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Published: March 10th 2018
Four days into the race, I will hang around, do laundry, and catch up on a few things. With no real exciting activities today, here are some ramblings...
Speaking of laundry, when I was passing the laundry area, a couple of guests were trying to do their laundry, and another guest's clothes were in the washer, completed, but not yet moved to the dryer. In moving them from washer to dryer, they removed, among other things, a pair of high top-leather boots...Not what I would have expected to find there! ;-)
You can follow the race, no matter where you live! Subscribe to the "Insider" feeds on Iditarod.com to view team progress on the tracker application and/or videos and interview (there's a GPS tracker attached to each sled.) We watch the race progress in the COMMS room, and may use some of that information in reports we generate. I've been watching trail videos in my off time, and it's interesting to see teams arrive at the checkpoints and hear interviews with the mushers. Sometimes they talk about the race and conditions, but sometimes they talk about more general things, like family back home, or how the name their dogs.
It's common practice to name an entire litter around a theme: planets, family members, favorite movies, and so forth. One musher mentioned that he knew of someone who was working his way through the Periodic Table of Elements! Hike, Ytterbium!
It's fun to see the musher tending his or her dogs; you can see and hear the devotion, respect, and love these people have for their dogs. It's common to hear them talk about how they listen to the dogs, and it's the dogs who determine when they will rest. During any long race, dogs can burn 10,000 - 20,000 calories in a day, so they stop not so much to rest the dogs, but more importantly to feed them! After my dog handler class, the instructor (who was a former musher) was mixing water with dry kibble for the dogs. He thought that dogs got more water that way, than by giving water separately from the dry food. He said the dogs didn't seem to just drink water, but they'd be more likely to ingest it with the food. Though dogs can get hydration by grabbing snow from the trail while running, some years back, they learned that
providing water during rest stops helped dogs run better. (When I was in Ely, MN, one of the things that struck me was how fast they were at grabbing mouthfuls of snow while on the trail!)
It is interesting to see the variety of sleds the mushers had; nearly all of them had some sort of "trunk" behind the sled, where they could carry more equipment. In a video, they showed a musher taking a dog off the lead and putting him in a compartment in the sled to rest. This can play into strategy; resting 1 or sometimes 2 dogs "in the basket" can maintain a stronger, more rested team. Another part of a musher's strategy is planning periods of rest and run. One musher balances rest and run, perhaps a rest about 4 hours after 4 hours on the trail. Some make a general plan at which checkpoints they will stay and at which they will only stop long enough to sign in and out. Others are more content to let the dogs completely govern where they stop and how long they stay! And the musher's mood can affect the mood of the team, because many will
talk about the importance of keeping an upbeat attitude no matter what has happened, to help keep the dogs positive. And when you see the dogs in harness, they really look happy to be there and running. Once one starts "singing" they all join in a rowdy chorus!
The mushers come from all walks of life. Reading the biographies on the Iditarod site, you can get a feel for that. In fact one musher, Scott Janssen proudly displays his profession on his truck, proclaiming himself as the "Mushing Mortician!"
Since the dogs like colder weather, on warmer days (10-20 degrees), the team may rest during the day and take off to the trail in the evening as the temperature starts to drop. While much less comfortable for the musher zipping along at -20 degrees, the dogs are loving it! Some of the dogs wear jackets if the temperature drops too low, apparently due to the variety in coat thickness bred into the dog. The dogs wear booties most of the time; in fact, each sled is required to carry 8 booties for each dog at all times. They change the booties out for dry ones at rest stops, and sometimes change them because they are worn through. Since they need so many booties some of the mushers and their families spend the year making 1,000 dog booties or more!
I found the rules for the race on the Iditarod website, indicating what they are required to carry for the race for the health and safety of the musher and his or her athletes. The equipment can be audited at any checkpoint during the race, adding incentive for compliance! As the teams were leaving on the Restart, you could see the snow shoes prominently lashed to the back of the sled. I have heard stories of mushers that were thrown from a sled at a curve or huge pothole...the dogs didn't stop, and the musher has to be prepared to try to catch them, hoping the sled gets hung up on a tree or a rock or something to stop the runaway! Sadly though, the snow shoes won't help the musher much if they're still on the sled!
In the evening, I met up with some friends in the Lakefront "Fancy Moose," where we discussed the race and our time in Anchorage. A good time was had by all!
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