Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Meaning Behind the Journey Iditarod 2017

Sometimes it's the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination~ Drake

Wade Marrs and Ashley Perry photo credit Kim Perry
The journey of the Iditarod (and the other sled dog racing such as the Yukon Quest, is not solely about who the winner is. Nome is the destination however, I believe the journey is one with nature and of the heart, a true bond, mutual respect and partnership with your dog. I believe each musher races for a different reason.

In the forty fifth Iditarod, 2017, there were 20-38 inches of snow on the section of the race  from Nenana to Manley on the Historic old mail route. Starting temperatures were minus  thirty degrees below zero. This is the most snow they have seen for the race in twenty four years.

Dallas Seavy, Jeff King, and Martin Buser were hoping for their 5th win. Only one other Musher has achieved this great feat, Rick Swenson won his fifth in 1991.

This year Dallas Seavey designed a jet black custom sled. He even kept this secret from his dad, who is also a musher in the Iditarod Race. The sled had capabilities to carry more dogs comfortably allowing them to rest. He would not even allow an interview to be aired about it until the day before the Iditarod. This way, no one could duplicate his idea. Even without the secret sled, Dallas' dad, Mitch Seavey, beat him to finish line this year breaking the Iditarod record for time.  When he crossed the burled arches, Mitch, put his partners first. He would not even speak to a news crew about winning, until his dogs were loved on and given a snack. A good musher knows who he owes his/her success to.

The sportscasters that travel check point to check point talked about how happy and tail wagging the champions' dogs looked. Dallas came in second just five minutes before Nicolas Petit. With a one thousand mile race only five minutes apart is pretty exciting to watch on the GPS online.

Can you imagine actually racing across the tundra, how exhilarating that must be? These dogs LOVE to do this and you can see the joy it brings them. Dallas (last year's winner) talked a lot about not pushing his dogs too hard to catch up, once his dad had a good lead on him. He admirably states, "I don't want to do something stupid and lose the trust of my dogs."  I see that again and again. In this sport TRUST AND ETHICS FIRST.

Nicholas Petit, third place winner, chatted at a checkpoint and so eloquently stated, "Winning shouldn't be the priority,it should be the dogs, your personal interaction with them and what you can accomplish with a year of training." Nicholas obviously accomplished much bonding and success!

It is fun to watch the excitement, but to me the stories behind the adventure, is what the Iditarod is all about. The camaraderie, the checkpoint interviews, the love and care of the dogs and the reasons each musher embarks on their journey is what this race is all about.

The Iditarod is a learning experience for schools around the world. Schools can teach the Iditarod as a curriculum. The Iditarod Insider has a program for teachers.  I have two friends that have done this. The students get so excited to learn. I have visited these classrooms and  have never seen kids so engaged. The Teacher on the trail takes that one step further. According to the Insider. Teacher on the trail,"is a unique opportunity for one selected educator each year, to enter into a one year agreement to teach beyond the traditional classroom walls via Internet and to be involved in a project that reaches students around the world," The Teacher On The Trail gets to travel check point to checkpoint, experience and report back first hand what the adventure was all about.

This year's teacher, Annie Kelly, reintegrates the camaraderie she experienced and said "she has never seen so many crockpots in her life as the community provides."

 Hugh Neff, who owns and operates Laughing Eyes Kennel came in second on the Yukon Quest this year.  This is another musher that has ethics that are admirable. He can be seen wearing the "Cat in the Hat's" tall striped hat. He promotes literacy and achieving your dream to our youth. He carries a book every year on the Iditarod and donates it to a library when it is over.

When talking about his dogs Hugh says, "Lotta people look at them as dogs; I look at them as children. We shared a lot together, half the time we are talking about old times on the trail." When he talks about his so called opponents he proudly states, " We're family here." "We are competing against each other, but we are all friends. We all appreciate what we're all doing here. That's the beauty of it." "We are running to prove the greatness of our dogs. I just like having fun with my babies." I just bought his book and can not wait to read about his adventures as told by some of his dogs.

As many of us know from watching the interviews before, after and during the race, these courageous mushers are in the race primarily for the journey.  Twenty year old Laura Neese, lives in Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When traveling with her dogs, she sleeps with the dogs and not in the cabins. When asked at a checkpoint interview, "How do you keep your emotions in check and stay on top of your game?" Laura replied with a huge contagious grin, "Pretty much remember I am doing the Iditarod, It's pretty awesome! How can you not be happy?"
Another musher, Rick Castillo talks about a zen moment with the dogs "when they all become one."  I can just feel in my heart what their words portray!

Paige Drobny and Cody Strathe own and operate Squid Acres Kennel close to Fairbanks, Alaska. Paige came in fourth place this year in the Yukon Quest. Every time I see either one of them in an interview or checkpoint, it is about the pure LOVE of the dogs the adventure and joy in their eyes. They enjoy and savor every minute.

Cody was interviewed this year laying on his sled on the Yukon River with a dog on his chest in the sun. He was right with the world just as happy as could be. In Manly, Cody talks about his ride the night before. He tells of how "Running in the moonlight's been really beautiful , did some runs last night with the headlamp off, where you can see sixteen dog's shadows dancing in front of you, that's pretty amazing."

Jessie Royer, who finished this year's Iditarod in fifth place, with all 16 of her dogs, spoke of the same moon saying, "There is nothing better than 16 dogs and the moon out." Finishing with all 16 dogs happy and healthy is something to be proud of.

Ah, that moon must have been a sight! Wade Marrs, who one of my favorite mushers, smiles and talks about it being his favorite part; “When the moon comes out a little brighter" and when he can shut his headlamp off for an 80 mile run is his favorite part.  Wade came in 6th this year but at one point I thought he may win. His team was strong, fast and of course well taken care of. He was the first to reach Ruby and won the "Spirit of Alaska Award." In my eyes he is always a winner!!!

Wade has raced for Turners Syndrome Awareness in honor of his friend, Ashley Perry.  Wade seems to help her overcome obstacles with her rare disorder. She is a true  hero and one of Wade's biggest fans. They encourage each other to do their best and are both heroes in my eyes! See more of this heartwarming story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQSM53G25Io                                                                                                                                                          My next piece will be about Ashley and include an amazing program that will be a tribute to her courage and determination. Keep posted for great things in the works.

Another one of my very favorite musher's is four time Iditarod winner, Martin Buser. He came in 32nd this year, with the happiest of smiles looking for his love, his "wifey." With a grin he shouted, “What a great race, what an awesome race!"

Last year Martin's son Nikolai was in a tragic auto accident that was very traumatic. Thankfully he recovered, but it was a very long road for the family.  This year Martin's dog picked up some kind of virus on the trail. True to what Martin teaches children in schools on "the humanitarian care of animals and the spirit of the Iditarod," he let his dogs rest and get better before he went on.

For him, this year's race had a different meaning. Once crossing the burled arches Martin says, "This was a fantastically frustrating race, but it ends a four year streak of finishing with more questions than answers. This year I found a bunch of answers out on the trail. So that is what is satisfying about this trip around. I think I solved about four years of mystery in my team and in my life and in my relationships and all different things that need to be rectified." He also talked about the outcome of the race, "It's never the dog's fault. Of course they can live up to my expectations if I do it right."  In an earlier interview, Martin talked about keeping a positive attitude. I, personally, working with dog obedience, find this to be true beyond measure. He also so wisely states, "We are such mirrors of our dogs, and vice versa." "So I try to be up and on my game if I can, and then the dogs will mimic that."

Aily Zirkle is an honest, loving, amazing musher that I have always admired. Aily has come so close to wining so many times and she always races with such style and ethics. She loves her dogs and you can feel it. This race she was destined to do great and alas things happen. Her dogs picked up a virus similar to Martin's and Aily also did what any honorable musher would do and let her dogs rest to recover. At a checkpoint interview she was keeping positive and up beat. Her emotions got the best of her though and she laughed as she got choked up saying, "Let's finish this race on a positive note. I like my team, I wouldn't trade them for the world".  She finished with a smile and her dogs trust still in tact from being well taken care of and loved.

There are so many stories, so many great dogs and so many mushers. I can't mention each personally, but want to congratulate each one. Whether it is to howl at the moon, become one with nature, push yourself to your personal best, fight your own demons, support a great cause, be a role model for our youth or just enjoy another journey living life to the fullest each mushers has their reasons. As far as this author can see, each musher shows amazing camaraderie, ethics, care and love beyond measure for their canine partners out on the trail. I admire and commend each one of them for their determination, for getting out there, and for making the journey

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