Sunday, May 11, 2008

FINALLY! SOME PICTURES!!!!


My roommates and I at Vet check

OK, guys, I really did go to Alaska! It has taken this media challanged person this long to figure out how to up-load pictures to this blog. (And it still doesn't work on my regular computer). This is "Our Gang", the buddies I roomed with, and obsessed with about the Iditarod for months on end before we finally got there. We are posing here in front of Iditarod Champion, Lance Mackey's dog truck and Vet Check, the second day of my trip. The date on the pic is wrong, it was February 27. Now, since I figured it out, there will be more pics added.

Jessica Royer's team at Willow Start


Tailgating Alaska Style - Willow Start

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A TRIBUTE TO THE MUSHING COMMUNITY

All of the racers are in, the finish Banquet is over, and a lot of those who visited Alaska to witness the Last Great Race are back home again, with memories to bring a smile to our faces as we go about our meager daily tasks. I know I do not go more than a few hours without a flicker of a thought or picture from my countless enchanted encounters with Alaska, and the mushing community. A lot of my heart is still with them. I have been thinking for weeks how I am going to describe those people who have become very dear to me. They have fed my spirit in a way that is life changing. The community is as large and diverse as the great state that calls it home. It includes the mushers, their families, the dog/athletes, the handlers, the sponsors, the volunteers, the Veterinarians, the forums, and the supporters (I was going to say fans, but that doesn’t do us justice) of sled dog racing. The first time I risked posting on an Iditarod forum, I felt immediately welcomed. I had lurked there for more than a year, and having never ‘chatted’ on line at all, I felt kind of dumb about how to enter that room of enthusiastic experts who unabashedly gushed about their passion for the Iditarod, and who held such a wealth of knowledge that I felt like a fledgling amongst a group of soaring Eagles! But flying is flying, and flap my wings, I did!

I didn't meet my roommates, Karen F., Pam V., and Mary C. until I got to Anchorage. But after our meeting in 'Idita-support forum' and decision to room together and share our dream vacation, our communication has been almost daily. I have come to love these women, and even though I was with them only a few days, their excitement and enthusiasm for Alaska, the dogs, the mushers, and the race was inspiring and exhilerating. And, it matched mine! I loved how unique each of our dreams and plans were, and paradoxically how they were similar. When we met, it was as if we had known each other for years. We immediately accepted and made light fun of each other's quirks. What a lovely introduction, and base camp for me to explore the world of the Iditarod from!

That entry into the world of arm-chair mushers was the beginning of an intriguing camaraderie that grew as I absorbed more knowledge of the sport from those on the forums and began reading books they recommended, and checked out sites on Alaska and sled dog racing. I explored musher’s web pages, and learned that many of them quickly answered e-mailed inquiries, and that some Iditarod participants, and many of their family members regularly posted on the forums! Every inquiry I made was met with a warm invitation to explore more, and even many “I look forward to meeting you when you come to Alaska”. After his amazing ‘seemed like a miracle’ win last year, an e-mail to congratulate Lance Mackey was quickly and personally answered by Lance, drawing me more closely into his world. I hadn’t thought, yet, that I would get THAT into it! However, I underestimated the friendliness and approachability of this great community. It may be that in that cold climate, hearts kindle a special kind of warmth and radiance, a need to keep the spirits up through those long dark nights. A number of Iditarod participants posted regularly, choosing their top-ten picks along with many of those that live in places that hardly ever see snow, and will always be arm-chair mushers and wannabes. In this sport, the variables are so great, that even years of race experience leaves one only speculating as to who might be the break-through star, or slowed by a storm. We all have an equal chance of winning that TTP hat! A passion for the sport is the only entry fee, and passion grows exponentially with participation and interaction with the sled dog racing community.

Eventually many of those who started out ‘just watching’ feel the need to be more ‘a part of’, and the world of volunteers beckons us to make booties, contribute time and money to sponsor mushers or dogs, sign up to help with dropped dogs, write ‘blog’ for the blind dog, Rivers, spend a week in a remote, frozen checkpoint to cook for mushers and Veterinarians, and a hundred other ideas to help with no expectation of compensation other than the joy of being part of the Iditarod spirit. I won’t pretend that all goes smoothly in the world where a small tireless group of paid ITC organizers try to herd thousands of volunteers into cooperative service to 95 mushers and nearly 2000 dogs over 1000 miles of land, air, and ice. Patience is tried, and nerves are frayed to the limit, tempers do flair, and there is always some hierarchical shuffling of egos. But, mostly what draws ALL those in the front lines and behind the scenes is an infectious contentedness of being there wedded with a spirit of adventure. To be drawn into the element of the sled dogs and those marvelous mentors who read their minds and their spirits, and blend with them to form a team, that is the lure of the Iditarod.

A bit more now, a tribute to those who give every moment of every day to the care, nurturing, training of those dogs, who learn from legends of the sport, but have to create their own legend, a bond as unique as spirit of each musher, each dog. It intrigued me most, how forthcoming and get-to-able the Iditarod mushers were. I was able to have fairly long conversations with Lance Mackey, Martin Buser, Vern Halter, Sam Detrour, Jessica Royer. It wasn’t just ‘lets be polite to the fans’ talk. There was eye contact, questions back to me, quick exchange of guesses of strategy, and always humorous stories that they never tire of telling. They were totally present, totally in the moment, forthcoming about their humanness, frailties, and with a unique blend of confidence and humility. I have heard that said of Lance a lot, but I found all of the mushers I spoke with to be friendly and approachable. The second day I was in Alaska I attended the vet check. Mushers were very busy talking with vets, getting dogs in and out of their trucks, and wanting to move on. However, most of them, and the Vets, seemed comfortable and at ease including all of the observers in conversations. In similar situations, I might stand back, not wanting to bother or get in the way, but I immediately felt at ease and invited into their world. That feeling was doubled at the banquet, where thousands gathered, and almost no one stayed in their seats longer than to gobble down the food. I had amazing conversations with so many people, that it was like a gathering of all the people I had ever knew in one place! Now this is odd for me. In my own town, I often feel shy in crowds, and struggle to keep conversation going. But here I was, second full day in Alaska, “Oh, there’s Rachel Sclodoris. Hi, Rachel, I’m Jeanie B, I talk to Boo on the forum all the time. Yeah, I wish she could be here, too. How are the dogs doing? Bet it will be awesome running with Joe Runyan. Lucky you. Ok, I’ll give her the message when I get back to my room.” Gee, I just had a conversation with the famous blind musher, never met her before, but it was perfectly comfortable. When I was snowed in at Finger Lakes, I had four days to observe interactions between checkpoint volunteers, mushers, vets, dogs, and observers, in less than pleasant circumstances. Once more, most observers were honored to be there, and gave mushers plenty of room to attend to their dogs and do their chores. Mushers, tired and busy, usually had a smile, and hug, and a complement for each dog, then if time allowed, a few minutes to graciously answer questions they must tire of being asked. You would never know it. They seemed to delight that we were interested in their team. Within the checkpoint camp, which included three tents and two small snow caves, there was an amiable spirit of getting chores done and enjoying being with people who love to talk dogs and strategy and prognostication. It did not seem like work. I so enjoyed talking with and learning from the volunteer Vets. All of them I spoke to were returnees except one, and she said she surely would come back. All credited taking this time from busy and lucrative practices to camp in harsh conditions to their amazement of and respect for the Alaskan Husky! They just love those dogs (take that, PETA!).

I can not ignore the dogs; without them there would be no mushing community. I thought I was prepared for how amazing they are, but I wasn’t. They are so lean and so muscular, and each one so very unique. I loved the lover/hugger ones, the quirky ones, the loud ones, the ‘I’ve done this a million times’ yawning ones, the shy ones, and the antsy ones. But especially, I loved the ones who loved to howl! One evening I sat in the dusk at Finger Lakes with a howling one who did not care to be loved or petted, and howled with him. He loved it, and we took turns and I loved it and we bonded in the moment in a million snowflakes in that great white open. I know he wanted his Daddy, and to be on the trail with his team, but for that moment, we had a howling good time. Several hours later, in the middle of the night when I went outside and looked at the slightly clearing sky, a few stars, and flicker of aurora, I heard him howl, and smiled, and in the far distance, I heard a wolf’s answering howl. Some may complain of being snowed in at Finger Lake. It won’t be me.

The respect between mushers, families, handlers, and volunteers appears to be quite genuine as well. Again, in the harsh environment and strenuous conditions under which keeping a kennel and training a team exist, the role of each of those (and others) is a necessary cog in the wheel, and is not taken for granted. There has to be those who stay home and tend the kennel while ‘boss’ is off enjoying the race. Maybe it is that acceptance that draws us all in, as a constant invitation to that world, that desire to be behind the sled with peacefully adventuresome shush of runners on snow with the breath of the dogs fogging the crystal cold morning air through the wilds of Alaska.

To you who are a part of that community, thank you for inviting me in. I will honor my acceptance.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

WINTERED IN AT FINGER LAKE






March 4, 2008
We packed early the next morning, and some of us packed up some of our excess baggage and mailed it back home. Be prepared to spend more for postage home than for the items sent! Then a quick breakfast, luggage on the bus, and off to K-2 Aviation for our flight to Finger Lake checkpoint. Once again we had a sunny morning and the plan was to fly out to the checkpoint about 10 am and fly back to Anchorage by 4:30 pm. The flight out was in a 4 passenger Otter prop plane with skis for take off and landing. The weather and visibility were great and we flew over wilderness areas with occasional tiny cabins from the homesteading era, craggy mountains in the distance, as we flew further into the interior. We landed in deep snow on Finger Lake. The last 10 minutes of the flight we saw a number of dog teams from the air, some mushing, others stopped along the Iditarod Trail. At the checkpoint, about 15 dog teams were in and resting. We visited with some, asked about trail impressions and how the dogs were doing so far, and got plenty of pictures. Elena and I had a long talk with Joe Garnie (pic below) who said he had gotten enough dog food, finally, but was tired himself and worried about sprained muscles and tiredness in dogs who were not used to 30 degree temperatures and punchy snow.














We tore ourselves away from the mushers long enough to go up to the Winter Lake Lodge for a gourmet lunch, included with our tour. It was a gourgeous and delicious grilled silver salmon on lentils, flavored to perfection with a nice glass of wine. What a heavenly setting, the cedar log lodge nestled among trees on a rise near the frozen lake,. The winter’s snow was piled to the eve troughs of the lodge, and completely covered some of the cabins. I have a picture of a tunnel to the Johnny house, and the view from sitting on the 'throne' below.
At about 2pm, the snow began to fall and the cloud ceiling dropped remarkably. By 3 pm it was announced that the planes could not safely return to get us. One of the planes on the lake tilted and got stuck in the snow trying to take off after one of it’s skis dropped into a deep snow hole. It took a bunch of men and snowmobiles to get it turned around and on the ice runway, and it was the last plane to take off.

I was having the time of my life finding one more awesome spot after another along the Iditarod Trail , within walking distance, to take pictures of the teams coming in or leaving, and trying to get the timing just right. It was fun, too, just finding a big snow drift to sit in, leaning back on my backpack and taking in the grandeur of nature and the teams shushing by out away from the checkpoint.
The whole set of Finger Lakes pics can be see at http://picasaweb.google.com/JeanieB50/FingerLakesIditarod2008

When we got to Finger Lakes, the leaders had already passed and were headed toward Rainy Pass. The trick was to stay out of the musher’s way, yet get close enough to listen, learn, and ask questions when appropriate (and to decide what was appropriate). After we learned we would be spending the night, a group of us went down to the checkpoint and stayed until after dark, watching the last musher's headlamp glistening across the lake on the way around the lake to the checkpoint. One of the last mushers in, around snowy dusk, was Sam Deltour, the rookie from Belgium running Mitch Seavey's puppy team (by the way, he's doing quite well according to IONEARTH). I struck up a conversation with him;and he was eager to share his excitement and upbeat experience on the trail so far. He said he had a media crew that was supposed to be following to film him, but they were delayed because of the storm, so he asked me if I would like to get his camera out of his sled and film him doing his chores. I felt dumb trying to figure out how to use his camera, but got some needed help from Sam. I learned a lot following him through his un-bootying, getting his cooker going, hauling water, heating HIS food in the water before THE DOGS' FOOD, checking and massaging feet legs, answering Vets' questions about a few dogs, and feeding. I filmed for about 15 minutes, I think. What a fun way to learn!

Our group and 5 other stranded race followers are being put up in one large room of the WinterLake Lodge - about 20' x 15'. We have a wood stove in the corner, but no bath or running water. We have to walk quite a way to the outhouse through some snow tunnel/paths. Carl and Kristin, our wonderful hosts, report this is the first time ever a group has been stranded here, and they have owned it since 1973. Just my luck, huh? Kristin is a gourmet cook, trained at the CordonBleu in Paris and they have cabins here and a dog team, snow machines, and a helicopter available to guest who pay LOTS of money to stay here. I heard that guest pay up to $1000 per night to stay here, all inclusive, including flight out. So, we are basically staying here free, but we have to stay out of the way of the paying guests, and of course, few of the accomodtions they can enjoy. However, even though food is limited, and more supplies can't get in if we can't get out, Kristin is doing a superb job of feeding us.

We thought we would get out on Tuesday, but Tuesday morning was more socked in thatn Monday. Most of us are pleasant and enjoying the adventure, but, of course, there are always a few who are noisy grouches, complaining about everything. And, they are the ones sleeping on sofas, while the rest of us sleep on the floor. Monday night was a bit toasty and testy. The wood stove was too hot, and the snoring symphony was challenging to even the easy sleepers. I did not sleep much, and don't think anybody did. One lady, wanting to 'buy herself out of her misery' was on her cell phone before daybreak demanding loudly "a helicopter immediately because we are trapped in a blizzard". Geez, Louise! It takes all kinds. Hers was the only cell phone that worked up there, but I think there was the start of a campaign to see that it stopped working! That was pretty hard to sleep through.

During the night, we heard the last of the mushers leave the checkpoint, dogs eager and barking as they were being prepared to go. I smiled to hear the dogs howl into the night and cherish this opportunity to spend one more night here, sleep or no sleep. The morning was a winter wonderland, and several of us hiked down to a gorge behind the lodge on the Iditarod Trail. Andrea and Colin from New Zealand, and Tom, Cindy, and Harriet from Georgia, were as eager as I to enjoy this incredible opportunity, and we really made the best of it. We then visited with the checkers, volunteers, and Vets, and heard great stories of their adventures throughout the day. One musher, rookie Tom Roig, from Ohio, scratched here, so we have been visiting with him, too. He is sick, was sick even before the start, and very disappointed. He had to scratch on his other Iditarod try, too, and hates so to scratch again.

Now that all the mushers are through, there is cleanup to do, and I helped with gathering and bagging the garbage and used straw. I met Lisa Fredick's husband, David Little (Lisa wrote "Running with Champions" about her own Iditarod run and training with Jeff King - super book). I had lots of conversations with him about race strategy, difference in musher and dog personalities, and life in Alaska. He is a volunteer and does the doggie urine testing, and he loves to tell dog and Jeff King stories. I talked to him for about an hour before realizing who he was - several clues - 1)"has a home in Kodiak and cabin near Denali; 2) has dog named Houston; 3)his wife was out mushing when he tried to call her; and 4)Jeff King is my neighbor". I finally said, "Wait a minute, are you Lisa Fredrick's husband? and he seemed shocked that I would know that. Her book is one of my favorite musher books. He is very proud of her and quite supportive, though does not see himself as a musher. He was a wealth of interesting stories, and I loved it!

By Tuesday afternoon, it's still snowing, and we can't even see trees on the island in the middle of the lake. one plane from Iditarod Airforce flew in in treacherous weather but could only take one Vet out because of the deepness of the snow on the landing area. So, all checkers, Vets, the musher and his dogs, 14 dropped dogs, 14 guests, and 31 followers 'abandoned ones' are still stuck here. The second night we were getting used to it, and were tired enough to sleep through anything. I did not even notice the hard floor. Modesty was gone, and we stripped down a few more layers of clothes to be comfortable, and the comaraderie and making light of our plight helped. We continued to be amazed at the creative ways beans and rice could be served, and began to search out birch branches to chew on in lew of toothbrushes. (There was not a toothbrush, comb, or change of clothes among us!). Trips to the john (6 steps down through a slippery snow tunnel) became old hat, though some of us opted to pee on the Iditarod Trail (a bit closer, and who would know?). By then, it had snowed another several feet, on top of the 20+ feet already on the ground. Step off the trail, and you are up to your armpits, at least.

Wednesday morning brought no relief, and we were getting testy about not being able to find out race progress. There was a computer in the lodge, but it was accessible by paying guests only, so the weathered in radio team from KMBQ got the updates and brought them in 2 or 3 times a day. We then carried them down to the checkpoint, because THEY even had trouble getting updates! To me, that was THE MOST frustrating thing about being weathered in. Of course, I missed my opportunity to fly out to Rainy Pass, but those folks got trapped there, too, so I am fine with MY experience. Wednesday we got news that it may be Friday before we got out. By now, many people had missed their flights home, and because of spring break, airlines were overbooked and they may have to wait until next week to get out of Alaska. The front that 'attacked' us was called a 'pineapple express', a wet system that blows up from Hawaii and carries warmer temps and lots of moisture. Usually in the interior, it's too cold to snow like this, but the temps were in the 20's and perfect recipient of all that moisture. Wednesday afternoon there was slight clearing, and the planes took of to try to get us. We were notified, got ready, were piling onto snow machines to ride out to the landing strip, when we were told the wings were icing and all but one of the planes turned back. Five people got out Wednesday, my not among them. Our tour guide made sure that the grouchy ones got out first, so Wednesday night was really pleasant and we enjoyed playing games and joking about our experience 'bonding'. It was a fun time. We thought about having a major party, but the cheapest wine there was $40 a bottle. We decided a 'sip' of good wine would do it, so we just enjoyed the departure of the whiners. About 10 pm one of the staff informed us the sky was clearing and the Northern Lights were out. We had just gotten into bed, but all jumped up and dressed and went out to view the light display. They were not very colorful that night, but the movement of the lights, and the stars in the wilderness were beautiful. I woke up at 4am for a 'nature call', went out on my own, but the lights were gone and it was somewhat cloudy again. There was one of the dropped dogs who absolutely LOVED to howl. He didn't take to hugs and scratches much, but I found he loved for me to sit with him and howl with him, and I took great joy in that, as well. Standing out in the early, early morning, I heard him howl below me, and smiled, breathed in the cool air, and then way in the distance, I heard a wolf's answering howl. I thought I was imagining things, but then I heard it again, and again. What a gift!!! I am so greatful I am able to listen and be and enjoy. WHAT A GIFT!!!

Thursday morning came, and clearing, and a message that the planes were on their way, again. Again, we all trudged out to the landing strip, along with Vet's leading the dropped dogs to be flown back to Anchorage. We got to the strip, and once again, the planes iced up and had to turn around. This was the 1st time I felt discouraged. I was grungy, my teeth had fur thicker than dog's hair, and my hair was 4 days beyond hat-hair. I can only imagine how grungy the Iditarod mushers get!

We went back to the lodge, had some cereal for breakfast, and finally, at about 10:30, we were told to grab our stuff, the planes were landing. Those pilots are amazing. I have a great respect for them, making those decisions constantly about the ability to get to a spot vs. the risk to life and limb of self and passengers. Finger Lake was a great experience, but I was happy to fly back to Anchorage!

With the grunge finally washed off of me,
JeanieB
,

TALKEETNA

Sunday, after watching the first 60 teams depart, we left for Talkeetna. We got to that little town, the one Northern Exposure was modeled after, at about 4:30. Our motel, using the term loosely, was a narrow hallway with 10’ X 10’ rooms of the of the bar/restaurant. In the hallway from the rooms into the bar was a large sofa, home of the resident black Lab. There was a sign indentifying him as the owner of the bar.

Several of us took a walking tour of the rest of Talkeetna, making a stop at each bar. The natives were friendly and welcoming and a lot of fun. We met Gerald Sousa’s wife and her friends, coming back from the start and celebrating with her friends. We joined them for a few drinks, and she offered to drive us to their “SunDog Kennels” the next morning. Our schedule was pretty full, and it looked like a late night of partying would not lend itself to getting up early to go, so we passed on that opportunity. After our ‘bar tour’, we gathered back at “Latitude 62”, our bar/motel, and joined other tour members for a jovial evening of flowing Alaska Amber and Duck Farts. (There were no little umbrellas in Talkeetna. Sorry, Dilli and Undertakers - private joke for old 'Cabelas' family members). A few had hangovers in the morning, but the fun was worth it. We had some great pizzas at a tiny restaurant. The whole day was a real Alaskan cultural experience.

We never gave it a thought that the next few days we would encounter much more than the tour had planned in the way of Alaskan experience!

Up, Up, and Away,
JeanieB

JEANIE B BECOMES A MUSHER!!!!!!!!!










My lead dogs, Silo and Sweet Pea, and the sled i drove!
JEANIE B’S FIRST MUSHING EXPERIENCE

In the morning, before the race, we went to Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Dog Kennels and home. Vern gave a great presentation on preparing for and experiencing the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. Vern won the Yukon Quest, and ran in 14 Iditarods. His talk was inspiring; he has a lot of energy and passion. We also got to see Cliff Robinson and his family, nervously making last minute preparations for his Iditarod start today. He was getting jittery and nervous and did a lot of pacing. We got to see his packed sled and his dog line-up, and had lunch with all of them. Cliff could not find his Vet log, and was having a furious searching experience. I suppose he must have found it, as he took off as planned at the restart.

But, the highlight of the day was my first dog sled ride! I got to do the driving , as they had a runner extension on the back and 2 handlebows. The musher/guide was on the front one, behind the basket, and I was on the back ones. My musher, Justin, was doing most of the driving, of course, but he gave more of the option to me as we went along-----when to shift weight to one side to the other (like on a motorcycle, or sailboat), when and how to use the drag brake and how much and when to let up. I even did some kicking going up the hills. I only flew off once, and I remembered to hang on and jump back on the runners fairly quickly. Elena was riding in the sled. It was great fun, and so peaceful, shushing down forest paths, trees loaded with snow. We mushed about 6 miles. When we got back to the kennel, I helped unharness the dogs and put them back to their boxes. My two lead dogs (above) were Silo and Sweet Pea. They were both small black and white dogs, and very lovable and exhuberant. It was a bit difficult, but I even enjoyed that part. The dogs are so strong that you hold them up so their front legs are off the ground, and walk them back on their back legs so that you have better control. Oh, I hope its not the last time I get to do that-----Exhilaration!

As I read this, it does not come close to describing how totally alive and blessed I was to have this experience of a lifetime. I get teary just writing this. The whole trip has been a blast, but this was my ultimate, lifelong highlight. Though it lasted only about 20 minutes, I will always remember the feel of being on the back of that sled, and the quiet shussshhhhh of the runners through the snow, and the dogs breath in the cool morning air, and the forest gliding by in silence. There are no words to describe how blessed I felt to get the chance to do what I have dreamed of for years! I sailed along of an invigorated cloud for days afterward. In fact, I still am!

Now I can truly say, and know what it feels like,
Mush on,
JeanieB

THE RESTART AT WILLOW

Sunday, March 2

On Sunday afternoon we enjoyed the restart in the bright sunshine and almost warm temperatures in Willow. Five of us from the tour found a great spot close to the start where we could take good close-up shots of the musher’s and dogs taking off. The restart is staged on a frozen Lake in Willow. The crowds were amazing and varied, many of them in groups tailgating Alaska style. Parents pulled their kids on sleds, partiers pulled their kegs on sleds. Some families set up tent shanties for ice fishing several feet from the spectator fence. There were campfires, grills, and lawn chairs. Other people were on snowmobiles, loaded down with camping gear, heading farther down the trail to camp and watch the mushers pass. Over to the side of the lake, small planes were taking off and landing. I enjoyed the restart, but there wasn’t as much chance to view the mushers before the race as at the ceremonial start. Maybe my senses were already overloaded as a result of my exciting morning (next post)!

At the restart, things are spread out a lot more than at the ceremonial start, and the area where the mushers were was totally off limits to the public, so there was less 'up close and personal' experiences. However, the excitement of seeing the teams take off, knowing this is for real, and they have a thousand miles ahead of them, made it fun to try to read the expressions on their faces as they took off down the trail. Our tour group stayed at the start for several hours, then headed toward the small town of Talkeetna for the night.

Mush on,
JeanieB

BACK FROM FINGER LAKES DETOUR

Wednesday, March 5
I am finally back after a major detour on my Iditarod dream. Gatekeeper let you know that I got ‘weathered’ in at Finger Lakes checkpoint, about 100 miles (?) from Anchorage, as the crow flies, and 198 miles down the Iditarod trail. Since I missed a lot of days, I will fill in with stories about experiences that are old news now, as far as the Race goes. Sorry for the delay, but this trip is being done by Alaska time! What I will do now is post separate experiences, so you can pick and choose what you want to read.

I wrote all these as I went along, on bits and pieces of paper that I could find, including some on paper towels and toilet paper at Finger Lakes (no kidding!)

Catching up on sleep,
JeanieB

Thursday, March 6, 2008

JeanieB has been stuck at Finger Lake with her tour group. The day trip on Monday has turned into a real Alaska adventure! I imagine she's having the time of her life. I have not heard from her. Let's hope that she gets out. I can't wait to hear about her trip first hand.
I spent a long night in the communications room on Tuesday. Went to bed at 6:00 yesterday morning, and then got a phone call at 8:30 from our stuck in Rainy Pass roommie. She was supposed to fly out home to NJ yesterday, and now needs to rearrange her flight. She wanted me to return her car so that she will not be charged late fees. So wide awake, and back in the dog yard. With the planes grounded, we did not get any dogs in until noon. I'm on my way back out to the dog drop now.
I am attaching a link to the photos taken at the Anchorage Dog Drop Tuesday. We did have a brief lift of the weather and got a few in. Notably, Lance's Hobo came in. All the dogs were in good shape, mostly sore joints or muscles. One girl in heat. and a couple that just were tired enough not to keep up with their teammates.

http://s179.photobucket.com/albums/w291/cujnhoop/2008%20Iditarod%20I/?albumview=slideshow


http://s179.photobucket.com/albums/w291/cujnhoop/Anchorage%20dog%20drop/



Gatekeeper

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Ceremonial Start is Tomorrow

This is what I came for! Tomorrow morning there will be approximately 95 teams of 12 dogs each lined up for blocks up and down 4th street, and on adjoining side streets. The first teams to run will have there dog trucks in the back of the line, so when the dogs and mushers go, the handlers can turn the trucks around and head out of town 11 miles to pick up the dogs are the end of the ceremonial run.

Tonight when we came home, workers were beginning to dump truckload after truckload of snow all the way up 4th Street. I am 1 street down from all of that. There are hundreds of people out there dumping and scooping and putting up crowd barriers, ect. in preparation. They will be working all night. All along the city there are dog trucks parked in parking lots, driveways, side streets, with dogs tied out to the side with there dog bowls for feedings. I am sitting here writing this and can hear the dump trucks and the snow plows working. By 5 am, mushers will begin lining up, getting everything ready, checking and double checking dogs, harnesses, supplies, and nerves, all the while being friendly as possible to all of us idiots who want to borrow a little part of their adventure.

My tour will be leaving Anchorage right after the Ceremonial Start to go to Wasilla to be nearer Sunday's 'Real Start'. So, I have to pack all my bags tonight (again) and have them ready to be picked up and transported to the next leg of my trip. Since I want to be out in the street bright and early, I will get it all ready tonight. This will probably be my last post for a while. I don't know Internet availability in Wasilla or Talkeetna, and besides that the next few days are more packed full than the last few. I will update when possible.

One more tidbit. It hasn't been too cold here until today, but it was cold, foggy, and snowy all day today, and I could feel the temperature dropping. It is supposed to drop more in the next few days, the days I will be outside most of the time. Glad I brought all those layers! They are going on tomorrow. Maybe that way I won't have so much to pack!

Till further down the trail
JeanieB

Some picture of our Adventures

I haven't been successful at getting my pics on here yet, but check out June's (SunHusky's) at
http://backstage-iditarod.blogspot.com/

If you scroll down to 'vet check' pics on Feb. 27th, you will find one of me and my Buds in front of Lance Mackey's dog truck.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Vet Check and Happy Trails Kennel

Hey, I see my postings DID come here. OK, that's s relief. Wireless here is expensive and elusive, so I'll do my best. I have some free time today to explore around downtown Anchorage. Might take in some Fur Rhondy exhibits and hoopla, some shops, maybe the Bear and Raven Theatre or the Museum.

BUT yesterday Vet Check was incredible. I am going to run out of descriptive words. Lance was ALL THAT AND MORE. He is so incredibly real and a bundle of enthusiastic energy, truly an 'energizer bunny'. He is eating up this attention with the media and fans, but in a humble way. He got a cell phone call while talking to the press, answered it casually, and did some quick directions to whomever it was, and grinned and said, "Gotta run, here, I'm busy doing this RockStar bit", hung up and was right back to interviews, personal conversations with fans, picture taking, and autograph signing, while not skipping a beat of grabbing the dogs out of their boxes, nuzzling them and gently lowering them to tie them for the vets to check. His eye contact and ability to make each person feel like he is talking right to them is amazing. His dogs look great, and all got a total bill of health for the Iditarod, even one that Lance had some doubts about because of cut/split in a foot pad. His foot is healing perfectly.

Some other mushers I saw were Lachlan Clark, Eric Rogers, the Frekkings, Zoya Denure, Cindy Gallea, and Ed Striela(sp?). It was fun watching the detail and quickness of the volunteer vets, and how much they were enjoying their job.

Martin Buser, of course, also impressed me, when we visited his kennel yesterday afternoon. He has a grand sense of humor. I asked him if that sense of humor left him when he was in sleep deprived and exhausting situations on the trail and he belly laughed, "Oh, that's when the sense of humor revs up on high, it has to." He gave us some strategies he and Rohn were planning, but I don't believe a word of it. He clearly keeps his real plans close to the chest.

Add an evening of fresh Halibut, stuffed with King Crab, encrusted in macadamia nuts and a couple of drinks with my new Iditarod Buddies, and Heaven can't get any better than this!

By the way, Frozen C, are you in Anchorage? Better show your face if you are!

Mush on,
JeanieB

Surviving the wireless drought

Hi guys, I am here and wrote the most awsome blog yesterday, only to have it disappear into internet oblivion. Service is very spotty, so I'm only going to do shorter blogs until I am sure it's posting correctly. My first full day here was beyond a dream! My roommates are awesome and we feel like we have know each other for years. After a good night's sleep on Tuesday, we were full tilt into Iditarod preliminaries on Wednesday, attending Vet Check, spending time with Zoya DeNure, and a Lot of time with Yukon Quest and Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey. I am still floating from that! More about that later. From their we had lunch with 7 of the Iditasupport folks in Wasilla, and then went out to Happy Trails Kennel for a whole afternoon there with Martin and Rohn Buser and their dogs and family. The dogs are amazing, and as everyone has often reported, the mushers so real and approachable. We had such a great conversation about race strategy with Martin before the rest of a tour group arrived.

Right now, I have to be off to a meeting with my tour group. Jon and the BSSD kids are supposed to be here with Gatekeeper and I at the Snow City Cafe any minute. I hope they get here before I have to leave for my meeting. It's like Gatekeeper and I are sisters, our parallels are amazing. I'll stop now to finish my breakfast, but will be back with more about yesterday's adventure.

For you who haven't been here yet, it is much more than I could ever dream of, and I haven't even seen the start of the race yet! On to the meeting.

Mush on,
JeanieB

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm Finally in Alaska!

Here are Jeanie B (VA), Karen F (WA), Kim B. (WA), and Mary C. (NJ) enjoying my first day at the Millenium, Iditarod Headquarters. The 'dropped dog yard' is outside the window, in the background.
Sometimes we have a dream, and the dream is enough. Sometimes you have to live it. I am sure some of the mushers may say that about competing in and completing the Iditarod, but for me it is just to be here and suck up the enthusiasm. I left Virginia this morning at 6:30 am EST and it is now 8 pm Alaska time (4 hour time difference), so my brain is partially fried, but Oh, it has been an amazing day.

The skies were clear over Montana, so I got my 'fix' of those magnificent Rockies. Landing in Seattle, Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens loomed snow covered in the distant. Flying up to Anchorage from there was mostly cloudy, but the skies opened for a view of the Kenai Penninsula, and the mountains, fjords, and glaciers from the air, a terrific invite. All connections worked like clockwork, and my bags arrived in one piece. And, yes, the little suitcase COULD contain all the gear I will need to keep warm on my adventures. I had to toss my polypropaline long underwear, but I have a lot of layers besides that.

My friends at home seem to think my extreme interest a bit odd, but by the time I got on the plane at Cincinnati, I met a number of other East coast travelers with their Iditarod logo prominent, and had conversations from that point on about who was moving up in the mushing world, and 'are you going to Nome' and 'How many years have you volunteered?' and 'Thirteen years! That's terrific!' I met two of my roommates at the airport in Anchorage, and we have had about 5 hours now to bond, but it only took about 10 minutes. I ran into Rudy in Cincinnati, and have seen him already four or five times, and Kime, who e-mailed me last week about how to get to Rainy Pass, she ended up eating dinner with us. This mushing family is a tight knit group, and I am in my Heaven! Every conversation is about huskies, or Alaska, or the next event, or the chances of various mushers.

Did I say this place is beautiful?! The snow covered Chugach Mountains rim around the city. I've only been from the airport to the Millenium so far, and the views were great. Right now I am so tired I can't hold my eyes open. Karen, Mary, Kim, and I had a great meal and a few beers in the Fancy Moose Bar downstairs at the hotel. The lobby is full of stuffed animals of Alaska, and everyone is talking race. Pam will be here in the middle of the night, so I need to catch a few winks. I did get a chance to pick my top ten picks for the race, so I'll post them tomorrow. If some of this doesn't make sense, or spelling is awry, but my eyes are partially closed. I'll be up bright and early in the morning, but it's crash time now!

Mush on!
JeanieB

On My Way

Alright, JeanieB (and we are soon to have a discussion about where this moniker came from, it is so far away from your real name) here I am. sitting in the Eugene airport, waiting for the first leg of my flight to Anchorage. Saying good-bye to my little Sibe was the hardest thing I ever did (My husband KNOWS I'll be back). she smiled and wagged her tail, doesn't know what all this extra attention is for, but gee, it's terrific!
I am so excited! This is not my first trip, but I will be volunteering with the ITC for the first time, looking forward to meeting a bunch of people that I only know from their internet postings, and I am terribly excited! I will also get to to to Nome and see the finish.
There are so many people on their way to Anchorage this week. Just check the postings at the various sites. It seems we all are on our own journey, our trails wind together and apart. For me, I marvel at the dogs, their ability and athleticism, and the people who love them enough to care for them and share their lives.
GK

Sunday, February 17, 2008

THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS!

Two weeks until the Last Great Race begins! Note that today Lance Mackey, defending Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion, leads the Yukon Quest more than halfway through that great 1000+ mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse. It is a CLOSE race this year, with Ken Anderson right up there with him. To follow the 2nd half of the Yukon Quest, go to their new, beautifully updated site, http://www.yukonquest.com/ and click on race updates.

This is when I start to decide who I am going to select for my TTP's (top ten picks) for the Iditarod. I am for sure at a loss this year, as there are too many I want to root for to pick just 10. Lance was amazing last year, but can he do it again? Is his breeding program, or dog relationship, truly a cut above? I'm thinking, yeah. Some others on my list, Jeff King, Paul Gephart, Robert Sorlie, John Baker, Ed Iten, Mitch Seavey, Jessica Royer, Aaron Burmeister, Zach Steer, Ken Anderson, Martin Buser, DeeDee Jonrowe, and Ali Zirkle. I might have missed a few. When I decide, I'll post my TTP over at the BSSD site on the forum, where the winner wins an Iditarod Hat! I'll narrow my list after consulting my 'intuitive self'.

WEBSITES THAT FOLLOW THE IDITAROD

There are certainly others, but here are some websites to check out to educate yourself about the Iditarod, and follow the race. Remember, the Ceremonial Start in in Anchorage on March 1st this year, and the actual start will be on March 2nd in Willow. Two weeks from today!

THE OFFICIAL IDITAROD WEBSITE: http://www.iditarod.com/
RACE UPDATES AND AUDIO CLIPS: http://www.dogsled.com/
ALASKA PUBLIC RADIO REPORTS FROM THE TRAIL: www.iditarod.aprn.org/
FREE UPDATES, INTERVIEWS, VIDEOS: www.iditarodpodcast.com
WONDERFUL SITE BY THE BERING STRAIT SCHOOL DISTRICT, WITH STUDENTS DOING UPDATES, INTERVIEW, AND GREAT CHAT ROOM: http://mushing.bssd.org/index
JEFF KING'S WEBSITE INCLUDING HIS JOURNAL: http://www.huskyhomestead.com

Books to Whet Your Appetite for Alaska

For years I have admired the mushing community from afar. Some of the best books I have read, ones that took me there in my Alaskan Fantasy adventures were the following:
  1. WINTERDANCE by Gary Paulsen - The ultimate in Iditarod reading. He gives us the joy and agony, and you will laugh yourself silly reading it. Still my favorite!

  2. WOODSONG by Gary Paulsen - The young adult version of his dog-sledding adventures.

  3. BACKSTAGE IDITAROD by June Price - Great introduction if you are new to the sport, or adjunct to all you know already if you are a "Fan"atic, or preparing to attend.

  4. RUNNING WITH CHAMPIONS: A MIDLIFE JOURNEY ON THE IDITAROD TRAIL by Lisa Fredrick - Wonderful story or her journey from Jeff King's dog handler, to running the race herself.

  5. ONE SECOND TO GLORY: THE ALASKAN ADVENTURES OF IDITAROD CHAMPION DICK MACKEY by Lew Freedman - Talk about someone with TALL tales, it's hard to tell fact from stretching the truth, but it doesn't matter. This is a fun story, and gives an idea of where current Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion, Lance Mackey gets his gift of gab.

  6. MY LEAD DOG WAS A LESBIAN by Brian Patrick O'Donoghue - Another fun read that takes you on the trail, a way back from the lead pack.

  7. IDITAROD DREAMS by Lew Freedman and DeeDee Jonrowe - DeeDee's story of one year in her Iditarod training and racing. DeeDee has been and will continue to be a great musher and incredible woman.

  8. RACE ACROSS ALASKA by Libby Riddles and Tim Jones - The first woman to win the Iditarod tells the story that started the saying "Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod".

  9. IDITAROD CLASSICS: TALES OF THE TRAIL by Lew Freedman and Jon VanZyle - Jon has painted the scene for each of the Iditarod posters for years, and this book captures the stories and pictures of the Last Great Race.

  10. NO END IN SIGHT: MY LIFE AS A BLIND IDITAROD RACER by Rachael Scdoris and Rick Steber - Rachael has started the race 3 years, and completed the race last year, the first legally blind musher to do so. I have not read this yet, but it's on my list.

  11. ALASKA by James Michener - a bit dated, but intricately researched and brilliantly written to weave a fiction story through the history of Alaska.

  12. ORDINARY WOLVES by Seth Kantner - not about the Iditarod, or mushing, but the most amazing fiction story I have read that chronicles growing up in the bush in the Brooks Range, and the clash of modern culture on the native northern population. Dog teams here were for survival, not pleasure.

  13. NUNAGA: TEN YEARS AMONG THE ESKIMOS by Duncan Pryde - True story of a man who went north to fur trade, and chose to live among the Eskimos. Not in Alaska, but in the Actic. A truly great read.

  14. TWO OLD WOMEN by Velma Wallis - Not about mushing or Alaska, exactly, but a short story and must read legend of native women. Great to read after the previous two books.

  15. MURDER ON THE IDITAROD TRAIL by Sue Henry - Fiction, mystery, and pretty ridiculous story of intrigue that follows the race as mushers are murdered. Read only if you can't find any of the others.

There are so many others, but I only wanted to list books I have read or know about. I know I have read many more, so I will update this list occasionally.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Little Suitcase that Could

Do you remember the story about the little engine that could? My suitcase for Alaska is being asked to do similar super-duty. This makes me wonder how in the world the mushers get all that stuff in their tiny little sleds. Ah-haaaaa, one more thing to check out when I get there. I would love to watch one of them packing their sleds. I do digress. Taking the advice of my Alaskan friends, I am planning to wear multiple layers, with emphasis on wicking and insulation, and avoiding a lot of cotton. The nice part is that silk, wool, and down compress nicely, and that there are "no fashion police in Alaska" according to Sunhusky! Polypropolene, parka's, and pac-boots offer a challenge, though. I have packed two times now, trying to get all in one suitcase, one carryon, and my take-everywhere backpack. That poor little suitcase keeps gasping and begging, "can't I have a helper?" I am determined to just check ONE! Wait a minute; then where am I going to put the stuff I buy in Alaska? Hmmm. Pack an empty duffel; check it on the way home. Or, ship some stuff home before I leave.

OK, Lois, get creative here. Walmart (yuck) here I come........to find compression bags that you vacumm the air out of. OMG, it sucked my outerwear down by 1/2 at least! Pack the underwear in one boot, socks in another, hand and toe heaters in another, rolled up extra garments and gifts for Iditarod friends around the edge, and, by golly, I think I've got it.

"Groannnnn, Streeeeeetch" goes the little suitcase............"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.............ooooooooo...............I'm closed." Wshhoooo. That's done............Uh, wait a minute.......weight limit is 50 pounds. Off to the bathroom scales (thank God for rolling cases!).
Fifty-two pounds.............."Grooaaannn, don't you dare open me again." What can go? -----

And I haven't even gotten to my carry-on, the cameras, laptop, minimal changes of clothing since I will have three flights to get there, three opportunities to lose the luggage. But, I still have 13 days to figure it all out. I'll let you know on flight day how good I am at keeping it to ONE little suitcase that could.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

My growing Iditarod family

Barbara L. and I have become good friends, and she and her husband, Jerry, came by our house last summer to have lunch with Ken and I. We stayed in touch and made plans to go to the race together in 2007, but the sale of the family farm, closing in January, and buying our small dream Deerfield farm made that time too busy. With disappointmet, I postponed my dream for one more year. As it was, Ken and I fell in love with Deerfield, a very remote mountain valley in western Virginia, and were there every weekend working to fix the fences and the house, and I was hitting the auctions for used equipment and furniture. That was also a dream come true, and the timing was perfect, with Ken being in his 1st year of partial retirement. I am so in love with our Deerfield home. I am feeling more and more at one with the earth. To pack both dreams in one year would have lessened the thrill of both. Now we are settled in our farm house, nestled between two gorgeous mountains, with no buildings behind us for miles and miles, and have had a year to share it with many renewed friends from childhood, and others who love the country as much as we do. With this as my 'nest', I am settled in to plan this Iditarod Dream!

I am one lucky person! I have make 275 booties this year. Mine have been mailed to Mike Williams, a native musher who mushes for sobriety. I also made some purple booties for Jessica Royer's ceremonial start. I called Jessica's mother in Montana when I got the idea, and she was wonderfully friendly with suggestions. I made 4 matching bandanas for the lead or wheel dogs, with a "J" on them for the "J-Team".

Now a bit about last year's experience. Having DSL brought me closer to the action, and I signed up for the ITC Insider and became an ITC member. I could catch videos daily, along with web cam of the entire starts, ceremonial and Willow. I never missed a minute, even though I was at my Sister's for dinner during the actual start at Willow on Sunday (sorry, Ellen). It was almost like being there, and sharing the excitement with Cabela's Talk and Idita-support made it more fun. My family ignored me and thought I had gone over the deep end. Throughout the week I followed the action from checkpoint to checkpoint, and this year took the risk of guessing and predicting strategies, as I am beginning to know many of the mushers better. It was so fun to talk to Ryan Redington, Tyrell Seavey, and Mr. Burmeister, the ITC President on the talk forum. Everyone is so down to eath. In 2007, some of my favorite experiences were Frozen Chosen's Iditarod History posts, Sam-a-Tuck's native heritage 'eye view' of the race, and beginning to know the folks on the forums better as real people.

From the beginning, the excitement about the possibility of Lance Mackey winning the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year intrigued me. I had to choose him as #1 on my Top-Ten-Picks (TTP's). Every day, I couldn't wait to get to work to watch the last video, and could scan and post so quickly, I could hardly imagine how frustrated I had been with dial-up.

Toward the end of the race, I got hooked up with BSSD, the Unalakleet School children's site and their 'lively' live chat. Daniel (This Space For Rent) helped me get the BSSD live chat, and the live feed web video from Nome and the Cabela's talk all open and spaced on my screen. (I'm still a bit virtually challenged). I felt like a computer whiz, and was in Nome Heaven! As it became more and more evident that Lance was going to win, and with bib 13, and in his 6th year, just as his Dad and brother, Rick, the excitement built until I thought I would burst. The nervous excited chatter on BSSD was exhilerating! Here on the east coast, the ending looked to be middle of the night, so I went home to get my comfy clothes and sleeping bag, and back to the office and my DSL for the finish with my Idita-bud Armchair Mushers!

Ohhhhh! What a finish!!!! There was a large bunch of us bantering back and forth on Cabela's and BSSD, but I finally gto the hang of the live chat on BSSD and stayed there for the finish. I has so much sympathy of those folks who had dial up, or weren't getting a good feed. Mine was coming in perfect, so as I watched Lance come across the sea ice toward Nome, I began calling the 'play-by-play', describing every scene, starting when he stopped out on the ice with Nome in sight, got down with each dog, and hugged and thanks them, wanting to do that privately, before re-entering civilization. I typed as fast as I could, with cheers and laughter, and tears running down my face, what Lance, the dogs, the fans, the family were doing and saying as he came into Nome, down Front Street, and under the Burled Arch, running beside his team, and pointing to the 13 on his chest with both hands, tears and laughter on that wooly frost-red beaming face above that 'krusty with dirt and dog doo' red snowsuit he wears, cheering in celebration and embracing to the ground his brother, then Mom..........."I did it, Mom! Life will never be the same!"

Throughout the next hours, on Cabela's, we collected 'favorite Lance quotes' (It's Lance, Not Chance!)....There were so many. I went to Lance's web site, and left him a cngratulatory message, telling him that the finish sealed my resolve to be there next year. He wrote me back the next week, to come see him at the start or finish line. Yep. I'm a group. By the way, I never did use that sleeping bag...........up all night.

Plans to attend started immediately, with me asking those who had gone for advice. I got great information, but this time, mostly from the Idita-Support group. It was so hard to decide when, and how long, and which activities to include. It soon became evident, you can't do everything in one year. I decided to forgo the Nome trip, as it would add a lot of time and expense, plus I really enjoyed the ending on the Internet from home. I knew I wanted to do both starts, the Banquet, the Vet check, some open houses, and a fly out to at least one checkpoint. I wanted to volunteer, but also wanted some free time to explore and meet other peopled I have come to know and love on the groups. I kept all three groups abreast of my plans. Pat Schue described a tour, and that caught my eye, but I can't imagine being 'hooked' to a tour. I'm too spontaneous for that. But, after talking to other who have done this tour, I signed up, then immediately booked my flights, and chose dates. Two weeks sounded like plenty of time, I thought then! Not now! Wish I had opted for at least three more days! Oh, well.

Shortly after I committed to the tour, Karen F. (Idita-S member I had not talked to previously) announced a need for roommates. We exchanged information about ourselves, hit it off immediately, and within no time there were four of us (we now call ourselves 'The Gang'). Pam V. and Mary C. were the others.............two west coast and two east coast. We quickly exchanged pictures and information, and we have all been amazed at the instant commaradarie. We are all married (for years) to guys who are not much interested in the Iditarod, who don't want to go, and are hesitant about us going alone because they care for us. We are all nuts about the race, Alaska, and the dogs. I can't wait to meet these girls. We are going to have so much fun.

The end of December, Cabela's announced their talk forum was ending, and I was meandering through the threads, reminising. I decided to bump up the thread 'going ot the 2008 race' and ask who else was really going. I looked through the posts there back to last March, and realized that Gatekeeper was still planning to go. I followed his thread (always thought Gatekeeper was a guy) and noticed mention of Oregon, and Corvallis.............and thought...........Pam lives in Corvallis! Is Gatekeeper Pam? Sure enough, and she had no idea I was JeanieB. Small, small world. Shortly after that, I got the wonderful news that Laurie (Mith) and Spirit are going too!!! It will be so great to meet her.

In three weeks I will be in Alaska! It sounds like a long time, but the last month has gone quickly. There is a constant blitz of e-mails as we revise our schedules to pack more and more into the trip. For me, planning and anticiption of a trip is almost as much fun as the trip itself, and nothing could be truer now. I'm having a ball. Every day there is something I think of the check out (like how do we pee in Willow with ski bibs and a bunch of layers on) or purchase (when Karen said there were a few insulated ski pants at TJMAXX and I made a quick lunch run to get the last ones) or a bright idea (like checking I-tunes and finding a bunch of Alaska, dog, and Iditarod songs, and making a CD for 'The Gang' for Christmas -- that was so fun). Never a dull moment. I'm living the trip in my head 24/7. Wonder if my last Cabela's order will be here next week? Got to have that heavy silk underwear!

Pre-Trip - How I became obsessed

Ok, guys, this is the boring part you might want to skip. However, for me, looking back over how I got this far, to want to take my bones to a frozen tundra for fun, is an important part of my story.

My excitement has been building since the end of the 2007 race. Actually, I guess it's been building for years! I remember, years ago, seeing a TV special that documented one of the Iditarod's that Susan Butcher won. It amazed me, that people would choose to go over a thousand miles through the wilderness of the Alaskan Interior by sled in this day and age. Later, another documentary, the year Dee Jonrowe's dogs stopped on the Yukon, and she could not get them to go no matter what she tried, a little trigger happened in my head. It was the realization that the musher wasn't just "driving dogs", but the dogs and musher were a team, and that all parts of the team had to work in perfect synchronicity. Hook #1!!!

In 1993, while planning our first trip to Montana, I heard the name Doug Swingley, looked up where he lived, and wondered about a Montanan running the Iditarod. Following that story, and his win as the 1st 'outsider' got me into exploring more about the race on the Internet. I'm not sure which came first, but I think an 'accidental' hit on Cabela's looking for camping equipment at the same time the Iditarod was running, lured me onto the Cabela's Iditarod website. I lurked for a while, but from that minute, Hook #2!, I was hooked for good.

Alaska has been reeling me in ever since. The first year I followed the Iditarod from the start was Jessica Royer's rookie year. I had just been to Big Sky, so knew where she was from, and her training with Doug Swingly, so I was into the Montana connection. I think that year I probably checked the site once a day during the race, and finally registered and posted once or twice, and enjoyed the responses. Each year has intensified since then. After trying to keep up with posts and accessing web cams with dial up in 2005 and 2006, when I was posting throughout the race, and getting to know all the mushers, their families, and the Talk Forum family, and at times getting up in the middle of the night to check stats, and having to wait exassperatingly long for responses. It was painfully inadequate trying to catch a musher coming into Nome on the web came on dial-up; "They're coming! (refresh) They're gone." During the 2006 race, I would run to the library between clients or at lunch to watch videos, check web cams, and post to my growing Iditarod friends, feeling by then very much a part of the Iditarod family. I was determined to go to Alaska! I was determined to touch the dogs, to feel their energy, to hear them howl to run, to be there for the excitement on Front Street!

In 2005, Carolyn, a.k.a. Carrottop, blogged her entire Iditarod visit, and posted regularly from points along the trail on her Cabela's led tour. It was almost like being there, to follow her. After her return, I e-mailed her how much I enjoyed her personal story, and asked advice for planning my own trip, I thought in 2007. She hooked me up with Idita-support, and I immediately began interacting with June, Maureen, Diane N., Carolyn, and Barbara L. In February 2006, Barbara arranged ot stop in along the interstate near my home on her way to the airport to fly to Alaska. We had a wonderful couple of hours together, the first time I was face to face with someone who was as into the race as I am (or more so!). Barbara told me about the Bootie Brigade, game me samples, one of them Martin Buser's bootie that still had 'dog foot smell' on it. Hook #3! I volunteered and made 120 booties for the 2007 race.

The 'downer' about the meeting with Barbara was that I received a call from my Sister while we were together, telling that Daddy was gravely ill, and Daddy died the next day. That was my first experience of how awesome my Idita-buddies are! So many messages and outpourings of kindness and love, and shared experiences. I have seen it over and over with the Iditarod family. Barbara's husband, who had never met me, contacted me to see if I was ok while Barbara was still in Alaska!

The 2006 race saw me more actively involved on both talk forums, and exploring all the web sites, educating myself about every musher, and every checkpoint along the trail. I drank in info from the 'experts' on the forums and participated in hilarious banter as we couldn't go to sleep at night and wer punch-drunk with excitement and waiting during the early days of the race. Thjat year the Cabela's folks rallied round Mith, when suddenly, on line, her service dog, Spirit, collapsed and became gravely ill. She was gone so long getting him help, and the rest of us became even closer in our concerns, thoughts, and prayers. It restored my faith in humanity to watch us stick our necks out to trust each other enough to donate funds to pay for Spirit's treatment. Frank, the wonderful (recently retired) Cabela's moderator, assisted us in staying as annonymous as we could, while sharing info and connections to collect funds for Mith and Spirit. It was amazing, all the human interest stories running through the groups, as well as those being shared from the trail. Jeff King's win, and gorgeous Salem, with yellow flowers, are the still shot that captures the 2006 finish for me.

I finally hooked up to DSL at work for the 2007 race. Wooooohoooo, what a relief. Now I could follow the race for real!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Plans, and more plans

January 31, 2008

Welcome to my Iditarod Dreams!

In a little less than a month, I will be living a dream I have had for more that 15 years! Alaska, dogs, free open spaces, mountains, and wild things of all sorts have called me and given me joy throughout my life. I will use this place to allow you to go with me, vicariously, through the anticipation, the trip and the memories I will take with me forever. Feel free to ignore my obsessions, and skip over parts that bore you. I am in extasy even in the plannning! Actually, for me, planning is just as much fun as a trip. I relish absorbing topo maps, books about the region, every possible experience I might take part in, and then whittling down to fit into the 2 weeks I will be in Alaska.

Hello to all of my friends and family at home, who have put up with my obsession with the Iditarod for years, and have humored me as I talked about only that for months.

Hello to my friends in Alaska, who have encouraged me and been so inviting with your suggestions and your expertise. Especially to you in the Idita-support and Bootie Brigade. I so look forward to meeting you.

Hello to my Idita-buds, temporarily homeless armchair musher from Cabela's Talk forum and Hurdal. Gatekeeper, Mith, Spirit, and I will take you along every step of the way!

Hello to you who are just finding this site, trying to learn a bit more about people and dog athletes who with passion and great spirit, choose to race over 100 miles across Alaska, in the Last Great Race.

It will be a joy to stow all of you in my great big suitcase, and take you with me. Hang on for the ride.

Love ya,
JeanieB