Monday, March 7, 2011

Iditarod 2011, before they run...

it's only my second year going to the iditarod restart in willow. not sure why i missed the fun all these years, but hopefully i will prevent that in the years to come. this first batch of pictures are from willow lake before the race starts. all the mushers are busy getting ready for the restart and the long race ahead of them. hundreds of volunteers help them with the dogs and all the necessary arrangements. over the course of the iditarod i'll probably post pictures with some updates garnished from the anchorage daily news and the iditarod insider web site.
i woke early sunday in order to get my own dogs walked and ready for spending the day without me. we just looped around the bog by the house. it was a beautiful day in anchorage and i hoped willow would be sharing our great weather. out on those lakes wind can be a factor. my friends set up what they called a trailgate party on the second lake, long lake. i'm sure many in the lower 48 would think it nuts to sit out in less than 30 degree weather having a bbq but alaskans adapt to thier environment. there were many folks out there, eating, drinking and enjoying the days festivities. it's all about cheering for the mushers on thier way to nome. i'm sure the mushers are happy to get past the madness and into the wilderness and the peace and quiet.
we left anchorage at about 10:30 am, the restart happens at 2pm. by the time we braved iditarod traffic it was almost 1p i'd guess. i enjoyed the scene at the start with all the mushers getting prepped so a few of us headed down there for photo ops. at 1pm the race shoot was not too crowded yet.
my friend sandra had a few people in town so my thanks to blaise for getting a picture of me at the iditarod signage. also, always seem to run into folks i know out here...alaska is a small town. one friend was in from ketchikan volunteering as a handler, but i never ran into her out there.
just fun to watch them pack thier sleds and get the dogs ready for the road. i'm guessing i would be a terrible packer and would try and stuff way too much into the sled. it probably holds as much as a kayak so maybe i'd do alright.
i also love the variety of rigs. some are extremely fancy and others very basic. you can check out all the adaptations made to the sled dog trucks to accomadate the dogs and gear.
didn't pay too much attention to which trucks were who's. you could see a bib here and there or a sign posted with thier bib number or a paper plate in the windshield with thier bib number...or like this truck, "team baker". there were some hints one could figure on. often you see the mushers preparing. occasionally, there is some media storm around a specific truck. this truck looks to be adapted to make the exhaust exit at the top to avoid making the dogs inhale it. cool.
there is also great variety in sled designs. the one above has a sitting option.
this trucks guts looked like a pretty sweet one for the dogs. looks quite comfy in there.
i know they have a required list of items they must pack, i know i'd want to add in lots of camera gear. of course, that could be risky as those sleds get bumped, tipped, rammed and even occasionally end up in the drink.
here, one of the mushers is getting her dogs bootied up.
this is kristy berington of kasilof. apparently, she has a twin. i called her malibu musher as she is quite beautiful. seems to be very nice as well. great to see women mushers in the running. it's one thing i love about this race. it's an equal playing field. men, women...old, young. not too many sports out there can have such variety. i'm sure this race is much more difficult for those who are in less good of shape or older, but then again, the older ones may have more stragedy on their side. i think the youngest this year is 19 and the oldest is in his mid 60's.
this is a view of the middle of the prep area. trucks on both sides. i only made it part way before we all had to book back to the second lake to our party. in the middle is a street that the mushers come up and there were some very serious trail volunteers directing us as we headed back to long lake. some people take thier job a little too seriously.
these guys seem unconcerned about thier days events.
as you can see, it's a very active area in that last hour before the race starts.
the little dens for the dogs are cool to check out. they often have cool designs cut into the little doors.
some of the dogs check out the activities around them. the sled dogs are not huskies, though occasionally purebred huskies will be seen running the iditarod. someone even attempted to run the iditarod with poodles once. i believe that was unsuccessful. most of the sled dogs are a combo dog that has been developed just for running races. they are called alaskan sled dogs and are obviously not recognized by the AKC. they are cute dogs, bred from huskies at some point. love to run,bred to run. not sure what they have been crossed back with. they generally weigh i think 30-40 they are lighter than the siberian huskies.
mushing is controversial and peta is not a fan. there are 60 mushers this year, each starts with 16 dogs. so that is close to 1000 dogs. it is rare that a year passes with no deaths to dogs. it's a hard thing to accept. of course, i suspect if you take 1000 dogs randomly, there would probably be a death or two in there. these dogs are stressed running as they do. oddly, the top finishers that run the hardest are not the ones who lose dogs in general. probably because they have greater experience and therefore recognize signs of stress in thier team. there are veterinarians all along the trail and the dogs are checked and tested before, during and after the race.
when you watch these dogs run it's obvious they love to run. the mushers will tell you as well, the dogs will stop when they don't wish to run and no amount of prodding will get them going. they are bred to run and personally, i love to watch them run. i love to see the athleticism of the animals and what they are capable of. i appreciate that the folks at iditarod headquarters work hard to prevent deaths and that there is ongoing research associated with the race to improve care and prevent sudden deaths in the future as well. usually deaths are aspiration pneumonias and/or gastric bleeds.
won't spend too much time on all that, but no doubt there will be someone who sees the blog and a debate could ensue. i won't participate in debates here. you are free to have your opinion, and i respect that. i may even agree on some points. for now, i still enjoy watching the race and following it and these dogs are just amazing. i highly recommend a trip out to watch them in action.
my own dogs are pretty amazing as well. i'm sure they would have a blast out there at the restart. obviously, they aren't allowed and that is for the best. we did get to enjoy another monday walk today in springish weather. gotta love that. with just andrea, tanya and i (and maddy) at first i figured i'd just let rio off leash. got to chatting though and suddenly noticed that neither of my dogs was there. i keep a close watch so they weren't far back. blossom was on the trail about 200 feet back looking a bit anxious. then i saw that rio was stomping through the deep snow into the woods. she must have caught scent of a moose. she wasn't listening to me much so i had to book it after her in almost thigh deep snow. emergency averted. everyone had just commented on how fit rio looked. she certainly proved that. thanks to blossom for being on the alert for her blind canine sibling.
liked the skull and crossbone door above. below are the dog harnesses.
love all the dog apparatus. makes for some fun pictures. below is a line of chains for the dogs to sit on while getting harnessed and bootied up.
saw both of the seavey trucks. father and son. not sure if truck placement is random or assigned. they weren't right next to each other and i'm not sure whick truck was whose.
these doors are cool too.
love the paws as well. this guy was howling.
it's 10pm...i really should cook my dinner. happy to be in a warm house. it's been warming close to 30 during the days, but it drops pretty fast once that sun goes down.

if you do want to follow the iditarod, the anchorage daily news and iditarod site are good places to go. i get the paper and i pay for the iditarod insider. they have video clips and info on where the mushers are, how fast they are going, who's in what position. dog teams seem to travel about 4-8 mph. i think they all have gps trackers on them these days.
really do need to get a second cat for my current cat. he seems quite needy since my old cat passed away. as much as i'd rather not get a second cat, this guy is lonely. it's a matter of finding the right cat for him. hopefully, i'll know it when i see it.
more gear.
always love the sillouhette of the sled against the sky.

strange not to have jeff king in the lineup this year. i think he's even out of state so he's chosen to be nowhere near the iditarod this year. wonder if he's even getting updates or if he's opted to just ignore it. after running it as many years as he has it may be best to just cut yourself off that first year.
many of the usual characters are running the race. 9 of the top 10 finishers from last year are in. dallas seavey won the yukon quest this year so he's becoming one to watch as well.
i know how to pack a kayak and a backpack and how to pack for a roadtrip. packing a sled is no doubt tricky. each has it's own unique tricks.
when we do our alaskan adventures each trip is unique. one must plan for them each differently. depends on how you get there, how often you change planes, which planes you are on. will there be boat travel as well? is there weight limits, space limits. it gets crazy. dry bags, duffle ends up with so much gear over the years.
another glimpse of the bustle of activity at each truck.
the dogs seem pretty used to the madness.
they all seemed to enjoy laying about, waiting. i guess once they are put on the leads they start to go nuts as they are so excited to go for thier run. kinda like when my dogs see me prepare for the walk. they know i'm putting on my boots so they know they are involved. when i put on my work clothes they just go settle in for the night and wait for thier peanut butter. i'm always amazed at how dogs watch you and are aware of us in ways you never imagined. i'm sure it's the same for these dogs. they calmly watch the preparations and know when the fun begins.
dogs are keen observers.
humans and dogs have forged a relationship that is unique from any other human/animal relation. my cats are pets and they are domesticated, but it's totally different. dogs and humans seem to have a more interactive dependence on one another. they are more in tune to human emotions and habits.
more pictures of malibu musher getting her pups ready. i don't say that with any meanness. i think she is beautiful. that can't be bad for the sport.
i love to take pictures and see myself as a pretty decent amatuer photographer. often i think i should join groups and socialize more. there are photography groups and hiking groups. was thinking about this the other day. why i avoid these groups for the most part. am i just a loner. i am a bit of a hermit i will admit. i'm pretty chill hanging out with me and the dogs. i do have a social aspect to my personality. i think i'm an acquired taste...not bad, just that i'm not someone people race to and want to make friends with. i'm someone that i think is liked more the more one discovers me. one of those onion types. you have to be patient and peel away the layers to discover me. of course, i think i'm pretty all out there on the blog so if someone wanted to get to know me, here i am. most people don't seem to take the time to get to really know people.
when i've gone to the groups it seems like it really is just a place where people want to tell you what they've done, what gear they have, how much better they are than you and how much better thier gear is oh and don't forget how much smarter and knowledgable they are. i'm not saying they are bad people, it's just that those groups tend to bring that out in people. seems most people who get any interest in anything feels the need to take it too extreme. like our whole culture is just craving attention. it bores me. i enjoy taking pictures and i enjoy that others enjoy them. if i get a compliment or two here and there, well great, we all love a compliment. i just don't want everything to turn into a competition, which it seems to always do.
loved this picture. i snap away and occasionally i'm quite happy with the outcome. took probably hundreds of pictures over this day, many just get deleted. the joys of the digital camera!! gotta love it!! i remember the film days. i had to try and predict how many rolls of film i'd need per day for remote trips. of course, you'd get pictures back and have to spend money to get crappy photo's at times. now delete!!! photography is much cheaper. i've still not figured out a system for digital. i seem to rarely print photo's and the blog is now my photo album. i've been loading stuff onto my shutterly account in hopes of preserving the pictures...always fearful of a fire. there just isn't much need to develope pictures. i do enjoy going through a photo album and so when i go on a trip those seem to be the pictures i develope and make an album for. with digital you take way more pictures too so it would be crazy to develope them all.
i grew up part of a large group. perhaps it's just my personality, but i always found it all so stressful. in some ways religion can be the same as your photo or hiking group. many people use it as a way to show others how much better they are, how much more godly or knowledgable in all things god. there seemed to be this push towards perfection. i was always failing miserably while it seemed that others were so much closer to that lofty goal. took me years to realize that many of them were just faking it so they would appear as perfect as possible to all of us. in truth they were miserable. now i know that the lives people actually live and the ones they put out there for the public to see are often polar opposites. many times the people who strive hardest to prove thier greatness are actually the ones that feel they are the most inadequate.
perfection has alluded me. it occured to me that god created us all as imperfect beings so why would a god that created us imperfect expect us to then be perfect. we just were never meant to be perfect so trying is pointless. once that hurdle is overcome, life is a much more pleasant experience. still, society in general seems to be bound and determined to make us feel bad about ourselves.
of course, dogs are perfect in that they have minimal expectations of us. they have no ability to judge, they do not hold grudges, they live in the moment, they wag often and view the world in seemingly simplistic terms. you feed them, you walk them, but you get so much more in return than you ever give. if you show them kindness they will give you loyalty. a loyalty that is rarely seen in human relationships.
can't imagine anyone doing the iditarod that doesn't have a deep respect and bond with the dogs they spend so many hours of their days with. the dog care comes first out there on the trail. it can get to 50 below out there with strong wind chills at times. doing dog care tasks in those extreme temperatures would be incredible trying. it requires a strong love and dedication. it would be easy to get tired and cranky for me. just caring for two dogs can be tough some days. the demands of caring for an entire team of dogs is hard to imagine for me.
like i said, it would require patience, love, dedication and grit. in the case of this race, it also requires alot of money and a crew of people working behind the scenes to prepare.

these paws will be put to the test over the next week or so. close monitering of feet is the job of every musher.
maybe i'll try and get out to the millenium hotel a few times to give doggie massages. you can volunteer. i've still not taken thier handler course so they won't let you "handle" dogs. one time i did go give massages and such. the dogs that are dropped from the race get flown back to anchorage to the hotel for a last vet check before they are picked up for the mushers. if the mushers can't pick them up i believe those dogs are taken to the prison and cared for by the inmates. more and more there are inmate and dog interactions across the nation. often a dog can reach people that other humans can't.
oh...for the love of dog!!
will have to cook up a few pork chops when i get finished here. i'm out of porknbeans. have been wanting pork chops and applesauce, but can't have it yet. drat. sometimes something just sounds so good. wonder what they eat on the trail. those mountain house meals only go so far. they can eat whatever is at the checkpoints if there is anything. so there are opportunities for real food on occasion. it's not like a regular road trip with stores and fast food joints along the way. in alaska you can go hundreds of miles with nary a sign of human existence.

the booties are always popular. i know at the ceremonial start kids love to collect the ones that fall off the dogs. can imagine there are little booties scattered from here to nome.

these guys look ready to run..
you can see denali in the background. the big mountain spends alot more time out and about in the winter months up here. in the summer it tends to hide.
in the nearly an hour that i spent looking a the prep the place has filled in a great deal. it's a bustle of activities here on the main lake, willow lake. great family fun out there. hope you have enjoyed the first installment, come again...


  1. Betsy, the Photos you took are great. The dog truck with the license plate 64PAWS was Angie's truck. Hunter and I would have been there tagging dogs and getting ready for her to go. So close and we didn't see you. Fudge!

  2. dang...i can't believe i was right there and missed you! loved that license plate, by the way. at one point we realized we only had like 10 minutes to hoof it back to long lake. love taking pictures of the prep area.

  3. Hey Betsy - loved looking at your pictures of that great day out on the lake at the start of Iditarod. We made it back to Nova Scotia safe and sound but I do miss Alaska...Blaise

  4. thanks blaise, great to hear you guys made it home without a hitch. i'll continue to post more of my pictures with updates of the race over the next week or so. probably be won by tuesday, but there will still be mushers on the trail.