Category Archives: AK

Iditarod Trail Invitational

The main focus this week is the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, where mushers leave Willow, Alaska and don’t stop until they reach Nome, 1049 miles later. What is lesser know is the Iditarod Trail Invitational a bike and walker race which follows the same famed route and starts a week before the dog race. Some participants ride fat tire bikes while others walk, pulling sleds. These are tough sons-of-guns.

The bike’s tires are fat to let them travel over the same trails that dog teams and snow machines travel. Water needs to be kept  from freezing to prevent dehydration. Strategies need to be considered to keep from freezing to death. Image pedaling all day long in sub-zero temperatures. You need to where clothing that will wick moisture and keep you from overheating. But, the minute you stop you need to have access to arctic wear to keep your body temp from plummeting.

The pictures above are of Billy Koitzsh (orange) and Bob Ostrom during the 2013 Iditarod Trail Invitational. They are about to leave the Koyuk checkpoint, 180 miles from Nome, after a much needed respite after crossing 50 miles of sea ice over Norton Sound. Billy has lost two toes to frostbite in previous races and was to have another one amputated when he got home. While Bob ended his journey in Nome and won the bike portion of the Invitational, Billy continued on to Fairbanks for a total of 200o miles on snow and ice. DPchallenge.

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Filed under AK, Iditarod, Koyuk

42 nd Running of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race

iditarod2013nortonsoundkouk.jpg

Today was the ceremonial start of the Iditarod. The mushers are obligated to mush from 4th Avenue in Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip, a distance of 11 miles.  I was in Anchorage at the ceremonial start in 2012, the first time it snowed in the history of an Iditarod start. 10,000 plus people lined the race route. 50 times that, or more, tuned in via live Alaskan TV coverage and through the internet. Some might ask, why put the mushers through this Spectacle, but, I say its essential.

After Anchorage the racers now have to pack everything up and head to Willow for the restart, and, I heard the word bull crap more than once about them having to do this. Some say it puts stress on the mushers and the teams. I think the stress is more on the mushers than the dogs. I’m guessing (and only guessing) that the dogs are used to being loaded and unloaded into the truck for training and conditioning runs. This year in particular, the musher had to drive to where the snow was. Mike Santos (Cantwell, AK)  said “It was easier to count the mushers who were not here (Cantwell) than those who were here.”  Which meant they were driving to his nick of the woods to train because that’s where the snow was.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. As with any sport, it can’t thrive without fans. It would be great if the mushers could go to Willow and head out. I’ve been to Willow during the restart, it stinks. If you’re not with a race official (which I was) you’ve got some long walking to do after you park (sure you may have some walking to do in Anchorage, but your in Anchorage on sidewalks and can window shop), or you can take a shuttle bus from Wasilla. Even the visual is a let down. Instead of 10,000 intoxicated, cheering fans in Anchorage (trust me, they were), the race took off on a frozen lake and the mushers disappeared into the trees.

The Iditarod has done it right. They stage the Anchorage start at the end of the Fur Rondy, people are excited, interest is high and potential sponsors are paying attention. The Iditarod is purely Alaskan and without the Anchorage start even Alaskan interest and support would wane. The Anchorage restart is social media in a sense, it introduces the mushers and dog racing to new fans and enthusiasts. The obligation to the mushers does and should end there except for following the rules of the race and carrying the mandatory items to Nome.

Speaking of social media some mushers do an excellent job at it—Facebook fan page, Twitter, blog, etc. Few of these mushers run these venues themselves by the way, but, have others (fans, professional social media folks)  post for them. So despite the so called intimacy, there is somewhat of a disconnect (hey I’m guessing Lady GaGa doesn’t man her social media 24/7 either, if at all).

Then there are mushers like Ramey Smyth, no Facebook fan page, Twitter, or Blog/web page that I could find. He’s done a good job of avoiding social media and self promotion in general. The announcers today said to stay away from him when he’s racing. He is focused and his head is in the race. I assume this is true for most racers and as a volunteer I avoided idle chit chat with the racers for that reason.

For the last two years I was a volunteer at the Koyuk Checkpoint. 800 miles into the race where mushers are punch drunk with sleep deprivation after crossing 50 miles of sea ice. Ramey Smyth  was the only musher in the two years I was there (with the exception of Rick Swenson in 2012) that, as he was leaving the checkpoint, stopped, got off his sled and shook my hand to thank me for all the hard work I was doing as a volunteer. If what the announcers say is true, it means that much more to me that Ramey took those precious seconds  (he finished 20th in 2013 and 3rd in 2012) to say thanks, not once but twice.

In summary I like the Anchorage ceremonial start and it should remain. At the same time its interesting to see how certain mushers embrace social media or try to avoid it. There are several kennels who will clog my Facebook newsfeed with updates in the next two weeks and then there are mushers like Ramey, the reason I’m an Iditarod Insider, who I will go out of my way to follow on their quest to Nome.

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Filed under AK, Dog Sled Team, Iditarod, Koyuk

Sketchbook Will Travel — Taking on the Dalton Highway

Sketches of the Dalton and Park Hwy, AK as my brother tooled down the road 60 plus miles per hour.

Sketches of the Dalton and Park Hwy, AK as my brother tooled down the road 60 plus mph.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel the Dalton Highway (AKA The Haul Road). While I’ve been getting ready to instruct a two hour workshop on keeping travel journals (Nov. 14, 2013) I ran across these images of that trip. 400 plus miles from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay (one way) with three gas stations — Yukon Crossing, Cold Foot and Prudoe Bay. A fantastic trip where we saw several Musk Ox and a large part of the Northern Caribou herd.

Along the Parks Hwy.

Along the Parks Hwy.

Our first camp site at Hess Creek on the Dalton Hwy.

Our first camp site at Hess Creek on the Dalton Hwy.

Hess Creek pull off in color based on Sketch.

Hess Creek pull off in color based on Sketch.

Another spread from my sketchbook of our Haul Road trip.

Another spread from my sketchbook of our Haul Road trip.

Acrylic based on sketchbook page above.

Acrylic based on sketchbook page above.

Based off of sketches from trip.

Based off of sketches from trip.

Standing on the railroad bridge in Talkeetna, AK.

Standing on the railroad bridge in Talkeetna, AK.

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Filed under AK, Dalton Highway, Sketch Book, Travel Journal

Anatomy of a Dog Sled Team

From T. Marple's 2012 Iditarod Sketch Book.

From T. Marple’s 2012 Iditarod Sketch Book.

Above is a sketch I did to help keep track of the different roles a dog may have on a dog sled team. Terms such as lead, swing or wheel dog would be slung around like moose stew at a checkpoint. As a volunteer I needed to learn  quickly. I noticed that a musher will move his dogs around depending on the situation. An example would be when the teams crossed from Shaktoolik to Koyuk, across 50+ miles of sea ice, often times the musher would use an older, calmer dog to lead the team across the ice and not the normal leader. The few times I witnessed this, the dog used to lead the team across the ice had been a wheel dog, but, not always.

The number of dogs you can start (Willow) and finish (Nome) with on the Iditarod is also a frequent question—16 (start) and 6 (finish) (from the 2012 Iditarod rule book). Not sure if the number you can finish with changes from year to year or not.

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Filed under AK, Dog Sled Team, Iditarod, Koyuk, Mushers