Howling winds remind me ....

By: ofieldstream , 5:47 AM GMT on March 14, 2006

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Well.. it's March in Hoosierville .. and wouldn't you know it - the weather is a real psychotic mess! We awoke this morning to temps in the 50°F range and saw it rise to nearly 70°F by mid-day. But the winds have been howling all day long. Averaging in the 26mph range - we've had gusts up around 50 a number of times today. As I write this at 11:33 PM EST - the temperature has fallen to 38°F and the wind is racing through the trees at 31mph - with gusts to 39mph! We are looking at snow showers on Thursday. And Spring is less than 2 weeks away!

Yes... it's "Tourney Time"!! High School and College Basketball Tournament time. Here in the midwest we know that when 'Tourney Time' hits - the weather is very likely to be bad.

Last night - Sunday, 12 March - we were shrouded in rain and thunderstorms. We had a lot of rain and a whole lot of 'electrical light show' going on. But we were very fortunate, the really intense storms - you know, the ones that show up like bright red dots on the WU radar!! - stayed either just north or just south of us. Thank goodness for those 'tornado decoys' we've been building on the north and south of town. Who knew trailer parks would come in so handy!! ": > All joking aside though, Sunday 12 March will go down as very bad day for tornadic activity. The estimates were in the range of 125 tornados - but the real number won't be known for a while. Despite that - there were over 10 people killed by that outbreak of Nature's fury. Once again, a deep reminder that we are NOT the 'Masters' of the elements. We can only watch - hold on fast - and pray we are not in the path. Nature will do as she has done for eons. We can only hope we end up with a safe-seat to watch in all her glory.

A week ago this past Sunday (yesterday - Sunday 12 March), some 3,809 miles, or 21°' N. and 63° W., from my hometown, at 2 PM AKT .. "The Last Great Race" got underway.

The Iditarod as it's more commonly known. A race with immense history behnd it.

The 1,112 mile race across the wilderness of Alaska; from Willow, AK (the official start on Sunday; downtown Anchorage, on Saturday, for the ceremonial start) to Nome, AK - on the shores of the Bering Sea! There is nothing like in anywhere on earth. Everyone who is a dog-musher shoots to race the Iditarod and then hopes for dear life they can dodge the dangers, elements and exhaustion - to complete the race. And maybe, just maybe they'll win - or at least ... 'place in the money'.

I've been an avid fan of the Iditarod since it's first run in 1973. I know a number of the mushers personally. The current leader, Jeff King and I have been friends since our first meeting in 1994 at the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of American, in Orono, ME; the year he won his 1st of his 3 Iditarods... and it looks like this year may well be his 4th Iditarod Win.

Jeff is right now - at this very moment - running his dogs in the 14°F (or colder) air, in 12-15mph winds (that normally gust to 30mph in places), along the edge of Norton Bay - off the Bering Sea - full of sea ice - in heavy snow squalls and drifts - shooting to cross the Finish Line - on Front Street - in Nome, AK - sometime early Wednesday morning.

And hot on his runners - are:

#2_ Doug Swingley (4X Iditarod Winner - in his 14th Idit );
#3_ Paul Gebhardt (veteran of 10 Iditarod runs and the real 'wonder-musher' of this race: Paul started out in Last Place - bib #84 - and is now running #3! He has had an amazing race!);
#4_ Dee Dee Jonrowe (the 'sweatheart of the Idit' - running in her 22nd Idit - a cancer survivor - and retiring this year, but not leaving mushing; she runs a kennel and trains some of the best dogs on the circuit)
#5_ John Baker (running his 10th Idit -with finishes in the top-10 in his last 7 runs);
#6_ Bjornar Andersen (the hope of Norway - nephew of last years Idit winner, Robert Sorlie: don't count Bjornar out)
#7_ Ed Iten (7 run veteran - finished #2 last year behind Sorlie; and not to be counted out yet, either!)
#8_ Aily Zirkle ( in her 6th Idit - if she hold this position or better, it will be her first Top 10 finish! She's a top-flight musher who could grab a spot closer to the lead at any time.)
#9_ Lance Mackey (in his 6th Idit as well, Lance comes from well known Idit-bloodline - his father won in '78 and his brother Rick won in '83; the Mackey's know the Iditarod!)
#10_ Aaron Burmeister ( running his 9th Iditarod - this year could be his best finish yet.)

That rounds out the Top 10 on the leader board as of 8:17pm AKT - Monday 12 March, 2006.

My good friend, 4X Winner of the Iditarod, Marty Buser - is back in 27th place. Marty had a big crash about about the half-way point- that destroyed his sled. He pieced it back together and continued on for almost 90 miles into the next check point. He was able to 'borrow' one of the 'dropped sleds' from anothe musher - but he's not been able to recapture his time since the crash. I'd really hoped 2006 was his year for Win #5. That would have made him the all-time winner. A nice honor to go along with his holding the fastest run of the Iditarod he set in his 2002 Win. (Iditarod Records & Winners)

This has been an incredible year for the running. There was no snow to speak of in Anchorage for the ceremonial start - so city municiple trucks had to haul in snow - a LOT of snow! In Alaska of all places!!!!!! ... to cover the streets. But the weather smiled upon them as a couple of big storms really dropped the snow along the route just days before the start of the race. The route has seen the COLD as well: I've seen posted as low and -55°F! That is STANDING temp .. who knows what the Wind Chill was!

The race - as you may well expect - is covered better and better each year. The Outdoor Life Channel (OLN) has carried the race (shown with about a one-week-delay) for the past 4 years. This year will have the best coverage ever. HERE for coverage details.

During the race a number of sources offer updates - a fast as every half-hour. Here are the best I've found.

Cabelas Iditarod 2006
Iditarod 34:
The Official Iditarod Site
[NOTE: Hey Teachers .. Look at the Teaching Aids on this site!!!! ]
Iditarod Insiders (fee based, but some if free to look at)
Jeff Shultz: Official Iditarod Photographer's Gallery
Visit Marty Buser's web site - Happy Trails Kennels. Marty and his wife, Kathy and sons Nikolai and Rohn are a super family! They are all about dog racing and they do it as a family. Both Nikolai and Rohn have run in the Jr. Iditarod and placed high each time: Rohn placed 2nd this year! They provide tours of their facility. My wife and I and two friends visited with the Busers in 2004 when we were in Alaska. Marty is the consumate musher. He races to challenge himself and to develop winning dogs and the ways to make the race safer for the dogs and the mushers.

Well .. I just couldn't help but pass on this information - with the wind howling outside - I am so glad that I am inside and out of the bitter cold those mushers are enduring. But - to be perfectly honest ... I would give my eye-teeth to be in their mucklucks right now! You betcha!!

I had planned to be in attendance at this years race - but health and lack of finances canned it for this year. However, I am shooting to be in AK in 2007, for Iditarod #35. I've got a year to prepare. I've already begun. And hey... one thing I won't have to worry about ... they don't have mold on the Iditarod trail!!!! ": )))

les O'fieldstream

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4. zeusatolympus
1:41 AM GMT on March 15, 2006
Thanks Les!
Member Since: January 27, 2003 Posts: 34 Comments: 238
2. ofieldstream
2:52 PM GMT on March 14, 2006
--- Ofieldstream Replies ---

Wow Les!
As usual! A ton of cool (pun intended) and useful info! Thanks for the links! I hope you get to the next race, good for you and us! You will post pics. Right?

[o'fieldstream]... Zeus ... Thanks for the good pun .. ": ) and you're welcome. It's easy to write about something you really like. And, yes. When I go next year - WU will get pix and a lot more. You can count on that... ": )

So does anyone ever interview the dogs? And do they have pet names (pun intended) like Fluffy, Prince or Killer? I think the dog would want to be there! The best of the best! Home of the Champions! That includes the Mushers!

[o'fieldstream]... Yes, the 'athletes' - as the dogs are referred to are interviewed. But they all seem to maintain the same tailwagging, barking, licking format. A lot of the reporting is about the dogs. And rightfully so, they are -- after all -- the athletes.

The dog names run the full gaumet. I'd heard a lot of strange names and some very run-o-the-mill. Many have names derived from the Idit trail itself - like the names of checkpoints, lakes, streams, geophysical features, people and many Inuit names. You're as likely to hear a dog's name being Koyuk, as you are King.

Everyone connected with the Idit refer to the dogs of the race as 'the athletes'; only because they are. The 'husky' looking dog of our image of a sled dog is there - but the current 'speed champs' are more a mix-breed. Most of them look like scrawnie mutt-crosses of malmute, shepherd and/or lab - but I assure you they aren't mutts!! The dogs are bred for speed, endurance and temperament. Dogs must get along with each other - within and without a team - and humans. There is no room for the 'White Fang' type of loner dog in today's racing world.

And care... these dogs get better care than the humans; literally. This year has seen four (4) dogs die on the trail: the highest since the '97 race, when 5-dogs died. Though the cause of two dogs is unknown, the most common cause of death is a silent killer that even the most diligent owner can detect. Aspiration pneumonia, is a condition that results from the infection of the lungs with gastric fluids. This happens when the animals cough up fluids and inhale them without mushers knowing it. Vets have spent thousands of hours in an attempt to find ways to alleviate this killer.

Dogs are routinely 'dropped' at a checkpoint for a variety of reasons: exhaustion, injury, weakness - or just not looking or acting well. Each checkpoing, no matter how remote, is staffed with volunteers and vets that do nothing but care for dogs. Each checkpoint also has direct on-the-ground air-support: either plane or helicopter. Dogs are routinely flown back to McGrath or even Anchorage for treatment. Tens of thousands of dollars are spent - solely - on the care and maintenance of the 'athletes' of this race. And little wonder... a top sled dog can be worth anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000 each. Prize lead dogs - are worth $25,000 and up. So, the mushers DO NOT abuse the dogs. But it must also be understood that the relationship between a musher and his/her dogs, is many times equally close as any human-to-human relationship. The musher puts in thousands of hours and miles with each dog - many from birth - and are bound by a deeply personal relationship. They depend on each other: literally.

But don't make any mistake about that relationship. Each musher is a human and each 'athlete' is a dog: both know it and act like it. The musher is the 'pack leader' to the dog and nothing more. The dogs follow and do what the 'pack leader' demands: not requests. The packs follows out of respect - not love. The mushers - do love their dogs - but they also realize their role as pack leader demands a certain level detachment of emotion is required. The winning mushers know not to put their dogs into anything they themselves will not go into. The relationship is one of mutual respect and service. This is one of the things that is so special about this Heritage Activity. Dogsledding is a very unique activity.

These are definitely the BEST OF THE BEST when it comes to sled dogs - that is for sure. The mushers are too shabby either. ": )

One more thing! Do they have those little "dog-doo" stations with the little baggies along the trail for the - well, you know?

[o'fieldstream]...As I said, the dogs are cared for better than the humans. But when a team comes into a checkpoint, there order of business is: make beds for dogs, mix-food - melt snow for water, then feed and water dogs, care for any other dog needs. The musher gets food, care and rest ONLY - AFTER - the dogs have been fully cared for. But no one is waiting to pick-up-after the 'doggies'. Not then at least. But as I said, each checkpoint is manned by a staff of volunteers. Post race, clean-up is meticulous. Most checkpoints are villages, towns - even cities. Everything that is a by-product of the race that ends up trash is picked up and disposed of ... properly!

I hope this has answered your questions, Zeus. Thanks again for the comment.

les O'fieldstream
Member Since: May 12, 2002 Posts: 158 Comments: 274
1. zeusatolympus
7:42 AM GMT on March 14, 2006
Wow Les!
As usual! A ton of cool (pun intended) and useful info! Thanks for the links! I hope you get to the next race, good for you and us! You will post pics. Right?

So does anyone ever interview the dogs? And do they have pet names (pun intended) like Fluffy, Prince or Killer? I think the dog would want to be there! The best of the best! Home of the Champions! That includes the Mushers!

One more thing! Do they have those little "dog-doo" stations with the little baggies along the trail for the - well, you know?

Member Since: January 27, 2003 Posts: 34 Comments: 238

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About ofieldstream

I am O'fieldstream, some say 'les O'fieldstream'. Either way, I am Outdoors, Photography and Technology, Writing, Travel and Friends. Love WUville.

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