LJWorld.com weblogs Linda's Backroad Musings
Mush! Karen Land and Iditarod Race Begins
For Karen Land, the idea of participating in the famous Alaskan Iditarod Race was born in 1997 while hiking the Appalachian Trail with her dog Kirby. She picked up a book about the race while restocking supplies.
Five years later, she hitched up sixteen dogs and set off to race 1100 miles from Anchorage to Nome Alaska. And, she did this not just one year, but three.
On Tuesday, January 26th, a packed room at the Lawrence Public Library, had the pleasure of following her journey from reading the book along the warm eastern Appalachian Trail to the frozen north Iditarod race, capturing us along the way with her dog, Borage, her actual sled, her experiences and pictures.
The Iditarod Race began in 1925 with the children living in Nome Alaska needing Diphtheria supplies. Dog mushers relayed the medicine in pony express fashion from Fairbanks to Nome with Balto, the leading dog on the last relay saving the day. Or, at least he got the credit with a statue in Central Park, New York. This historical feat set the stage for the annual race which now runs from Anchorage to Nome instead of Fairbanks.
Anticipating all our questions after this quick history, Ms Land set about telling us stories of preparing for and completing the face. We learn the race is all about the dogs and the mushers love and respect for each of them.
Superior pulling dogs are traditionally Alaskan Huskies, hardy, strong dogs; in recent times often mixed with German Short hair Pointers for speed. They are good eaters having to consume 10,000 calories a day to train and run the race. Although this breed is common, one of her lead dogs was a Border Collie mix named Pig.
The sled is 23 pounds of aluminum loaded with around 100 pounds of food for the dogs and extra clothing. We are quickly educated on exactly what force sixteen dogs pulling together creates. For example, she told stories of her team pulling out a tree as well as moving a full sized vehicle to which they are secured. Actually, they train year around, in the “off season” by pulling around a 4-wheel ATV. The most important advice given to new mushers is to never let go of the team and sled. At that point, I am sure all in the room were imagining what would happen if they got away.
In 2002, it took exactly two weeks for Karen to finish the race. She finished in little over 12 days the last race in 2004. There are check points with veterinarians along the way and one requiring a 24 hour rest. Where does a young lady sleep among a bunch of snoring, smelly men? Outside. She quickly points out that everyone becomes quite smelly with no bath, raw dog meat against clothing and the hard work that comes with guiding the sled around trees and other obstacles.
All too soon, the race was over along with the stories. I encourage a visit to her web site, MyMusher.com to enjoy another gift, writing. It was on that site that I learn what I suspected after hearing her presentation. Karen Land says in her biography, “I wanted to write about dogs and people who love dogs. But it became much more than that. I fell in love with all of the dogs, the sport, the wilderness, and the lifestyle of a musher. I knew exactly what I wanted to do next.”
Thank you to Lawrence Public Library and Del Monte Pet Products for the opportunity to hear her story.