and that Mike was clearly in his element out there on the trail.  Whatever trials and troubles Mike may experience during this race I know that they are paired with experiences and possibilities that only exist when your dream big. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Off the river

Mike and the dogs have made it to the end of the stretch of the Yukon river traversed by the Iditarod trail.  Mike made the good decision to give the team a long rest in the afternoon sunshine.  I could see on the GPS that it was 26 degrees (above!).  Resting in the heat of the day is very relaxing for the dogs.  They are able to stretch out and be comfortable.  Mike could no doubt see the benefit to his team as their pace picked up following the rest. 

From Kaltag, Mike will head overland towards the Bering Sea coast.  The trail follows the Kaltag portage.  There are a couple of BLM cabins along the trail, most well know is Old Woman Cabin.  These cabins are open to all and stocked with firewood.  They offer shelter to travelers who may encounter the fierce coastal storms.  The legend is that you need to leave something at the cabin for the Old Woman so she will not chase you and bring you bad luck.  When Mike when through the area in 2008 he left a bag of goodies made by our good friend Tom Farbo.  Tom included his best sewing needle and thread.  I hope that she remembers and brings Mike and the dogs good luck on their trip through. 

It is 75 miles to Unalakleet. This will be another long run for the team.   Mike is doing a wonderful job of caring for the dogs and keeping them happy and healthy on this first trip to Nome. They have traveled 624 miles in the last week.  When they reach Unalakleet, they will have 236 miles until they reach Nome.  While they are narrowing in on the end, the run on the coast can be challenging and brutal.  I am glad that Mike has traveled this part of the trail before so that he can know what to expect. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Up the Yukon

Mike and the team have come nearly 100 miles since they left Shageluk at 4:30 this morning.  Mike took his mandatory 8 hour break at Shageluk.  Each musher is required to make three mandatory layovers during the race.  One is the 24 hour break at a checkpoint of their choice.  One is an 8 hour break at a checkpoint on the Yukon river,  And the last is 8 hours at White Mountain, the second to last checkpoint.  While these are the only mandatory stops, mushers stop their teams many more times.  Mike is trying to offer our dogs nearly as many hours of rest as they are spending running. 

For the last 75 miles, Mike has been traveling up the Yukon river into the wind.  The Yukon is an immense river close to 2000 miles long and several miles wide.  The unforgiving winds challenge even the most determined mushers and dogs.  Mike and the dogs will take a break at Eagle Island and then face the last 65 miles up the river.  When Mike reaches Kaltag, where he will leave the Yukon river, he will be traveling a trail he has seen before.  In 2008, Mike drove his snowmobile to Nome and he joined the Iditaord trail at Kaltag. Hopefully this familiarity will make the trip a little easier for him.  Having a chance to see the trail and learn about its challenges and amenities is a big part of what Mike wants to do on his rookie run.  I know that he is gaining valuable insights in strategy and dog care that will help him in future races. 

Before the race began, Mike showed me his plan to Takotna.  However, I never saw his plan from Takotna to Nome, so I am at the edge of my seat watching the race progress.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Through Shageluk

Mike and the dogs have just made it over one of the most difficult parts of the Iditarod trail.  From the ghost town of Iditarod to Shageluk the trail exists only for the race.  The majority of the Iditarod trail serves as the local roads for villagers.  Alaska, with its abundance of water, becomes much easier to traverse once it freezes.  The locals use their snowmobiles to get around.  Hence the Iditarod trail varies in width and definition based on local use.  Since the section from Iditarod to Shageluk is not used by locals, it does not have as secure a base as where it receives traffic all winter.  A trail without a secure base is like trying to run on sand.  It takes a lot more energy.  Mike gave the dogs a long break in the afternoon sun, partway through this run.  This should help keep the dogs happy, healthy, and running at the right time of day. 

Mike and Oz

From Shageluk, Mike will head towards Anvik, on the Yukon river.  The Yukon can bring challenging weather conditions for dog teams.  It is often very windy, with the teams having face it head on.  This, combined with the monotony of traveling this immense river for 150 miles, can test the determination of both the musher and the dogs.   People often ask Mike which dogs are his leaders.  Of the dogs on his team, only two of them do not run in the lead position.  However, different dogs are better at leading at different times.  Knowing how to use the strengths of your dogs is a big part of driving a team successfully.  To run up the river and into the wind, Mike will not be looking for the leader that knows every turning command or the leader who can find a trail buried in snow.  Instead, he will likely call on his bullheaded dogs who are determined to keep going, no matter what.  Nestor is the definition of this kind of dog.  He may not be an ivy league graduate, but he will definitely get it done.  When hooking up the dogs for a run in the kennel, Nestor often has to join the group last to prevent him from breaking the equipment in his desire to get moving.  Carrie sent me this outstanding picture which captures Nestor's personality as he waited for the start in Willow. 

Lindsay and Nestor

It has been fun hearing from the many folks that are following Mike's progress.  Tonight I heard that Lawrence Winkler is calling him the Cantwell Cannonball.  Look out Yukon river, here they come! 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On the trail to Iditarod

Patton waiting for the start

Mike and the dogs are on the long trail between Ophir and Iditarod.  Mike is doing a fantastic job of managing the team.  They left their 24 hour break with a bang and made it to Ophir in just over two hours.  He then gave them a two hour break in the afternoon sun. Sled dogs prefer to rest during the warmest part of the day and in the latest part of the night, from midnight to dawn.  This allows them to run near dawn and dusk, similar times to when their crepuscular ancestors chose to hunt.  By giving the team a break right away he set them up to run at the right time of day and broke up the 100 miles between Takotna to Iditaord.

Iditarod is a ghost town once inhibited by ten thousand people in pursuit of gold.  Over $35 million dollars of gold was taken from the area in the early 1900's. Iditarod is considered the halfway point of the southern route of the race. 


As I have been following the GPS tracker, I have been looking at my Alaska Gazetteer atlas.  When Mike left Takona this morning he clearly reached a critical point geographically.  The scale of the maps has changed so that now 1 inch represents 22 miles instead of 4.8 miles.  I think that this idea of traveling where few people have gone before, where maps do not exist in great detail, is part of the mystique of the Iditarod.

Dr. Jayne Hempstead and Caitlin

Preparing a team for the Iditarod has been a humbling and inspiring experience.  I can't even begin to explain the amount of help we have needed.  It has taken the four of us, Mike, Lindsay, Nick, and I, working more than 16 hours a day.  Even with this we have needed help in numerous ways.  Friends, family, and supporters have gone to extremes to help us prepare.  While I know that some of this generosity is due to our friendships, I think that part of it is the appeal of participating in the type of exploration and adventure that is hard to achieve in the modern world.  It is not often that someone has the chance to head off into the wilderness with only his own wits and skills to care for himself.  People are captivated, also, by the idea of someone following and fulfilling a lifelong dream.  While I sometimes question my choices and my commitment to this adventure because of the challenges and sacrifices it requires, I know that others who have not taken the road less traveled by also question their choices and wonder, if only...  The Iditarod presents a chance for people on all paths to join in a great dream and a wild adventure. 

Down the road less traveled

Special thanks to Carrie Skinner for the great photos!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

24 in Takotna

Mike and the team got to Takotna at 7:40 am this morning.  According to Mike's plan he wrote in Anchorage, he was anticipating arriving in Takotna at 8 am.  Pretty incredible strategy.  Talk about a musher who knows exactly how his dogs will perform.  Mike and the dogs, and many other mushers, are taking their 24 hour break in Takotna.  Each musher is required to stop at a checkpoint of their choice for 24 hours.  Mike will actually be staying for 25 hours and 10 minutes.  This will accommodate for the difference in starting times of the teams.  The 24 hour break is a chance for mushers to get a little extra sleep and give extra food and care to their dogs.  Takotna is one of the favorite spots for a 24 due to its great hospitality and food. 

Many people have asked me if I have heard from Mike.  I had not heard from him since the start of the race, but I was hoping that he might call during his 24.  (My one fear was that he would not remember our phone number!)  However, he not only remembered it, but found time and a phone to call on.  His report was filled with great news.  He says that the dogs are doing incredibly.  They have been running at a really steady pace, which has kept them happy and healthy.  He is taking great care of them and is totally impressed by their performance and attitudes.  He said that he himself is doing great.  He is eating and feels very sharp, despite the lack of sleep.  He plans to get some good rest tonight.  He has finally had a chance to take his boots off.  He said the only chance he had to go inside before this was for an hour in Nikolai. 

Overall, he kept expressing how awesome his experience has been.  When I asked him what I should tell people he said it is "indescribable."  I can't even begin to imagine the country that he is having a chance to see and the connection he is experiencing with the dogs.  Mike explains that the relationship between a musher and his dogs is akin to military comrades.  Both he and the dogs are vested in their mutual success.  Hence the level of trust they develop and their understanding of each other's needs, habits, and nuances is extraordinary. 

I have definitely been enjoying the 24 hour break.  I still find myself checking the GPS info, even though I know he is staying still.  Mike gave me an interesting perspective on the trackers.  He said that each time it sends a signal to the satelites, it does so with a little flash of red light.  So just as we are thinking of him every 15 minutes, as the report updates, he is also thinking of us watching him. 

Photo Sarah Waterman

Tomorrow will bring more movement down the trail.  It is a short 20 miles to Ophir, but then 80 miles to Iditarod and still a total of 620 miles to Nome.  Until tomorrow I hope you are all having as much fun with your dogs as Mike is with ours. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Over the Alaska Range

Mike and the team are resting in Nikolai.  They have made it over the Alaska Range and across the Farewell Burn.  Mike is exactly on the schedule that he created.  It has been really fun, albeit a bit nerve racking to watch him on the GPS.  I think Mike's brother Anthony said it best "its killing me, not to mention my productivity."  Despite this, I still highly recommend the Insider GPS tracker.  The information is much more current than the standings on the Iditarod page.  I expect Mike to leave Nikolai in a few hours and make the run to McGrath and Takotna.
Photo by Greg Sellentin

I have been hoping for more videos of Mike, but did not see any today.  Maybe the camera crew will have a chance to catch up with him during his 24 in Takotna.  Mike withdrew 3 dogs, Clyde, Lager, and Uber, from his team in Rainy Pass.  They have been flown back to Anchorage, are currently resting at our friend's house, and will be home in the kennel on Thursday. 

I have been having fun answering the fan mail that Mike has received from students around the country.  I appreciate the kids' enthusiasm and practicality.  The most humorous questions I have received so far are "Do you have a best friend?"  and "Where do you go to the bathroom?"  Another student told me he has a dog named Tango.  "She tears up everything. But the dog before was good."

Photo by Sarah Waterman

I am looking forward to Mike's 24 hour break, as knowing he is staying still may allow me to take a break from clicking refresh on my computer.  More updates tomorrow!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Iditarod Start and Restart

We have had a wonderful time at the start and the restart.  Mike was very relaxed the whole time.  (Much more than I was!)  The dogs look fantastic.  They are eating everything in sight and are enthusiastic and playful.  We spent the weekend at the Inlet Tower in Anchorage, which is a great place to stay with dogs.  It is very close to everything, but has a quiet parking lot for letting the dogs out of the truck.  We were joined by good friends at the musher's banquet and Mike spoke memorably as he drew his bib number (27).  He explained the mushers are not superheros and must rely on the help and support of many others.  For us this includes our handlers, Nick and Lindsay, our families and friends who have helped us in so many ways, and our fantastic sponsors:  Grainger, Ringers Gloves, Cantwell Veterinary Services, Denali Fly Fishing Guides, Ahtna, Cantwell Native Village Council, The Cantwell Lodge, Alpine Creek Lodge, Jindex, Marmot, Eddie Bower, Inlet Tower, Mix Grill, Wheeler EMS.  

The ceremonial start went well.  The dogs were relatively patient.  I managed to make it to the starting line running in front of the team.  (Believe me this is not easy.)  Lindsay made it the whole way around on Mike's second sled with a smile one her face and her feet (and runners) on the ground.  Mike enjoyed throwing hats, gloves, and earbands to the crowds from Grainger and Ringers Gloves. 

Photo thanks to Donna Quante
The restart in Willow could not have been better.  It was a perfect day.  We saw all sorts of good friends, and the sent Mike off with a bang.  Brandon, who got to ride the sled to the starting line with Mike told me they said they needed extra people to hold our team back. 
Brandon Lee popper-scooper and dog food stacker extraordinaire

 The final roster for the team is Icarus, Iowa, Hawkeye, Phoebe, Lugnut, Nestor, Oz, Patton, Clifford, Titus, Twain, Uber, Ziplock, Zazu, Clyde, and Lager.

Mike's Sled Ready for Action

  While our dogs are not known for patience they waited for their time to start.  There is a great video of Mike and Clifford, Zazu, and Oz on the Iditarod Insider.  If you do not have a subscription yet, you have to get one.  I am especially enjoying the GPS tracker which gives updates of location and speed every 15 minutes. 
Nestor in his one moment of waiting patiently
So far, the race seems to be progressing exactly as Mike planned.  He is giving the dogs lots of rest and making his way down the trail.  There was a video posted last night of him taking a break on the trail and again, he seemed cool and collected.  He is currently in Rainy Pass with 16 dogs.  This means that he has made it through the infamous steps.  There are several videos of teams crashing in the steps and, for once, I am glad we didn't make it on camera.  I am looking forward to watching his progress and sharing my insights with you, so keep checking back! 
Photo thanks to Rick Wise