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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.