Monday, March 16, 2009

Dog Days

The last two weekends have been a heck of a ride. Last weekend consisted of 3 days of Iditarod mayhem. On Saturday, there is a ceremonial start in Anchorage. The real race begins in Willow the following day, but first, there's Saturday. Yours truly got to "handle" for one of the rookie mushers, Karin Hendrickson (who is, by the way, kicking ass...probably has everything to do with her handlers). Handling the dogs means you have 2 jobs: 1. you get the dogs to the starting line, and 2. DO NOT step on their feet. That's harder said than done if you know how excited these dogs are. They gun their engines all the way to the start line. This video will give you an idea. Sorry it's flipped on its side...I have to remember that when I shoot videos that way. Anyway, you'll get the gist. This team was passing our staging area on its way to the start line.

After releasing the hounds, I let the Lance Mackey groupie in me come out. This guy is the quintessential musher. He looks like he's had a rough life (he reminds me a little of Ernest from "Ernest Goes to Camp"), has smoked too much of something...let's put is this way, he's got a dog named "Pimp"...but he's got serious love for his K-9s and that scores him major points in the musher groupie world. So I went to go check he and his pups out. Most mushers have their head handler get the dogs on the line, but Mackey did all the grunt work himself. And as a groupie, I thought that was way cool. As of tonight, he's well on his way to kicking the crap out of cocky Jeff King. Go Mackey! Here he is at the ceremonial start looking incredibly relaxed. That's Pimp on the left.

The ceremonial start is always fun, but I'd never been to the real deal until this year. I got to go behind the scenes to the staging area for all the mushers and their team. I was hoping to score another position handling for Karin, but she already had way too many wanna-be handlers, so I made my way on over to watch the start with the rest of the regular spectators. It was great to watch the teams fly down the shoot. As they ran by you can't help but think, "Holy sh*t, they're on their way to Nome!" These dogs are the most amazing athletes!
Then, on Monday, a few friends and I jumped on a charter flight to Finger Lake, one of the checkpoints at the start of the race. We got to see teams enter the checkpoint, rest up, leave, and even watch a few blow by the checkpoint on their way to the next one.

The resting teams were the most fascinating to watch - once they get settled in, the mushers lay hay for the dogs to sleep on, check paws, and begin cooking up tasty snacks. One musher was feeding her dogs beaver. We wondered where the heck someone finds enough beaver to feed 16 run-aholic dogs, but didn't ask questions. Volunteer vets check each and every dog thoroughly at each checkpoint. While all that was going on, I was on the hunt for blue eyed pups and managed to catch a few with their eyes open.

But most teams looked like this while resting.

The most hilarious dog is right here. Her name is Ellen. She sleeps sitting up while her mommy musher cooks for the team. She did this the entire 2ish hours we were at the checkpoint. Every now and then her head were lean closer and closer to the ground, and just before her nose would touch the hay she'd self-correct and go right back to this position. She may have blue eyes, but I never saw them open!

I continued a doggie theme this past weekend while on my Third Annual Fairbanks Trip. I did manage to view some non-doggie ice sculptures at the World Championship Ice Carving contest, and even hit up those infamous ice slides. This time we tried them backwards, and I recorded it. The fear is pretty obvious on my face.

And last but not least, I rode the whip sled with my friend Tom and his dogs. They call it a whip sled for a reason. I gave a lovely demonstration of to follow once I get a copy. In the meantime, see if you think these guys are ready to run.