Two Young Guns

Originally posted February 27, 2012

When I’m asked, “Who’s your pick to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race?”  I answer the questioner that if he had any idea of the complexities and variables that go into final Iditarod standings, he wouldn’t even ask. But with that caveat, I’ll clue you to two young stars on the rise. These 25ish guys are at the front of an up-and-coming few who have chosen distance racing as a profession immediately out of the chute following graduation.

Jake Berkowitz   Kelly Hartog, commenting on Jake in the Jewish Daily Forward said, “What’s truly incredible is that a ‘Nice Jewish Boy’ has chosen to run dogs for a living. My son the dog musher isn’t exactly something you hear around the Sabbath dinner table.”

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Birch is the firewood of choice here along the old Iditarod Trail, but only for home use. That’s because, in the round, birch never dries, only rots. Year after year it remains wet inside the bark. Birch bark is so impervious it will not let moisture from the green wood out. Birch wood will only dry when spit, stacked, and left a good while to cure. So for campfires, travelers of the northern wilderness turn to other woods which dry while standing dead. The most commonly used is spruce. But for cabin use, where you have time to work ahead on next year’s supply, you cut and split a few cords of birch, which produces more calories of heat per cord than spruce.

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Ice Cream and Lemonade

My mother spent her last years here with us near the old Iditarod Trail. But she grew up in a sod house and half dugout on a land claim in New Mexico Territory. She was born at a time when Pancho Villa’s raiding was keeping things lively thereabouts, before the territory became our forty-seventh state.

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A Proposal to Iditarod Hall of Fame Selectors

I hereby submit Dan Seavey for your consideration for induction into the Iditarod Hall of Fame. My perception is that, apart from the late Joe Redington Sr., those already making up the Hall were deemed deserving because of a single meritorious area of achievement or contribution. However, as was Joe, Dan Seavey is “Iditarod multifaceted,” being distinctive for achievements and contributions in several areas of Iditarod. Each is noteworthy enough by itself to make him deserving of your consideration.

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The other day I was out walking close-by the old Iditarod Trail, with the goal of getting this new bionic hip of mine operational enough by fall to be able to pack into my backcountry haunts in quest of a freezer full of moose and caribou. Along the way I was paid an introductory social call. The visitor was my first mosquito of the season. This year they have showed up late. Following our all-time record winter snowfall, the slow-to-melt ground cover has been sealing off the pest’s emergence. Then the almost rainless spring has dried up the finally-snow-free surface, delivering a one-two kibosh.

The lone representative, no doubt sent out as an advance scout, was, as always, one of the big, slow oafs of spring, the dumbest and most hapless of Alaska’s twenty-something species. These approach singly and tentatively, so are easy to cope with. Later will arrive the little, fast, mean ones, issuing in their hordes straight from the pits of hell. They will come in voracious clouds that have ever been the bane of Alaskan outdoorsmen.

From my book TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod, Volume I, we here break in on the conversation about this common enemy between gnarly sourdough, Old Ben Atwater, and former Nome miner, Al Preston, a friend of my family in my childhood years.

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The Great Thoroughfare of the North: River of History and Legend

Were a raven to lift off from the tidal flats at the head of Southeastern Alaska’s Lynn Canal, point his beak due east and catch a thermal updraft to carry him high above the intervening mountains, his flight would take him—in just fifteen miles—to a view looking down on the headwaters of not only one of the most famous, but one of the most remarkable rivers in the world.

One might assume that waters arising in such proximity to the Pacific would soon find their way to that close-by ocean. But no. As if above anything so ordinary and predictable, and as if disdaining to be defined as an indistinct, minor stream, finishing its course while still insignificantly small, it instead is seemingly determined to take charge of its own destiny, do something unique, and make a name for itself. So this unusual river immediately does an astonishing thing: it turns its back on the nearby Pacific and chooses a roundabout way to an entirely different, faraway sea.

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We thought we were sold out, but a few have been found.

The last remaining copies of my first edition of  TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod (Blazing the Last Great Gold Rush Trail in North America) are available while they last at

When these are gone, they are gone. History. There will be no backorders. When the new revised edition appears in early summer, though it will be under the same title, it will be an expanded work at an increased price.

Before you jump all over this order, make sure you understand which of my two volumes you are ordering.  Volume I (which you may order from Amazon until the short supply is gone) is about how the Iditarod TRAIL was born back in gold rush times. Volume II (which you may order straight from me through my website) is how the Iditarod RACE was born.  For more information about the two volumes, please visit my website

Limited copies of First Edition Volume ONE:  Trailbreakers Volume I

Delayed Shovels, Flattened Digs

Here along our section of the old Historic Iditarod Trail we came oh, so close to experiencing our all-time record winter snowfall. Just going by memory of what I’ve read, the all-time, set in the mid-1950s, was a skiff over 130 inches. We’re finishing winter somewhere around 128.

It’s been enough to move the mayor’s office to warn folks repeatedly to clear roofs. All over the area are cases of structures going ker-splat under the accumulated tonnage. This one pictured occurred so close to our place we could almost hear the trusses crrrreeaak, grrroooaann, then explode and land with a humongous  ka-whumpp! that musta pretty well ruined someone’s day.

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Strident Do-Gooders to the Rescue

Lately I have posted stories of escapes from going through river ice while running the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Obviously the dogs, being in it with the driver, experienced those narrow escapes at the same time. When running such stories, I fully expect to be assaulted by individuals and organizations who are separated so far from the land (“too many generations off the farm”) and hold such a skewed, unnatural  view of the natural world that they would, if they could, protect even  free-born wolves from wild wolfdom.

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Back in 1974, just days before the second Iditarod Race, I picked up a well-conditioned swing dog. Several hundred miles into the race, I’d rue that acquisition. Today, I can’t recall the dog’s name when I got him, but by the time we were slipping, sliding, and falling on the wind-polished, incredibly slick going on the broad South Fork of the Kuskokwim, I had renamed the creature, “Insect.” He was little, bug-eyed, and irritating; it fit.

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Nome—The Golden Key (part VI)

Of even the most avid fans of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, not many know that Nome was not always part of the race plan. In this series I’ve been telling how it happened that we have an Anchorage-to-Nome race. I strongly urge you, if you’ve just come aboard, to not begin here but go back to Part I and read it from the top. This series has been lifted from the much more complete telling in my definitive work, TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod, Volume II (The Most Daring Iditarod Adventure of All Time, Founding The Last Great Race On Earth.)

By far the longest, most grueling race ever planned, to be run through one of the most majestic landscapes on the planet, over a gold-rush-era trail dripping with unparalleled history and romance, offering a purse of staggering proportions, featuring the most exciting, anticipation-charged start ever seen in the annals of sled dog racing—all of it was heading Nome’s way. With every other part of the race of such surpassing extravagance and grandiosity, the Iditarod Trail Committee understood that the event could not afford a ho-hum, anticlimactic letdown in Nome. No, the race needed to be superlative in every aspect, start to finish. Nothing less than a rousing reception and gala celebration at the end of the trail would do.

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Nome—The Golden Key (part V)

During the six years of pre-Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race evolution of ideas and planning, Nome was not the end destination. This continuing series tells part of the little-known story of Nome’s last-minute inclusion. The full story may be found in my definitive book TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod.

Joee and Ramey Redington stated in a cover quote, “Rod’s got his facts down. Dad (Joe R., “Father of the Iditarod) would be proud of this book.”

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Nome—The Golden Key (part IV)

Not one in ten thousand of even the most avid race fans has a clear and complete understanding about beginnings of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. For instance, how did it come to be that the race ends in Nome? If you think it was because Race creators wanted to commemorate or recreate the Serum Run, you’re certainly needful—if you’re fan enough to care—of a tutorial to straighten out your notions.

If you’ve just joined in, notice that this is part four. I’d highly recommend you drop back to the beginning and read the three prior Nome—The Golden Key posts.

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