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.