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! 

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