Rod Perry 2013 All rights Reserved

    He’s ridden a wild moose!---and claims they give a smoother ride than a horse. Not once, but twice he has nursed from one's udder!--- the first time through curiosity, the second because of hunger. He eats Eskimo delicacies such as oshok (walrus flipper buried in the frozen ground for a year to ferment.) He's worked on a moose research project, and climbed part way up Mount McKinley with his dog team.  He's taken week's-long, unsupported trips by dog team through trackless, subarctic wilderness where no one monitored his progress, whereabouts or well-being. He competed in the wild-and-crazy, loosely-organized, first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
 

Obviously, he doesn't fit the stereotype of your typical writer. Can such a free spirit actually sit still long enough and handle a pen well enough to author a book of excellence?
 

 

Alaskan Adventurer

TrailBreakers

Can he ever! Rod Perry is a storyteller par excellence. Of the thousands of articles written about the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race since its inception in 1973, Rod's two-part piece in Alaska Magazine was the first. The motion picture that he conceived, wrote the original story for, filmed, co directed and co produced, Sourdough, is the most widely viewed feature ever filmed in Alaska. Those who have read Volume I of TRAILBREAKERS have given it rave reviews.
 

Just don't expect a moose rider to write like some desk-bound, pencil-necked librarian!

 

Rod and his famous lead dog -Fat Albert

Rod Perry

Volume I
An Iditarod Pioneer

 Growing up on the Oregon Coast, Rod had a father whose compelling descriptions summed with his avid reading about the North to inspire his enthusiasm for life in Alaska. In 1963, just five years after the territory became the forty-ninth state, he first came to southeastern Alaska to work with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. After returning to Oregon State University to finish a Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife management, Rod and his brother, Alan, moved to Alaska permanently.

  During his first years in Alaska, he helped coach the wrestling team at Dimond High School in Anchorage with Larry Kaniut, who would go on to become the well-known author of Alaska Bear Tales I and II, Some Bears Kill, Bear Tales for the Ages, Danger Stalks the Land and other popular books. Rod and Alan both won Alaska freesyle (Olympic-style) wrestling championships in their respective weight classes in 1968 and 1969.

  On the Kenai Peninsula, fabled then as supporting one of the greatest moose populations in the North, Rod served for a time on a moose research project. Though he was highly interested in the work, his creative nature, thirst for adventure and bent toward independence made agency work too confining. Additionally, a big part of his reason for moving north had been his vision to produce his own outdoor adventure motion pictures.

   In 1969 Rod began assembling footage that would become part of his major motion picture, Sourdough. It depicts the story of a venerable old prospector and trapper, a member of a vanishing breed attempting to carry on a traditional northern wilderness lifestyle amidst a passing old-time Alaska. Rod’s father Gilbert Perry, (pictured on the cover of this book), starred as the old sourdough. With final production help from Bob Pendleton, George Lukens and Martin Spinelli of Anchorage’s Pendleton Productions plus Hollywood’s Albert S. Ruddy Corp. (which produced The Godfather and The Longest Yard, among others) Sourdough swept around the globe in 1977-78. To this day more viewers worldwide have seen it than any other motion picture ever filmed in Alaska, including features made in Alaska by major Hollywood companies.

   During the years of filming Sourdough Rod took time out each season to guide sheep hunters in the Wrangell Mountains with master guide, Keith Johnson. He also managed to work in a lot of his own hunting. On one memorable marathon, Rod, his brother, Alan, and their friend John Lindeman made a 120-mile-long backpack hunt for sheep. That same fall he continued to take friends in quest of moose until he and six others had their winter meat supply.

Needing a dog team as part of his motion picture cast led Rod to assemble a few huskies, which he boarded with friends, Mike and Carolyn Lee. On one fateful weekend driving dogs at the Lees, Rod met dog musher, Joe Redington. The man set Rod’s imagination afire. Joe said he was planning a sled-dog race of epic proportions to be named The Iditarod Trail International Championship Sled Dog Race. Rod did not see how he could prepare and compete while in the thick of filming Sourdough but somehow, some way, he just had to go.

   The idea of staging an event of such a size, cost and difficulty drew endless public ridicule and scorn, especially from Anchorage-area sprint mushers. As a result, although the Anchorage bowl held half of the state’s total population, only one local driver—Rod—was interested enough or had enough faith in the Iditarod to compete in the first race. The media, therefore, focused more attention on him than would might be expected for a seventeenth-place finisher. Drawing even more of the home-town air time and ink than Rod, however, was his big, Malamute-Siberian lead dog, a real character named Fat Albert. Anchorage media soon made the colorful dog a local celebrity.

   After completing the historic first Iditarod in 1973, and with the snows hardly melting from the trail, Rod chronicled his and Fat Albert’s wild, primitive, trail-breaking experiences for Alaska Magazine in what editor Ed Fortier said was the longest two-part article ever to appear in that journal. The article was otherwise historic in that it was the first-ever feature-length piece on the Iditarod Trail Race to hit the international periodical press. One result was that Fat Albert’s celebrity status began to spread beyond Alaska’s border.

   The following year, the National Observer (a publication noted for journalistic excellence and a readership among the country’s moneyed intelligentsia) ran twelve straight weeks of Fat Albert and Rod Perry news. The Observer was the weekly news magazine companion to The Wall Street Journal, and several weeks, the Journal itself printed the coverage. That put the race before the eyes of the nation’s foremost business and political leaders. It was reported that over 160 newspapers around the country ran some, if not all of the articles. The Observer staff stated that the series drew more reader response than anything else in the history of their publication, including their coverage of the Kennedy assassination and Watergate.

   By the third year of the contest, Sports Illustrated took the race to its millions. Associate editor Coles Phinizy opined that in the short history of the Iditarod, the event had already established its Babe Ruth—but that the figure was not a man, but a dog named Fat Albert. Phinizy devoted a significant share of the feature to Rod’s big leader. Reader’s Digest picked up the Sports Illustrated article, further extending the legacy of Fat Albert.

   With all of the vast coverage, Fat Albert became the most well-known sled dog since Balto, the lead dog famed for the 1925 Nome Serum Run. Fat Albert publicity on the pages of some of the most widely read newspapers and magazines in the United States played a significant part in jump-starting the Iditarod in the international consciousness.
 

 Then Cecil Andrus, Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter, appointed Rod to the original Iditarod National Historic Trail Advisory Council. In 1980, personally worried that the new agency trail administrators might not be “doggy” enough, Rod outfitted and led the top three local officials to McGrath by dog team.

   Rod and his brother, Alan, ran the first six races, three apiece, placing in the money each time. Rod has often lamented that his two biggest undertakings, Sourdough and the Iditarod, overlapped. Sourdough would have been better without the Iditarod to divert his energies and visa versa. But Rod states emphatically that he would not have given up either for the world.

   Away from the spotlight, usually on his own, Rod has promoted the race in every way he could. As an example, he designed and produced the large and colorful Anchorage–Nome Iditarod Mushers patch. It is one of the world’s most famous, exclusive and coveted patches, and one that, properly, may be worn only by drivers who have officially completed the great race.

   In order to run the 1977 Iditarod, it was necessary for Rod to drive his team some 175 miles through largely trackless wilderness from his training headquarters at remote Lake Minchumina. On the way out he encountered trapper Leroy Shank, beginning a long friendship. As Rod’s party stayed at Leroy’s remote cabin overnight, a dream was kindled within the trapper to run his trapline by dog team. Driving dogs on his trapline led Leroy to driving dogs on the Iditarod, which finally led to him spawning the idea for the North’s other epic sled dog race, the Yukon Quest. That race runs a 1,000 miles between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

   Leroy invited Rod to stay at his Fairbanks home the winter of 1983-84 and help him, his friend, Roger Williams and the support group they had assembled get the Yukon Quest off the ground. Leroy, Roger and Rod worked 16-hour days, seven days a week, all winter long on the project. Early on, the three added Bud Smythe to form a quartet to drive to Whitehorse. There they spent four days breaking the news of Leroy’s plan to Canadian mushers, government officials and the public, convincing them of the Yukon Quest’s tremendous potential and helping them get an official structure started.

   On their journey to Whitehorse and back the four discussed and argued race philosophies rules. A number of the rules that became Yukon Quest cornerstones and characterize the race, particularly during its early years, were either of Rod’s creation or carried his input.

   Following his early Iditarod years, Rod fished commercially for everything from razor clams, shrimp and king crab to herring, halibut and salmon. Most prominently, he owned and operated a Bristol Bay salmon drift gillnet business for many years with his partner, Reverend Keith Lauwers, one of Alaska’s most well-known and beloved ministers.

   Besides big-game guiding, working on moose research, commercial fishing, and running the Iditarod, Rod humorously supposes that he can lay claim to having done just about everything else on the classic Real Alaskan list. He has survived several bear charges, his closest call being the encounter at three paces in a dense thicket with a snarling sow with cubs guarding a kill. He has lived in the Alaska Bush, some of that time in Eskimo villages where he was honored with an Eskimo given name, Bopik. Rod even developed a taste for Native delicacies such as muktuk (whale skin with blubber attached) and oshock (walrus flipper buried in the frozen ground for a year to ferment.) Rod helped build three log cabins. He served nearly two decades with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

   While Rod does lack a couple of musts on most people’s short list of necessary Real Alaskan accomplishments, he laughingly boasts others that, though unusual and bizarre, should more than make up for the omissions. For instance, Rod has never been a bush pilot. But how many bush pilots can truthfully claim to have ridden a wild moose? (Brother Alan, later rode one, too.) Nor has he climbed Mount McKinley (although, with their dog teams, Rod and his old pal Ron Aldrich helped veteran freighter Dennis Kogl haul a climbing team’s gear and supplies for a Mount McKinley assent through McGonnigal Pass to a high ridge above the Muldrow Glacier.) On the other hand, how many McKinley climbers can truthfully boast to have sucked milk straight from a moose’s udder? Rod has done that, not once, but twice! (He says the first time was spurred by curiosity, the second by hunger.)

   For some 25 years Rod’s old wrestling-coach friend, author Larry Kaniut, prodded him to write a book. His knowledge of gold-rush history and intimate familiarity with the details of the founding of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race made producing this two-volume work second-nature to Rod. How the original gold rush trail came to be—Volume I, and how the modern race was established—Volume II, came as readily as driving his dog team over a well-broken trail.