A friend reminded me the other day of the Iditarod Race which has been on-going these past several days. The event is of particular interest to MM and me as we lived in Grayling, AK for one year and taught school there. The Iditarod Race runs right through the middle of this tiny Native Alaskan village perched lightly on the shores of the mighty Yukon River.
We were witnesses to the "greats" of dogsled racing. They all came through Grayling. I have still photos in an album that feature Dee Dee Jonrowe, Martin Buser, and Susan Butcher among others. It was exciting to watch the teams come in to Grayling, where the racers re-stocked their sleds, tended to their dogs needing assistance, rested, and then hit the trail again, without wasting too much valuable time.
Some feel sorry for the dogs. Don't!! These dogs love to run! Remember, mushing is not just racing, either. Dog sleds provide vital and reliable transportation in the harsh conditions of the frozen Yukon. And, in MHO sleds pulled by dogs are far more reliable than the noisy, smelly snow machines. I've had to hike several miles in partially melted snow on the Yukon River when the snow machine quit on several occasions. It wasn't any fun, believe me. Totally exhausting! I have great respect and love for the dogs of the Far North!
There are dangers in the Iditarod race. The racers are at the mercy of their wits, their preparation, the weather. Here's a story from this year's race:
The dogs wear "booties" on their feet to keep their pads from being abraded by the ice on the trails, as it thaws of a day, and re-freezes at night. One of the jobs of the support teams is to sew many, many sets of "dog booties." I found a couple of them in the village after the mushers went through, and I treasure them!
Both dogs and mushers are a breed apart! They are tough, meet life head-on, and survive on the slimmest of margins! Have a look at this story from this year's Iditarod (we spent several nights with friends in Anvik, by the way):
Living in Grayling was an incredible experience...one I would not want to repeat, but one I am glad I lived. Life in the Great North is life on the edge. Mother Nature can be harsh. I remember walking to school one morning, past the village thermometer. It read -72 degrees F. That's right. It was 72 degrees BELOW zero. It is with this knowledge that I salute the Iditarod racers, as well as those who are permanent residents of the Far North.