Inimitable Alaskan Episcopal Archbishop Hudson Stuck, who organized the first successful climb of Mount McKinley among other singular achievements, oversaw a far-flung archdiocese that covered much of Alaska. He traveled much of it behind his dog team and authored the classic, Ten Thousand Miles on a Dog Sled. He once stated, “In the North, the greatest gift one man can give another is a broken trail.” Having traveled, outside of the Iditarod, on expeditions short and long over untracked wastes, I would add an exclamation point.
With Martin Buser setting a blazing pace and a small handful just a little behind him, farther back a raft of former champions and high place winners—certainly supremely knowledgeable tacticians—are forming strategies of overtaking the frontrunners – - – if that is even possible. These racers know their dogs’ capabilities for endurance like a human distance runner knows his own capacities. Their run-rest ratios and cycles are tuned to operate right at the limit just like a human marathoner runs at his edge.
Seems that some things never go away. PETA, the Humane Society, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the usual suspects) are again—or should I say “still”—out to change the animal world for the better – - – their way. Recently they mounted another campaign to do in the Iditarod, sending hundreds of letters of protests and threats to one of Iditarod’s major sponsors.
It’s hard for someone like me who battled to make Rohn Roadhouse (as the checkpoint was originally named) in seven days on the first Iditarod, hard to imagine anyone pulling in there in less than 24 hours from the start. Of course, the evolution of the race after four decades makes holding 1973 up against 2013 like comparing apples to oranges.
From the coming of white traders to the North in the 1800s, Alaska’s Natives had lived a mixed subsistence and trapping-and-trading economy. That lifestyle virtually required that every household own a dog team. But in the quarter century leading up to the first Iditarod in 1973, great social and economic changes took place in the Bush. Village dwellers began to be increasingly involved in a cash economy, which did not rely so heavily on living off the land, so the dog team was not so absolutely necessary. Overlapping the end of that 25-year period of change came the advent of the snowmachine.
Those of you who have been readers of this blog know that after last year’s race I drafted and tendered a proposal to induct Dan Seavey into the Iditarod Hall of Fame. Today at the finish of the Ceremonial Start 15-or-so mile leg from downtown Anchorage to the BLM complex at Campbell Airstrip I had a great visit with Dan. We stood talking around the team his son Mitch had just completed the run with. I also had a quick exchange with grandson Dallas. Neither Dan, nor Dallas, nor I knew he had been inducted. My wife Karen informed me when I got home tonight. Here’s the Anchorage Daily News article.
A quick note here before I head out to take in the Ceremonial Start and rub shoulders with “The Big Family” (other brothers and sisters of the long trail and their families, helpers, fans, and race supporters/administrators/event putter-oner volunteers).
I just returned from the grand Musher’s Drawing Banquet. People there from all over, about 2,500 strong. A big part of the fun for me is meeting with old friends who go all the way back to race beginnings. Three of us founding drivers were there tonight—four if you count one who dropped out on the Yukon. And then it’s wonderful to see others who go back almost as far, those who ran the first ten or so races.
Though today’s Iditarod races aren’t exactly Nancy-visits-the-farm level experiences, they wouldn’t come anywhere close to offering much in the way of true adventure to the great Indian and Eskimo dog men, and the gold miners, trappers, big game guides and other veterans of long northern trails who headed toward Nome on the first Iditarod. Where would be the least hint of risk, hazard, and danger to such Bush-hardened trails men as made up the trailblazing field? Those of us who answered Joe Redington’s challenge to pioneer an audacious new concept in sled dog racing, in taking our plunge into the virtually trackless unknown, eagerly entered in to what could be described as a test drive we could not afford to fail and a reconnaissance that must return a positive report. That is, if the race were to see a future.
The Iditarod was created by a special breed of mushers for their own kin, dog drivers of a breed attracted to answer a primal call to adventure. The race would give such intrepid types outlet by providing a platform upon which, using only primitive transportation, they could challenge a crossing of the great, savage Alaska Bush in the dead of subarctic winter. The very dictionary definition of adventure reads, “A bold undertaking; a daring enterprise featuring risk, hazard, danger, and an unknown outcome including a chance of failure, disaster or death.” It’s supposed to be a tough race for tough, competent dog drivers. Most who have competed are great folk with an attitude of gratitude. They are downright thankful a race has been laid out for them, veritably handing them on a silver platter the needed base for expressing their personal call of the wild.
Mr. Perry….my interest in Sourdough has been kind of a joke at my house for a while now…”you want to watch Sourdough again?”….groans from the the kids and Jenny…but it was great to find your website and to realize that somebody connected to that movie really does exist. Thank you!!
It’s one of the good ones…and a really happy accident for me to have randomly picked it up at the “video store” so many years ago. Good to find you…I’ll bookmark your blog and check in from time to time…maybe order some books if I have a chance. Thanks for making that movie….
Visit my blog for more information.
Catching motion out my window, what should I see but a yearling cow moose at our front steps, apparently praying on bended knee to be let in to warm herself up . Can’t blame her. Measured against those old proverbial standards using certain anatomical features of well diggers and witches as metaphorical gauges, this cold snap leaves those qualifiers far behind. Any right-minded brass monkey harboring aspirations of fathering little brass monkeys is cozying tighter than bark on a birch next to his double-stoked wood stove. I hear that up around Allakaket, which sits square on the Circle, it’s been in the 70s below. That’s cold enough to put out a lighted match. Boiling coffee pitched briskly into the air will crackle into frozen brown fog.