Dogs

Iditarod Memories

(Click on each image to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

There is nothing more true to the spirit of Alaska than the “last great race on Earth.” That race is none other than the Iditarod.

This world-famous and celebrated dogsled race, from the interior Alaskan community of Willow to the coastal community of Nome, covers more than 900 miles of Alaska’s backcountry in the freezing winter. Mushers, leading teams from 12 to 16 dogs, compete for mostly glory and cash prizes for the lucky top finishers. That glory is often international media coverage. Japanese and German media frequently make the visit, to name a few.

The race is followed live by dog lovers the world over. Those with deep pockets and plenty of free time fly to Alaska in winter to catch a glimpse of the annual ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage the first Saturday of March, followed by the official start on a frozen lake in Willow. A few of the rich visitors will pay a handsome fee to ride in a dogsled on the ceremonial 11-mile run that starts the race in Anchorage.

Race Origins and this Year’s Contest

The race’s origins are tied to the famous public health emergency in 1925. A diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska, required that emergency medical supplies be delivered, and dogsledders made the journey. A statue in downtown Anchorage commemorates that famous event, honoring the lead sled dog, Balto.

Today’s modern Iditarod roughly celebrates that legacy and mostly follows the same difficult route, over mountain ranges, frozen berms, and through Native villages. Joe Redington Sr., an Alaskan musher whose family legacy remains well-known in the Great Land, worked with Dorothy Page to launch the modern race in 1967.

That first race had 57 mushers. This year there will only be 53, down from more than 80 when I saw the race start in person in between 2005 and 2010. The race has come on hard times in recent years due to dog deaths, drug tests, and feuds. Sponsorships likely have dried up to support a profession/passion that is like none other in the world. No musher can afford this sport without sponsors and/or corporate backers. Each musher is an entrepreneur, as well a master of a team of world-class athlete dogs.

The 47th annual running of the race begins at the ceremonial start on March 2, several blocks from where I used to work for six years. I could walk here from my house.

How I Enjoyed the Ceremonial Start Day

While living in Anchorage, I would always catch the race at two places. I would arrive early at downtown, before the dawn broke, to watch the racers and their support crew unload their sleds and dogs early in usually freezing cold conditions in downtown Anchorage. The night before crews of municipal workers would work til the early morning hours hauling in snow from streets normally plowed clear. At this staging area, dogs were kings and queens and mushers were royalty. Everyone, like me, was taking pictures.

I then would head to midtown Anchorage, where a family I knew hosted an annual Knapp’s Crossing Iditarod Party, just outside of the University of Anchorage. The dog teams would run by, the Knapps serenaded them with trumpet songs, and everyone cheered.

The pictures here date from 2007, the year cancer survivor and famous musher Lance Mackey won the race after competing and winning in the earlier Yukon Quest dog race between Fairbanks and Dawson City.

[Ed. note: I updated this post on March 3, 2019, to correct the number of mushers who competed between 1005 and 2010. The correct and revised number, “more than 80,” is listed above.]

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Some of my fondest memories of summer

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

This “midsommar,” or midsummer as Americans might call it, marks the 20th year since I first flew to Greenland to explore, pursue some old passions of Viking exploration and colonization of the arctic, and do some serious backcountry travel.

I succeeded on all fronts. I ended up visiting Greenland three summers in a row, in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

I made some amazing treks (Sisimiut to Kangerlussuaq, Igaliku to Qaqortoq, Brattalid/Qassiarsuk, to Narsaq) during each trip.

I made friends with local Greenlanders, who invited me into their homes and took me seal hunting and fishing.

I befriended several Danes, including two doctors, who made sure to extend hospitality to me when I visited their country.

I also participated in a celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of Leif Ericson’s arrival in southwest Greenland.

I thought about Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat in Greenlandic) this week as we entered that magical time of 24 hours of daylight in the arctic. In 1998, I hiked all night on June 21, 1998, north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun never set and the mosquitos never slept!

Here are a few photos highlighting the magic of that place, its people, its culture, and beauty. I hope they bring you some joy as in the northern hemisphere celebrates the arrival of summer.

There is no business like dog show business

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The 2018 Rose City Classic Dog Show in Portland, Oregon, has come and gone. I attended on the last day of the event, which ran from Jan. 17-21, 2018. It is one of the West Coast’s largest and most popular dog shows, where owners and their breeds do their dog-show thing. Non-dog owners like me come to enjoy the fun, entertaining, and at times really odd world of competitive dog showing. I have several friends who compete and have been attending shows for years.

I had not been in a couple of years and had forgotten how much fun a show can be. I love the dog agility/slalom/obstacle course contests the most. I also love the variety of breeds, all gussied up to extreme, and at times absurdly weird levels. You cannot go wrong with even the worst camera at one of these events. I used a new Lumix, consumer-grade point and shoot, and I am pleased with my candids.

Most every dog I met was adorable, particularly the cattle dog bitch I met at a meet the breed session. She was absolutely adorable, and we hit it off (I love cattle dogs and other herding dogs).

The photos are in no particular order and have no particular theme, other than being fun moments for everyone. Woof!!

Me, I like herding dogs most of all

Ever since I traveled to Omak, Washington, in 2012 and met a couple of amazing Texas heelers adored by their owner, I have been smitten by this breed. Herding dogs just have that certain special something. Hey good boy, you are looking might fine. Click on the picture to see a larger photo on a separate picture page.

The look that is love

Every now and then some research pops into the news cycle that tells us something we know: puppies make us feel good. One of the latest studies, whose rigor I cannot verity, found that gazing into a a dog’s or puppy’s eyes releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes us humans feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I think I already knew that. Hi there, cute girl. Thanks for making me feel that magic only puppies can create.

 

Sunday morning ride, goggles and all

Sometimes, I think we try to turn our dogs into what they are not. But they generally go “along for the ride.” (Sorry, could not resist.)

Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

No stick is too big when playing fetch

Hot diggity. I love finding a beautiful new place that is ignored by the busy world and destination tourism. Frenchman’s Bar Park is such a place, in Clark County, Washington, just north of Vancouver. The park lies along the Columbia River, and many fishermen, dog owners, and families can be found on the sandy banks. I loved this mutt. He didn’t understand the meaning of, you can’t fetch that. He just did it. Good boy!

Heeler mixes

In central Washington, in farm country, one can see quite a few of these heeler mixes. They are very beautiful dogs, and so smart you almost think they could speak to you. I captured these two young males at the Omak Stampede back in 2012. I just saw a similar mix today while running, and its happy smile brought this pair back to mind. Make no mistake, these are working dogs too. (Click on the picture to see a larger photo on a separate picture page.)