Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The dog race

As could have been (and effectively was) predicted when the Iditarod Dog Sled Race announced it would reroute the 2015 race away from 500 miles of the original course, the abandoned remnants of broken trail were obliterated by a major snow and wind storm. Between Takotna and Ruby are nearly 200 miles of trail rarely used, by anyone, and the dog race trailbreakers aren't coming. 

This is effectively what Beat and several others who are my friends — Tim and Loreen Hewitt, and Steve Ansell — are facing right now as they all chose to leave McGrath and press forward. I'll go on record now and admit I do not have a "Go Beat Go" attitude about Beat taking on 200 miles of breaking trail. This is not as simple as one foot in front of the other. A cold snap descended on the Interior, and where he's spending the night, in the ghost town of Ophir, it's currently 30 below. The going has been okay so far, but if drifts become deeper it could deteriorate into a 1 mph slog — 15- to 20-mile days at that rate. Tim Hewitt is currently about 50 miles ahead of Beat, with a bike, moving at about this pace. Beat purchased extra food and fuel in McGrath, and claims he has 10 days worth, plus an air-dropped food bag at a midway point in Cripple, if that's what it comes to. The thought of Beat spending the next ten days battling through this bleak place fills me with bleak emotions, but this is what he goes seeking, for his own reasons. 

Ah. Well. Nothing like a hard effort to clear the head. After nearly a foot of new snow fell on Fairbanks, I headed out Sunday afternoon for a run. All of my training runs for the White Mountains 100 haven't included the actual terrain I'll be running on, so a long snow run seemed like a crucial gauge of conditioning. I should have taken into account that crushed confidence would be the most likely outcome. 

 Footy toe-prints in the snow ... if ever I needed documentation that I'm a toe-striker. The trails had been broken but there was no base. Every step sunk in at least an inch, and with no solid surface to lift off, I had to shorten my stride. "Running" at my usual 160-165 bpm pace netted a 15-16 minute mile. Walking lapsed into the 23-30 minute mile range, especially once I hit the hills. Oi. Normally I would snowshoe trails this soft, but I wanted to test my running strategy for the White Mountains 100. What I got was 5 hours, 15 miles, sore Achilles tendons, and throbbing quads. Ah well. I probably won't even get a spot in this silly race.

Today I biked out the Tanana River to spectate the start of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. For as much Iditarod Trail enthusiasm as I've perpetuated over the years, I've never actually seen the dogs. I had a bad night of sleep and was sore from my "run," and almost didn't go. But I'm glad I rallied. It was fun to see these mushers and their dogs in their element. I have lots of respect for mushers (seriously. I have a hard enough time taking care of my own feet and cannot fathom dealing with 64), and lots of envy for the dogs. They possess so many endurance abilities I would like to have. Plus, they have one job to do, and they seem to love it.

 Here are a few photos I took along the Tanana. This is Aliy Zirkle. Like many fans, I want this to be her year.

 Number 47, Becca Moore. I noticed a surprising number of women driving Iditarod teams. Perhaps it's not surprising. I still participate in sports where women comprise, at most, 20 percent of the field.

 Number 37 Benjamin Harper. Dude was chillin.

Like the neon yellow.

The temperature on the river was around 5 below zero, and once I rounded the Chena Ridge bluff, there was a brisk headwind. Obviously I pulled off the trail for every single musher who went by, often stopping for five minutes at a time. It was hard to find a rhythm and I was cold.

 I didn't get a photo of him, but Lance Mackey was one of the first mushers I watched go by. "You should hook a couple of dogs to that thing," he commented about my bike.

 Dee Dee Jonrowe, the only musher I've actually met. She's in her 60s, runs marathons, probably weighs 90 pounds soaking wet, and is this fireball of energy. Also, she likes pink.

 Beat would get a kick out of this — a musher towing a guy with a Google Street View camera. I will be annoyed if Google represents the Tanana River as "the Iditarod Trail," but think it's a fun project nonetheless.

 The one and only Jeff King.

 Despite the windchill and blowing snow flurries, it was a beautiful day. I biked 10 miles out the river before I turned around.

 Bye mushers! Have a great trip to Nome.


  1. Thanks for the pictures Jill. I'm heading to the Millennium Hotel at 4 AM now to help with trail communications for the race. I couldn't make it to Fairbanks for the start, so it was great to see them on the actual run rather than on the trot down 5th Avenue.

  2. Gorgeous photos, as always! Such an incredible adventure that these folks set out on. And I guess that's part of what makes them so extraordinary----that they have the courage to do so!


  3. Sending warm thoughts to Beat. Love the pink booties.

  4. i'm surprised how those how those "shoes" actually stay on the dogs' paws.


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