It is a glorious cloudless day here at Denali. There is no place like home, unless of course you are speaking of Nome. Iditarod
2012 could not have been more fun for Husky Homestead. A spectacular team of supporters and dogs hit 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage for the ceremonial start, introducing us to our first 2012 race highlight, Iditarider Barry Wiegler and his wife Deanna. What inspiration they were and continue to be, and how fun it was to learn from them that their interest in the Iditarod and the Iditarider program came from their visit to Husky Homestead years ago. We even put Barry on the drag sled, and with the exception of the sharp right hand turn at Cordova, Barry’s handling of the sled was flawless.
The restart in Willow went off without a hitch and the Husky Homestead dog team and musher were relieved to finally be on the Iditarod trail. The concern about moose in the trail due to the deep snow turned out to be unfounded as the trail breakers ahead seemed to have shagged any of the big beasts off the trail ahead in advance of the teams. At the first food drop checkpoint of Skwentna, I became aware that the one of my main lead dogs Coltrane had in fact not fully recovered from a sore wrist that we had been trying hard to rehabilitate prior to the race and he was sent home. From there on, the Husky Homestead dog team would sail me to the halfway point in Cripple then on to the Yukon River among the lead pack of the race. How fun it was to be back on the trail with my old friends, including mushers, checkpoint personnel, fans, and of course the dogs. The infamous Happy River Steps were in fact totally tamed by the deep snow and the outstanding work of the trail breakers.
Near perfect mushing weather blessed the race all the way to the Yukon River with temperatures between 10 below and 10 above. I can’t help but specifically rave about and share the wonderful experience in particular from the Cripple checkpoint to Ruby. Brilliant stars, blazing Aurora Borealis, a full moon, and a fast dog team. I had to pinch myself to know that I was not dreaming. I put that part of this race on the top 10 list of the best dog rides I have ever experienced.
As the race proceeded down the Yukon River the men were separated from the boys. Or should I say, the young man and the woman took the lead, as Aliy and Dallas rose to the top, like rich cream in a butter churn. Some of the most fun in this year’s race included seeing so many teams with dogs from the Husky Homestead kennel. Lead dogs in Aliy, Dallas, Aaron, Jake, and Pete’s teams have included dogs from Husky Homestead. And this year in particular had many siblings and littermates from Husky Homestead parked side-by-side at checkpoints.
As I look back at the race, the writing was on the wall at Kaltag checkpoint for my premature completion to Iditarod 2012 sixty miles down the trail. There my dogs did not eat with reckless abandon for the first time during the race. I wish now I had stayed longer at Kaltag. I wish now I had stopped longer at the unofficial Old Woman’s Cabin rest point. But I did not. As a result the team ran out of gas before I got to Unalakleet. Imagine this: a driver of a speedy race car in the Indy 500 deciding how far to go before pulling in to refuel at a pit stop. The driver knows the more laps he makes without pulling into a pit stop the better his time. But if that race car runs out of fuel on the track, his race is over. Gas is not available on the track. In my case, gas was the combination of rest and food for a dog team. They needed it at a time and place where it was unavailable.
My team is fine. They were fine very soon after they received the fuel they needed to fill their tanks. The abdominal distress that can be so widely discussed during Iditarod races is often the result of the stress of running out of gas, and is quickly corrected with the right combination of rest and food. But, let me be honest with you. It was also colder than hell out there ten miles from Unalakleet. The temperatures had dropped to 30 below with brisk winds. Having run out of food for myself and the dogs and fuel for my cooker, the prospects of correcting the situation left me but one choice but to call for the Unalakleet taxi. My first scratch in 22 years of running the Iditarod race did provide me the opportunity to look into the back rooms and workings of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race. I was amazed to see the number of people volunteering in Unalakleet: pilots, communication staff, vets, dog care volunteers, all assisted by many worker bees in thankless jobs behind the scenes. Such dedication. I am grateful to all of them and the friends and fans of Husky Homestead.
As “the first musher to Nome,” I had the opportunity to take in the sights and watch teams pass under the burled arch. The spectacular artwork at the crafts fair floored me and once again I was impressed by the excellent museum exhibits. Laughter and good times with friends, fans, and fellow mushers fill my memories of Nome 2012.
What’s next? Husky Homestead is in high gear preparing for the summer tour season. We are enthusiastically working on projects at our new tour location, which includes a new theatre building with panoramic mountain views. The dogs are enjoying spring training runs on the marvelous trails surrounding Husky Homestead. We look forward to sharing all this with you and your friends.