Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I would like to introduce you to the newest very rare Designer Dog Breed – the Chaussie; a Chow Australian Shepherd cross. This is Pickle. She is so rare that there is only ONE of her breed.

You look in the newspaper see all of the ‘wonderful’ ads for very rare and special dogs with oh-so-cute breed names like Chiweenies, Puggles, Shorkies, Boggles or Maltipoos or Cavachons or, or, or . . . the list goes on forever. Most of these “Designer Dogs” are in reality nothing more than MUTTS with a high price tag.

I see this and wonder, “What are people thinking??”

Well, I know what the ‘breeders’ are thinking --- MONEY.

But what about those who actually pay out as much or more money than it would cost to purchase a purebred show quality dog whose parents have had all the health clearances needed for the breed, are whelped into a caring home, properly housed, vetted and socialized. Are these dogs purchased to pump up the egos of the buyer so they can tell all of their friends that they have a very special rare expensive dog, a SomethingDoodle or a Chiwhatever?

Most people purchase a dog because they want the characteristics of that breed, be it a working dog or just a companion. And by choosing a dog from an ethical breeder, they are as sure as one can be that the dog they buy will have the characteristics of that breed, and will be healthy and mentally stable. They also will have a safety net for the dog if anything goes wrong and they are not able to keep the dog for its lifetime, as ethical breeders will ALWAYS take back a dog of their breeding anytime during the dog’s life. These dogs will NOT end up dumped in the local kill shelter or dropped off on a country road to fend for its self until it starves to death, or is maimed in a dog fight or hit by a car.

The safety net of most of the “Designer Breeds” lasts as long as it takes the check for the purchase to clear the bank.

In the very worse case, a known breed dog dumped at the dog pound will have a network of Purebred Rescues working to try to save its life and find a home for it. The ‘Designer Breed’, if taken to a dog pound is classified as what it is – a mixed breed dog – a MUTT with very few mixed breed rescues available to rescue it and prevent its last trip to the Kill Room.

Pickle, the Chaussie, was obtained as a puppy from the largest outlet for “Designer Dogs” in the nation – The DOG POUND. This dog was chosen by my friends who were won over by her personality and cuteness – and the Chaussie Breed was invented by them to describe her looks.

Was Pickle an intentional breeding? I doubt it – most likely she was the result of a couple of dogs running loose who ‘got together’ and an unwanted litter resulted. With at least one of the pups dumped at the dog pound. Perhaps Pickle had littermates at the shelter. It is hard to tell with mixed breeds – most likely her littermates looked nothing like her. The results of mixed breed litters are a lottery of which genes show up in the individual pups and is totally random. Sort of like - throw it in the Gene Pool and see what floats.

I wonder what happens to all of the puppies bred by these “Designer Dog” breeders which do not have the look the breeder wants. Most likely they are killed, if they are lucky, in a humane way.

So you want a “Designer Dog”. Go to your local shelter, find a dog which touches your heart – be it a puppy or an adult. Spend between $25 and $100 dollars and get a fully vetted and spay/neutered dog with all of its shots and use your imagination to name that breed.

Sorry, Chaussie is already taken.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Hey, greetings from south Texas. Doc, thanks for getting this BBS up – with the problems of little or no internet, and the MSM broadcasting the party line Phog, I have really felt isolated.

I feel like I am living a novel, Lights Out to be specific. “Halffast” got it too close to right, and living in the general area that the novel is set really gives me a sense of déjà vu. This county is fortunately still inhabited by a lot of the old ranching/farming families which settled here 200 years ago and Texas individualism and patriotism runs strong through the people. Mutual Assistance Groups have popped up all over and we have a pretty effective barter system.

I sort of became the gathering point for a bunch of medical types, and cops. I used to work in the ER at the county hospital and got to know a bunch of people and was known as a “survivalist type”. The hospital was trashed when the rioting in San Antonio moved out to the surrounding areas. So a bunch of us, with the help of the Sheriff’s Dept. salvaged what we could when the dust settled and moved the “hospital” farther out into the county into a rancher’s pole barn – way off the beaten trail. The citizens of the county all know where it is and we are working 24/7 mostly as an emergency room, but have some OR and acute care abilities. A lot of the doctors who used to work at the ER have moved out here with their families and there is a ‘settlement’ of them near the new hospital – the place looks like an RV park.

San Antonio was hit hard when the military was ‘downsized’. The most heartbreaking part was the almost 1,000 kids who were at Lackland AFB in basic training. Without warning, their DIs went through the barracks and told them they had 30 minutes to pack up their belongings and get off base – they were no longer in the Air Force. That many kids, most were 18 an 19 year olds, really didn’t have a clue what to do, or how to get home, or even survive. San Antonio has always been known as Military City, USA, and the ex-mils and retirees living there took it upon themselves to get these kids (and any other now ex-military) folks home. They pulled out all stops and used every non-traditional means to set up transports. Long haul truckers and a very effective underground railroad managed to get about 3000 military members where they wanted to go all over the nation. Fortunately most of the folks got out of town before things went sour.

The Police Chief in SA was one of those new age touchy-feely type of cops which can all too easily turn into a Jack Booted Thug. He had spent the last 4 years making a ‘kinder gentler’ police force, with the addition of several ‘tactical’ units. The older cops had been leaving in droves from the time he was named chief, almost every one who had their 20 years in had already retired. When things got tense in SA with the cost of fuel, lack of food shipments and frequent blackouts, the city put in a tight curfew and new regulations which to most of the citizens looked and felt like martial law. Chief MacGuy and his Tactical Squads turned into JBTs. The final straw was when there was a march to the Alamo and Federal Courthouse demanding an increase in welfare benefits and a fuel allotment. Several thousand (estimates are as high as 40,000) people were in the march and it was proceeding as most of the marches on the Alamo had in the past – lots of yelling and placards and rhetoric on the Plaza in front of the Alamo. Then someone decided to go into the Alamo Chapel and hold a prayer session. Chief MacGuy was there and decided he would be the one to bar the door to deny access to the Alamo.

No one is quite sure what happened next. Of course this was one day the grid was up and the march was being covered by all the TV stations, so anyone who was not in the Plaza was watching on TV. What can be agreed on is that one of the Priests leading the attempt to enter the Alamo got into a confrontation with the Chief. Someone threw a bottle and the Priest saw it coming towards the Chief and tried to grab the Chief and move him so the bottle wouldn’t hit him. The Chief went down, and suddenly, the Tac Squads showed themselves. They were lining the roofs of the Alamo, the Long Barracks, and many of the businesses surrounding the Plaza.

No one is admitting to firing the first shot, but when it finished, there were bodies all over the Plaza. The JBTs had automatic weapons and it was literally like shooting fish in a barrel. There have been no official estimate of the casualty figures, but I would put it in the hundreds – then it seems like the entire city exploded into mass riots. When things finally quieted down about a week later, most of SA had been burned or taken over by gangs. Most of the fighting had been contained to the city proper but rioting and burning had extended north up I-35 all the way to Austin, which also joined in the riots. Many of the rioters/gangs also followed the main roads into the surrounding counties. Wilson County was hard hit by the marauders, being invaded on two fronts, US 87 and US 181.

The mass retirements from SAPD worked to our advantage, as about 150 of them lived in Wilson County and had signed on as volunteer officers with the various law enforcement agencies. The Sheriff was wise enough to use this resource as well as the military vets in the area and had established a County Militia. The militia set up a defense line just south of the county line on 87 and was able to turn the rioters back. The defense line on 181 was flanked and the rioters got all the way into Floresville. Fortunately for us, they were distracted by the hospital – the lure of drugs must have been too strong and the Militia was able to counter attack essentially ending the invasion.

All of this has taken Wilson County back to the 19th century. Isolated from San Antonio, no jobs as most of the residents of the county worked in SA, the power plant near the county line was down for about 2 weeks but is back in partial operation and we are able to have fairly dependable power, at least for as long as the coal and natural gas lasts. The Sheriff has commandeered all utilities in the county, including the phone lines belonging to ATT and Verizon for essential services, so I have access to the phone and the BBS while at the New Hospital. Most of the homes in the County have no electricity and a couple of the locals have set up a small refinery, using the production from local oil wells mostly to refine kerosene and are making some bio-diesel.

Fuel is limited to use for emergency vehicles only, so most of us are using ‘alternative’ forms of transportation. Lots of horses and mules, of course, and bicycles but the people have really gotten creative. I have a scooter that my once-upon-a-time couch-potato Malamutes are now pulling. A neighbor used his dog to plow his garden. The county has set up a battery exchange where they are using what electricity we have to recharge batteries – you bring in the dead rechargeables and swap for charged ones. A lot of us have solar or wind to generate some home power, and to run the pumps on the water and oil wells.

Sounds like the whole Nation is in about the same shape we are – but I feel sorry for the folks left in what remains of the cities. At least in the countryside, and somewhat the suburbs, the people are really doing a good job of growing food and the ranchers are still producing beef, goats and sheep, and almost everyone has at least a couple of chickens. Wilson County is lucky – we had a fairly large dairy – and a lot of dairy cows- which got back in production sufficiently to provide milk and cheese for the area.

School has not restarted since the riots and I doubt if they will reopen anytime in the near future. Home schooling or small community one room schools are now the norm. The old timers, those who have basic skills such as canning and preserving foods or sewing, are teaching their neighbors and holding classes at the area swap meets. Those who have skills and trades such as blacksmithing, leather work, cooperage and the many other skills which can keep a 19th century civilization running have taken on apprentices. Seems like the only ‘profession’ which has disappeared is the Politicians.

Someone once said, “All politics are local.” Well, now they REALLY are local. And they are all part time politicians; the County Commissioners, County Judge and the Sheriff are about the only politicians we have to deal with any more. Aside from the Texas State Guard and the Rangers and DPS we hardly hear anything from Austin – it seems that government at the State level has gone back to the Republic of Texas mode – and the legislature will not meet until the regularly scheduled every two year cycle.

The Governor did call a special session of the Lege, but barely enough of the Reps and Senators showed up to have a quorum – and most of them were from the rural areas of Texas. This was the first time that the Lege met that they only passed what bills were needed to adjust to the new normal we are living. The ‘sunset laws’ which limited the existence of many of the State laws and bureaucracies saw the sun set. We have a new leaner State government which leaves most of the governance of the people up to the counties.

The Federal government and its interference with life in Texas has gone the way of DC and most of the programs both mandated and funded by them have disappeared – even welfare is a local issue. We did have some guy show up at a County Commissioner’s meeting claiming to be from FEMA and DHS but the County Judge told him that we were doing just fine, thank you, and ‘requested’ he leave the county before the sun went down. That is the last we have heard from anyone claiming to represent the Feds.

The people really do feel like once again the government is ‘of the people, by the people and for the people. No one is going hungry here, and we all are working our tails off just trying to survive, like the rest of the country. There is a new feeling of pride and cooperation and purpose and patriotism as we try to adjust to the way things are now. I guess that going back to basics includes every aspect of life, including back to the basics of the foundation of the Republic – with all men (and women) being created equal and each person is judged on how well they contribute to the community.

This gives hope for restoration of the America I love.

We have an ambulance coming in so I need to get to the ER – will post more when I can get some time --- y’all hang in there.

Remember the ALAMO 2!


Monday, April 20, 2009


Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Many of you will recognize this as the first stanza of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. To me I remember it as one of the special benefits of having my Father as a teacher.

I went to a very small school (there were 49 in my graduating class) in southern rural Michigan. My Dad had been a teacher at that school since the year I was born. My Grandfather was a Preacher and the County Commissioner, my other Grandfather had been a blacksmith in town, and my Great Grandfather had built the flour mill in the next village. Many of the kids in my class had similarly deep roots in that town. Newcomers were those whose parents had not been born there.

This town during the mid 40’s to early 60’s when I was growing up could have come straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, at least on the surface. My Dad saw the world was changing and everyone, especially the kids he was teaching were growing up in a world very different than the one he knew. His hope was that ‘his kids’ would be able to walk into that new world armed with all the skills and knowledge he could give them. No longer was knowing how to farm or run the family business in town going to be enough. His kids, if he had anything to say about it, would be as well rounded and ready to learn and adapt to what ever may come as any kid from a big city.

One of his innovations was a class for the Ninth Graders (Freshmen) that he called Sociology. I have tried for years to think of a better name for that class, since it had nothing to do with the Sociology classes I took in college. What this class did was teach life skills – those that we would need to go out in the world, and those skills which Dad considered important but were not taught elsewhere.

There was one class where he taught ‘Table Manners’. Not the keep your elbows off the table and don’t comb your hair at the table kind of manners which he assumed that their parents had taught, but what to do when you find yourself as a real Formal Dinner. . .which fork to use, and what all those plates and glasses are for. Another time he showed a short movie of a ballerina and then showed game films of the football game. That class was connecting the athletic skill, grace and body mechanics in common to both endeavors. We never knew what was going to be the lesson or the presentation when we walked into class. To say the syllabus was eclectic would be to say a rainbow is just colorful.

One Monday we walked into class and on his desk was a human skull – and Dad was not in the room as he usually was.

I KNEW what was coming: Dad never let me know ahead of the class what was being taught, nor gave me extra help at home – if I needed help with homework from any of his classes, I had to go to Mom. He was way too careful not to show favoritism to me. There was a rule in his class – no chewing gum – I was the ONLY student who ever had to stay in the room during lunch hour for chewing gum. But I digress. The skull on the desk meant one thing – he was going to totally embarrass me.

That day, Dad walked into class after the bell had rung – walked up to the desk and sat on one corner, looking at the skull, he said:

That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once:
how the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were
Cain's jaw-bone, that did the first murder! It
might be the pate of a politician, which this ass
now o'er-reaches; one that would circumvent God,
might it not?
. . .
Or of a courtier; which could say 'Good morrow,
sweet lord! How dost thou, good lord?' This might
be my lord such-a-one, that praised my lord
such-a-one's horse, when he meant to beg it; might it not?
. . .
Why, e'en so: and now my Lady Worm's; chapless, and
knocked about the mazzard with a sexton's spade:
here's fine revolution, an we had the trick to
see't. Did these bones cost no more the breeding,
but to play at loggats with 'em? mine ache to think on't.
. . .
There's another: why may not that be the skull of a
lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets,
his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? why does he
suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the
sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of
his action of battery? Hum! This fellow might be
in's time a great buyer of land, with his statutes,
his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers,
his recoveries: is this the fine of his fines, and
the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine
pate full of fine dirt? will his vouchers vouch him
no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than
the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The
very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in
this box; and must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?
. . .
. . .
Let me see.
(Takes the skull)
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that. Prithee, Horatio, tell
me one thing.
. . .
Dost thou think Alexander looked o' this fashion i'
the earth?
. . .
And smelt so? pah!
(Puts down the skull)

The students were quiet – some recognized this as Hamlet’s words, but all of us felt the majesty of the work – this was our introduction to Shakespeare. And, to my astonishment, I was not embarrassed….I was in awe, I had no idea that my Dad could do something like that and how moving it was. He then explained that in college he needed to memorize this to join his Fraternity (TKE) and he was very lucky that his teachers had taught him, from the one room school where he started and continued through the very School we were now attending, the skill of memorization. He then began teaching the unit on memory and learning. We learned how to learn in that class – and then he gave us our assignment.

We were to memorize the Gettysburg Address and excerpts of two works on a list he gave to us. As I recall, they were from The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Thanatopsis, The Preamble to the Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, and several other which I have forgotten in the 50 years which have passed. We were then to recite our selections before the class.

Much to our amazement, we all completed our memorization and recitals. Little did the rest of the kids know that my assignment at home was to memorize and recite to my parents ALL of the selections.

We all grew in that class – and much to Dad’s delight most of us went out in to this new world and did well. We became doctors, nurses truck drivers, lawyers, professional musicians, teachers, dentists, police officers, business owners, engineers, mothers and fathers, and many other life paths, but underlying whatever we did was the one piece of advice Dad gave to all of his kids, “In life do what your passion leads you to do – but strive to be the best at it. If you become a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger there ever was.”

Next February, 2010, Dad would have been 100 years old. His legacy continues and his ‘kids’ have dug some very awesome ditches in this world and we can thank a very big teacher from a very small school who encouraged each of us to make our own Midnight Ride.

To me he was just my Dad….to the kids at the three schools where he taught; he was Fred B Ambler, Teacher, Principal and Football Coach.

And their greatest supporter.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I am a Prepper -- but unlike some, for me prepping is not just a matter of stockpiling stuff but more so of mental and spiritual preparedness.

I am prepping to endure and survive the coming hard times, whatever they may be. . .but I AM prepping. I will not give up without giving life that good old college try.

As for Stuff and Food prepping, I am doing what I can with the resources I have. The how and why arguments and skills are readily available to all. Each of us can do this – it is to keep the physical body going during other than Pollyanna Times.

At the deepest core of a human, is another type of prepping – Spiritual. This is what gives each of us the moxie to actually survive and still to retain our humanity and hope for a better world. This is an individual thing – how or what your spiritual anchor is, is yours to find. . . I cannot tell you, I cannot give you this, I cannot direct you to a list of how-tos. You must find your own Spiritual anchor – that which makes your soul sing and gives you comfort. Those are the Touchstones which make you the YOU that you are striving to become.

But there is third area of prepping – the mental, the philosophical, those things which are the core values that develop into a sense of community or laws and of actions and beliefs. These are the things which make you a sheep, a wolf or a sheepdog.

Here are the values which make your heart sing – or weep - at what you see happening around you. Here are your passions, your hopes and fears for yourself, your family, your country and your world. Here are the things which let you get up in the morning and keep on keeping on to improve the world around you. Here are the values and directions that allow you not to just sit staring blankly like a deer in the headlights in times of rapid change. Here are your ideals of what should be and what should NOT be. And how to make those changes or move towards that ideal you see.

As we age and mature these values may change or refine – that is a part of maturing. They may also change in importance…that which you would have gladly died for in your twenties, may or may not be a part of those ideals that have importance today – that does not make you wrong, just a human developing through the different stages of life.

Along this journey, we each tend to pick up quotations which exemplify who we are and what we believe. I call these WISE WORDS, and I have been collecting them all my life – some I have kept since childhood – some are new and some have moved up or down on the personal importance scale. And some I look at and ask myself, “WHAT were you thinking?” But each of them is a thread in the tapestry of who I am.

This post is to encourage you to find YOUR ‘WISE WORDS’. Not your spiritual Touchstones, but your mental and philosophical words and quotations to contemplate and to live by – the threads in your own personal tapestry.

What are your WISE WORDS? Please share them with those who are dear to you – and broaden the symphony our hearts sing.

Here are some of mine:

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
Carl Bard

“We've taken to shallow breaths in case we should miss something; some subtle thing that lets us know the very thing we need to know to save our life. We sleep lightly in case our enemy should slip in while our eyes are closed.

We are the watchers. The preparers. The ones who will protect the young and will try to secure things when it all goes to Sh*t. We may also be the ones who will re-build our world.

Then again...maybe nothing will happen.”
Milk Maid / TB2K

"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ... And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
Thomas Jefferson

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
----The Crisis, Thomas Paine
December 23, 1776

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
Mark Twain

Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.

The best way to predict your future is to create it.

"The trouble with small furry animals in a corner is that, just occasionally, one of them is a mongoose."
Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Winner Is In - The Race Is Over --- NOT!

Yesterday on the news, I heard that the Iditarod race was over and that Lance Mackey had won it for the third time in a row.

Well, like most news reports, they got it half right – Mackey did get a Three-peat. The race is over? Not hardly. Yesterday saw the first three mushers in to Nome – but there were still 54 teams out there. This, to me is the magic of the sled dog races. The race goes on – with as much interest, discussion and angst by the fans until the last team crosses the finish line.

Races traditionally have burning an old red lantern at the finish line. Called the Widow’s Lantern, it remains lit from the start of the race until the last musher is off the trail. That last musher to cross the finish line blows out the flame for another year and is awarded a trophy – The Red Lantern.

If you look at the historical statistics for the race you will find listed together – the first in to Nome winner and the Red Lantern winner. Placement of all the others who ran the race can be found – but with a lot of research.

In many sports, coming in last is a placement to be ignored or quickly forgotten – especially by those who have been there – but NOT in mushing circles. . . I have several autographs of mushers both active and retired and under their names they sign Red Lantern and the year they won it.

Far from being a symbol of failure, it is a sign of personal success and character – that the Red Lantern Winner had it in themselves to continue on, often alone on the trail and to complete what they started even without the ‘Bright Lights of Broadway”, to show that the true grit of old is still alive, that just getting the job done IS a victory. Honor comes with finishing, not necessarily by just finishing first. Perhaps this is something we all should remember in life.

Character is something which is common in the mushing community. Are there jerks out there racing dogs? Sure there must be – they all are humans, but I think there are a lot less of them than in other sports or in life. Mushing is NOT about the musher – it IS about the dogs. The dogs make the decision to run or not run. As Jeff king said “you can’t push a rope”. The musher must establish a relationship where the dogs want to work for him/her. Then to be in any way successful – dog care must come before their own comfort. Most mushers get to Nome and state they have not slept for two or three days – he dogs have – not the humans. The ego of the superstar sportsman does not lead to this commitment. This goes back to the mantra of dog owners everywhere – ALWAYS TRUST THE DOGS – and when 16 dogs will run a thousand miles pulling a sled for a person – well – that person can’t be all bad.

Another story of character – Libby Riddles, first woman to win the Iditarod, is retired from racing – but still very involved in the sport. It seems like she heard about the back story of Wade Marrs, 18 year old rookie from Knik, AK. Raised by a single mom, mushing has been his passion since he was a little kid. He has run the Junior Iditarod twice and won the Humanitarian Award. Somehow he was able to assemble a team and the funds to run the race this year but, as Libby found out, the money for his Mom to fly to Nome and meet him at the finish line was not there.

Libby knew that Mom should be there and put the word out and started collecting money for Wade’s Mom’s plane ticket. Today, we all got the word – Mom is in Nome. Libby is as close to a super star as they come in this game – but her concerns were for a rookie and his mom. This is Character. Thanks to Libby and all those who donated to get Mom there on Front Street, Nome.

Another backstory is that of a dog – Happy – from the kennel of Aliy Zerkle and her husband Allen Moore. This is the link –
-watch the videos. You will find out why Happy has become the fan’s choice for Superstar of the 2009 Iditarod.

Nope, the race is not over – there are too many winners still out on the trail.

And Happy needs her kiss.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


We all have hard about “Gateway Drugs” that drug which is seen as ‘harmless’ but leads to a life of addiction – well, I would like you to meet MY ‘gateway drug”


We brought Patsy our first Alaskan Malamute home from her BYB as a 9 week old ball of fluff. That afternoon, we took her to our vet for a check up; he heard a heart murmur and she was anemic – and loaded with fleas. We decided that we would take her back to her breeder and look for another, healthier puppy. She slept in the bathroom that night. The next morning, she was in the living room when I heard her screaming like the world would end. It seems that she did something that Tess, our old Momma Sibe did not like, Patsy ignored Tess' suggestion to straighten up – so Tess bit her. Face bleeding we rushed her to the vet who had to shave her face to treat puncture wounds to her face and head.

Kind of hard to have a BYB take back a chewed up puppy, so we were stuck with a bald headed back yard bred dog, with a murmur.

The next year was the normal adventures of raising a puppy. Normal IF that puppy is a Malamute. I discovered a couple of Malamute internet lists and began my education of the breed in general and with Patsy's help, the MRM (Malamute Resistance Movement) in particular. We found we had a dog that would fight a gate post at the drop of a hairy eyeball and at the same was the most loving dog we have ever owned.

At seventeen months – Patsy's cute little puppy hop had developed into a full blown bilateral bad hip bunny hop at anything faster than a walk – she hopped when she trotted. So off to the orthopedic vet – the verdict? Severe bilateral hip dysplasia and moderate arthritic changes to the right hip. The solution –Total Hip Replacement to the left rear. Three months of rehab – and Patsy was doing quite well. Then about a year later she developed an abscess on her left leg just above the hock. The implant had gotten infected. For a year she was on antibiotics – the abscess would clear up then return as soon as she was off the meds. It was obvious she was in pain, the right leg had atrophied and she was not using it. We were getting conflicting opinions on what, if anything could be done.

That year, 2002, the National was in Sacramento and a friend there offered to drive us to UC Davis if I could get an appointment to evaluate her leg.

Tom and I had driven there in the RV, and had decided that if there was not a VERY positive potential outcome if we operated on Patsy to remove the implant, we would have her put out of her pain when we returned. We were not going to put Patsy through another major surgery if it would not cure her pain. We loved her too much to put her through that for OUR benefit – only if it would really help HER.

The report from the wonderful Vets at UC Davis was very hopeful – if we removed the hip implants and all the cement where the infection had settled, there was an almost 100% chance that she would recover to become pain free and have normal function.

We left the National with the real winner of the year at that National in our RV – Patsy would get the surgery, and would live.

Patsy had the surgery and it was a success- she continued to travel across the country with us in the RV and has brought many special moments such as this.

Going to the National in Utah, Tom and I took the RV and did the touristy route. We spent one night at a WalMart (the cheap RV park) in Gallop. In the morning when I was walking her, 3 middle aged men walked by. Stopped dead in their tracks, and began talking to each other in their language (most likely Navajo, but could have been Zuni or any of the local languages) the one who had spotted Patsy put his hand to his neck and pointed Patsy out to the others. A bit later a VERY old gentleman came over to me and asked about my dog. l told him we were on our way to Ogden to National, and that she was a Malamute, and that they were the valued companions of the Malamute Inuits. He then looked at me and said, "Around her neck?"

I thought I was in for a major chewing out about those 'yuppie Indian wanna-be's' abusing traditional beliefs. I told him it was sent to her when she was very ill by a friend in CA, who is a Native healer. He asked me what was in the bag and I told him, I had been told to add turquoise and silver, but there were other herbs and I don't know what all else--you see it is HER medicine bag that Lori made for her. He smiled, and then asked if he could talk to her--of course I said yes.

He got down on his knees, reached out and put his hands on her head and spoke to her in his native language. Patsy, who will bark and bitch at strangers, just stood there relaxed, looking him in the eyes, as an equal. He told me "she is a special spirit", I told him I knew and thank you for seeing that. He smiled and walked back into WalMart. For the next few minutes, while I finished walking her 15 to 20 people, all Native, came out of WalMart, walk over to where we were, looked at Patsy and me and then went back in the store. Very special.

During this time, Tom's health had deteriorated and he was having a lot of trouble with his diabetes – many instances of going into insulin shock – with Pasty alerting me when ever he was unconscious. We also figured out that Patsy would alert Tom when his blood sugar would start to get low. She and Tom were bonded at the hip and she became his self taught Medical Assistance Dog. When Tom was having a bad day – he would take Patsy to work. She would spend the day sleeping under his desk, telling him when his blood sugar would drop. There were 6 times that she saved his life by alerting me that Tom was unconscious – and untold times, she alerted Tom to eat when he was going hypoglycemic.

Today, Feb 17, 2009 is Patsy's 10th birthday and she has led me on quite an adventure – somewhere along the line I lost my shyness and learned to embrace life with the joy and curiosity of a Malamute. For those who have seen her – you know she is not a Best in Show example of her breed – but that is only the outside. In her head and heart Patsy is 100% Malamute – a Best of Breed Malamute where it counts. She has taught me to look into the heart of those I meet and not to judge by what I see on the outside.

She has lead me to being involved in Malamute rescue and from there to work with RPOA helping Pets and Owners of all species. She had been the 'gateway drug' to a whole new world of interests (some would say obsessions) having to do with the world of working dogs – and sled dogs. Because of Patsy's influence in my life I have met my dearest friends, made many internet friends across the world – have traveled the US, gone to Alaska to the Iditarod and most importantly have had the love and respect – hard earned – of a fantastic if quirky Alaskan Malamute named CW Singin' PatsyCline.
Now I sit here caring for 9 dogs, most of them Malamutes, all of them but Patsy rescues. My life is centered on Dog issues - Rescue; a facination with Northern Breed dogs, especially Malamutes; promoting giving Working Dogs jobs; a fanatic about the Iditarod and all the other activities with dogs; and working for animal welfare issues (NOT animal rights).
Hello, my name is Dust Musher, and I am an addict - all because of a gateway drug named PatsyCline.

Ravens and Food Drops

To the Native Alaskans the Raven holds a special place in their traditions – many consider the Raven as the Creator of the world, the nurturer of the first man. To all he is a trickster, a shape changer.

To modern man the Raven is a P.I.T.A. – a big black bird who I has been described as a rat with feathers. To me the Raven is fascinating – when I was in Anchorage my hotel room overlooked the back of a restaurant where the ravens gathered each day to visit the dumpster and shop for dinner. I would sit and watch them interact with each other and once they discovered me in the window, interact with me. I saw a level of intelligence similar to that of the African Gray Parrots I have known. Ravens also have a sense of humor – actually, I tend to lean towards the belief that they are the creators of the Arctic and they made the Malamute in their own image.

There are many stories of Ravens interacting with the dog teams on the trail, Karen Ramstead tells in her Iditarod Journal of Ravens who traveled with her team for miles. I can see how these beautiful big black birds can be seen as special spirits.

(to really learn what it is to be an Iditarod Musher – I recommend you read Karen’s Diaries and blogs – from her rookie year in 2000 to this year’s Yukon Quest 300 to the training going on today- she is a wonderful writher who is able to make it seem you are there on the runners )

However – remember they ARE tricksters – one year during the race there was a remote camera set up so a picture of the checkpoint could be broadcast to the outside. Wonderful idea and the cutting edge of technology at the time, but there was this Raven ----- the Raven pecked at the camera, sat on the camera with his tail over the lens and finally was able to move the camera enough that all we got was a nice picture of a snow bank. Maybe Ravens created the stars that elude and fight off the paparazzi.

This year the Ravens out did themselves at the Rainy Pass checkpoint. This is a snip from an article in the Anchorage Daily News 3-10-09:

“(Check point worker)A former Iditarod musher, Anderson hadn't been quite so jolly earlier in the day when he had to chase off a flock of ravens that tore into some drop bags. The all-volunteer Iditarod Air Force leaves the bags of food and extra gear at most of the 22 checkpoints along the 1,000-mile trail days before the race.

These were covered with blue tarps to keep wild animals out, but the ravens saw through the ploy.

"(The tarp) was like a bull's-eye for them," Anderson said. "Those ravens are pretty smart."

The big, black crows on steroids were gathered along the lakeshore singing and dancing in celebration of what they'd found Monday morning, Anderson said. Between them and the foxes, about a dozen bags had been scavenged.

About the Raven

On the subject of food drops – this is a technical aspect of the race that takes several Iditarods to refine. The musher must ship out everything he will need on the trail – dog food, people food, clothing, extra sleds. If they think they will need it, it must be shipped. The Drop bags are labeled with both the Musher’s name and the checkpoint it will go to. This is a good source of information on the food drops:

But the mushers aren’t the only ones who prepare for the long haul of the Iditarod – many of the fans or should I say, FANATICS who will spend the next 2 weeks glued to their computers also prepare ‘food drops’. After all who has time to cook dinner and bake snacks when updates are coming every few minutes? One of the posters on the BSSD forum posted her recipe for 5 minute chocolate cake – which she had made several kits consisting of the dry ingredients in sandwich baggies and stored, ready to mix and bake during the race. She shared the recipe with me.


4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well..
Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again..
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired

Dollop of husky hair with a cherry on top optional.

I have gotten some questions on choosing the trail for the race and thought this site might be interesting – the bush villages have done an excellent job of creating on line educational sites and the kids really are in to connecting with their Native roots through studying the race.

Web site for Shageluk School Iditarod Project – interviews and history of the Southern Route

I did my food drops early – frozen dinners, snack mixes, a stock of sodas. Having to choose between eating and keeping up to the minute on what’s happening in the Race?

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Black Ribbon: Mozilla's Moose on the Loose

Those of us active in Malamute Rescue are a close knit group across the country – we help each other out with dogs needing homes, and we laugh and cry together when it comes to our dogs, both rescues and personals.
Today I we got an email announcing that Mozilla’s Moose on the Loose (Moose) passed on to the Rainbow Bridge. Moose was a rescue who found his home with one of our rescuers – Vicky of Illinois Rescue. We all cried with her…

Mozilla's Moose on the Loose 10-31-2000 ~ 3-13-2009

One day, nine years ago or so, a pup was born into this world. Like every other pup that is born into this world, he had his whole life ahead of him, filled with thoughts of what would come - a home to love him, people to call his own, an anticipation of a good life to come. This pup was not so lucky - he was sold to someone who who should never have owned a dog at all. He was put out into a small pen, and left day after day to watch the world go by, and wish that he could be a part of it. The days turned into weeks, the weeks to months, the months to years. His neighbors would call animal control, so sad for the poor pup left alone, with nothing or no one to play with, no regular food or water, living in his own filth. His person would make small amends, for a week, maybe two. And then the calls would start again. The laws don't always favor our furry friends, and they certainly didn't favor this poor pup. Over the course of years, many calls were made, many trips were made by animal control. Finally, after four long years, conditions were bad enough to remove him from his sad environment.

And so he came to rescue. And what a sight he was. He was skinny, and dirty, and over the top excited about being free from the small pen that had been his prison for as long as he could remember. With no fosters available, he was placed at a rescue friendly boarding kennel, where he always had plenty of food, fresh water, shelter, and volunteers to offer up the walks and belly rubs he so craved. One after another, potential adoptors eyed our big wild boy, and all proclaimed him "too much dog" - he was after all, a great big boy with a heart full of puppy mischief, short on manners, but long on personality. He was - and I'm sure he enjoyed being - a real handful. He loved the kennel - it was sooo much better than anything he had ever known. He greeted everyday and everyone with a big smile - a smile that everyone knew just meant trouble. He was a favorite among the seasoned volunteers who liked a dog that gave them a "run for their money".

After many many months in the kennel, and many potential adoptors looking at this handsome fellow but deciding he was just too much, one warm August day, I decided that he had waited far, far too long for a real home of his own - and loaded him into the car. And Moose became mine. He was probably mine all along, it just took me awhile to realize it - after all, I'm just a slow human. And Moose was nothing if not trouble! He wanted to eat the cats, fight with the other dogs, escape at every opportunity, and cause as much general mayhem as possible - all with a great big silly "hey world, look at me!" grin on his face. We gave him Halloween as his birthday - it seemed so appropriate, as he was always playing tricks. We had FUN. Everything was fun to Moose - there is nothing that we did that he didn't meet with a "this is GRRREAT" attitude. He learned obedience (ok...mostly). He learned to pull a sled with his sister Miss, and went on many sled demos for the rescue. He went to some weight pulls - and always pulled his 1000 pounds as a novice. He learned to race like the wind in his big yard, chase and catch woodland critters, do the happy dance at dinnertime, go swimming, go on long walks in the twilight, chew a bone, sleep in a warm bed, and get belly rubs and cookies. He loved life - every part of it, large and small. And he loved his people, and we loved him back, fiercely. There was just so much love and joy inside his big heart, it seemed that sometimes it might just burst from all it held inside.

This morning, Mark went out to let everyone outside - and came running in to me and said that Moose didn't want to get up, maybe he was sick. I threw on a pair of jeans and a pair of shoes......and in those short moments, Moose was gone. It happened so quickly - it did not seem real. In shock, we brought our boy to the vet, for the last time, to find out what had happened, if we had somehow failed him. How could a boy that we loved so much - and that loved us that much in return - suddenly be gone from our lives without even a chance to say good-bye? The autopsy results confirmed....Moose had died of heart failure. It was sudden, and unpreventable...all the love, and all the joy he had inside - his big heart just couldn't hold it and gave out.

And so, our hearts are broken. I cannot imagine mornings without "good morning MooseMan!" and night times without "sweet dreams MooseGarou", and days without trying to keep up with my mile a minute boy full of joy. Our lives will never be the same. Not ever. And tonight, and until we meet again, the angels will be ducking for cover from my big boy in his silver harness, as he runs through the skies looking for mischief.

Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I'm only falling apart
There's nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart
Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there's only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart
Turn around bright eyes............turn around......

I'll see you in the dark, in my dreams, MooseMan. You were so very easy to fall in love with. I'll love you for my whole life, and beyond. I promise.


Dear Mom Vicky and Dad Mark;

Please don’t cry but remember the good times – and every minute I had with you was a GREAT time. I am writing this letter because I didn’t have time to say a long good-by and a “see ya later” but things were moving fast and Lover Boy came to me and told me he needed my help on a special project.

You see this year the entire ’94 Malamute Iditarod team is running the race watching over all the dogs there – the trail is deep and punchy and they are needed to keep the route open and safe for those little Alaskans and Siberians on the trail; and the rest of the Mals North of the Rainbow Bridge are running with them. Lover Boy looked back towards the start and saw a small white dog named Nigel lost on the trail – and in Anchorage, a musher crying because her dog had been alone and lost for 4 days. Lover Boy went to search for Nigel. This morning, Lover Boy found Nigel and started to guide him back to people who could get him to his Hu-mom, but it was taking too long and Nigel was cold and hungry and scared and all the Humes were looking in the wrong places. Lover Boy needed me to help get Nigel home safely and quickly. We did it! And tonight we are watching Nigel and his Hu-Mom, Nancy, happily together in Anchorage.

Well with the serious stuff done – and not having gotten the time to scope out the Bridge fully, I was off to see what all the hoop-la called the Iditarod was about. Guess what I found. A musher and his team way out in front of everyone else – so I paid them a visit. Larry, the lead dog told me that his Hu-dad, Lance, was getting a little intense and agreed it was time to have some fun, so Larry and I ran the team and musher around the bush for a couple of hours – Boy THAT was fun.

As I joined up with the Malamute Silver Harness Team, the lead dogs, Jacob and Joshua, informed me that playing with the teams was not nice – they were working, after all – and as I contritely listened, they all burst out in laughter – agreeing you had indeed named me correctly – Moose on the Loose.

Now that night is approaching, remember I love you and you made my life on earth whole. I will hear your nightly “Sweet dreams, MooseGarou” and I want you to know I am living those sweet dreams.

I love you and want you to know I am not gone, just gone ahead to other adventures.

Your Moose Man

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


We have gotten started on the third day of the Race and the first five checkpoints are closed. This is the time the Race Geeks start to come out from under cover. To those of us who start keeping statistics NOTHING is too geeky (is that a word?) to compile, to figure, to compare to prior years. This is what separates the Fans from the Fanatics – to be able to let all who ask that THIS year all the mushers are at least into Finger Lake Checkpoint and no one has dropped out of the race yet - I am sure that somewhere someone is checking to find out if this is the farthest checkpoint without a scratch.

I am tracking who has dropped dogs and at what checkpoint. Others are tracking the comparable run times between checkpoints – this year, so far, the runs are a tad slower.

Once again – the best coverage by fans seems to be the Forum sponsored by The Bering Sea School District.

As Internet fora go, it is a small group, a little less than 400 members and some of those are out on the trail in the race, but it is a GIANT as far as enthusiasm goes. Membership is free – just sign up and you do not have to be a total Fanatic to be a member. The BSSD board is one of the friendliest Fora going and we welcome anyone who is interested in the race – long time geek or new fan. The Board is also open to anyone who is not registered to read… Serious discussions, Talk to the Musher threads, and pure fun threads.

One of the most fun is the Who Is Trailbreaker? thread. A poster asked this innocent question during the middle of the race last year because there was GPS tracking of some of the mushers and always in the lead was a GPS designated Trailbreaker – the crew who marks and grooms the trail just ahead of the lead mushers. Well this question came up about the time the members were starting to suffer from sleep deprivation and during the time most of the mushers were traveling down the Yukon River – not a hotly contested part of the race. Well a legend was born – and the entire history of the Breaker Family was published – including a Family Tree and their Family Crest. My favorite member is Heart Breaker, the femme fatale of the family though others favor Jail Breaker, the Black Sheep of the family and Wind Breaker the family’s gaseous pet Golden Retriever.

One of the back stories coming out is Lance’s confrontation with a Moose on Saturday during the Ceremonial Start. The story can be read at Lance’s website: But the photo from the Anchorage Daily News should be enough to get anyone’s attention.

2009 © Photo courtesy of Rebecca Keating

Well, back to checking the leader board and tracking the Dropped Dogs – now the mushers are over the Alaskan Range they should start dropping more dogs-those which were needed for the power to climb the mountains but not needed for the speed of the Interior and the trip down the Yukon.

Mush on!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Re-Start -- and so the game begins

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

The Cremation of Sam MacGee
by Robert Service

Tonight 67 mushers and 1071 dogs are spending their first of many nights in the Alaskan Wilderness. . .

For some fans, they can watch the progress of the mushers on the Trail on the via the Iditarod web site tracker for the Insiders who have paid the subscription, for the rest of us we have to follow the old fashioned way – by checking often the Current Standings page at:

But all of us will continue to bounce between the web sites, the blogs, and the emails flying between friends following news, speculation and wild rumors. In other words – just another typical Iditarod race watched by the Idita-nuts in the Outside.

I have lit two candles, one for the Mushers and one for the Dogs which will burn until the last Musher and team arrive in Nome and the Widow’s Lantern is extinguished….thus ending the race.

The story of the FROG in a Sled:
Photo by Donna Quante

And Photos of Lance’s tag sled on its side can be found on Backstage Iditarod Blog – link on the left side of my blog.

Pictures of Eric’s tag sled flipped is on the Anchorage Daily News Photo Essay of the Start.

Off to bed – to continue the internet quest in the morning – at least I have a nice warm and dry bed to curl up in – but then, catching a catnap surrounded by my team is not such a bad dream either.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Today was the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage. Today is for the fans - the mushers use any sled they wish and the dogs they run with often are not the dogs which will be on the team for the rest of the race. Today's theme was celebrating 50 Years of Alaska's Statehood and the Honorary Musher's Sled driven by Dan Seavey, was an antique Freighting sled borrowed from the Knik Museum.

Jeff King who is noted for being 'innovative' when it comes to sled designed went 'old school', VERY old school and ran the Start using an historical design of a Gee Stick Sled. This is a type of sled used by the freighters before the turn of the century like - in the 1800's. The musher/driver is on skis allowing the sled to be filled with freight. Remember that these sleds were designed to be pulled by freighting or sledging dogs, like our Malamutes, not the NASCAR Alaskan Huskies used today. Jeff has posted a You Tube video of a training session - notice the voice control he has of his team - amazing.

Jeff's You Tube

From the Anchorage Daily News: Four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King waves to the crowd near Alaska Native Medical Center as he skis in front of a freighting dog sled during the Iditarod Ceremonial Start on Saturday, March 7, 2009. His freight sled was equipped with a "gee pole" that were used on most every freight sled at the turn of the twentieth century. According to a U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management web page the gee pole was a stout pole lashed to, and projecting from, the front of the sled, which the sled driver could use to leverage and steer the sled. Most dog drivers still did not ride the sled, instead running besides or riding skis or a sort of early snowboard between the dog team and sled. Riding the sled-runners was used only by drivers of light and fast mail and race teams.

One of Jeff on the Start

June’s Blog with lots of pictures

Some Links to follow the inside view of the race:

I am sure there will be more later -- Tomorrow is the Re-start of the race - the 'real' start where the timer is ticking.

Meantime there are questions floating around about the Start ---- Like:
Alexie and the camo dogs
Lance’s tag sled rider got dumped?

Eric's did, too?
A frog in the sled

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Iditarod from Texas - the insanity begins

You may be wondering why I began my blog with a Journal which is two years old. Well, this is the week the Iditarod starts – the Start is on Saturday March 7 in Anchorage and I am getting in to my 3 weeks of living in front of my computer screen, following every nuance of the race and taking part in at least 3 Yahoo groups and at least one Forum…all focused on 1149 miles across Alaska.

The immersion has already begun – the Idita-Support Group is beginning to arrive in Anchorage – friends are flying in from around the country while the members who live there are keeping all of us up to the minute of the happenings which fill each day this week. I am re-living vicariously each and every event. The Vet Checks, the Musher’s Banquet, the Musher’s meeting at the Millennium, the Open houses, the start and then the restart – and the Group’s Dinner at Gwinnies.

Trying to get all the stories – who is riding in the tag-sleds for the Start in Anchorage – what dogs do the mushers have hitched that day – and which dogs are going to be on the team for Sunday’s Re-start.

Chasing down more information from comments dropped such as “they pulled the plug on the Serum Run at Ruby because of trail conditions – too much snow”. How will that affect the trail out of Ruby for the rod? What ARE the trail conditions? The temps? How will that affect each team. Does the cold and snow conditions give an extra edge to the mushers from Kotzebue? How will the Rookies adjust – at least they have had a lot of cold and snow to race and train in this year.

One of things I love about Sled Dog Racing and this race in particular is that is it an equal opportunity event. Men and women race heads up – there are no ‘Lady’s Tees” in mushing – and the race is not always against the other mushers and their teams - but to continue on the trail because of a dream.

As of today, there are 67 Mushers ready to start – maybe 20 have a snowball’s chance of winning and of those the winner most likely will come out of a group of maybe a half dozen. The real Iditarod for me is with those 40 or so mushers who are there and know they have not a chance of winning – if reaching Nome first is winning – but for many of them just reaching Nome with a healthy team is a win, no matter where they place in the finish results.

The trip itself is the challenge. One person and 16 dogs facing the best and worst the Alaska bush and Mother Nature can throw at them – and overcoming…That is the Iditarod. As I have told friends who do not understand WHY someone would do this – “If you have to ask WHY, you will never get it.” It is the Dream – the same Dream our ancestors had when they left the country where they were born to start life on a new continent – the same Dream which lead the Pioneers to walk across the prairies to settle in a remote part of this country ... the same Dream which each of us has had, to face the unknown because, well because we had a Dream.

Basically all those technical things which glaze over the eyes of my friends and family but are totally understood by those of us who are died in the wool (or maybe I should say Fleece) Idita-Nuts.

Thank goodness for the Internet – not too long ago the only way to follow the race was to phone the Iditarod Trail Committee’s phone room to get up dates. Now, phone calls are usually made when I know someone who is working the Phone Room in the middle of the night. I am SO glad that my cell phone service has free nationwide long distance and AT&T knows that Alaska is part of the nation.

So basically the next couple of weeks will be focused on Alaska – but who knows what else will pop up that I will feel the need to share.

As one of my favorite mushers has as his signature line –

Keep ‘Em Northbound


Saturday, February 28, 2009


I have now been home a week. It has been a week of getting back in the routines of living with my seven couch potato Malamutes, going back to work and of course following the Iditarod on the Internet, and very occasionally on the TV. As for the race, it has been part nail biting drama, some incredible highs, and gut wrenching lows. A couple Mushers got on the wrong trail, were found and reached the checkpoint safely. A dog, Aafes, slipped her harness while in a blizzard and is still being searched for. One Musher is racing on with a possible fractured fibula. Eric was over thirty hours between checkpoints, found with his dogs, a broken sled, badly injured foot and leg and unable to continue; but alive and with his dogs all healthy. The Race leader was changing almost every time I checked.

I also was witness to one 11 year old girl, her father and a couple of friends, traveling the Iditarod Trail by dogsled to honor her mother and thank those residents of the remote villages who had befriended her – and to leave a piece of Susan on the trail to watch over all the dogs and Mushers yet to come.

Then disaster struck.

Snickers, one of Karen Ramstead’s main lead dogs, developed a bleeding ulcer and, after several hours of intensive vet care at the Grayling checkpoint, died. The loss of Snickers, to whom a week earlier I had been giving ear scratches, hit me as hard as the loss of one of my own dogs. The Iditarod/North Wapiti family, real and Internet, came together to share our grief, and give support to Karen and Mark. Godspeed, sweet little Snickers, may you wear your silver harness with pride as you run North of the Rainbow Bridge.

Then, at the other end of the trail, the leaders were starting to sort themselves out….. And Lance Mackey, who camped out in a parking lot to be able to wear bib 13; and after beating throat cancer, surgery, radiation treatments, and as he states, ‘a lot of wrong turns in my youth’; and having, the month before won the 1000 mile Yukon Quest, running with 13 of the same dogs, crossed under the Burled Arch in Nome to win the Iditarod. The first time anyone has won both endurance races in the same year. Winning in his sixth attempt, wearing bib 13, just as his father and bother had done before him.

That is the magic for the world to share, but I have lived my own magic.

I have seen 17 team members, of two species, achieve feats of which legends are told…

I have walked with heroes…

I have gotten to know some of the most ‘real’ humans on this earth…

I have learned what the term ‘an honest dog’ can really mean...

I have traveled roads blazed by true pioneers and founders of this country, and of this continent…

I have gazed on a land which exemplifies the majesty of God.

I shall never be quite the same…

I am humbled.

I have been blessed.


Eric’s Iditarod

The Anchorage Daily News carried the story of Eric's end of the race......

Sometimes, winning does not include getting to Nome, just getting the dogs home.

Eric references a poem, The Cremation of Sam MacGee, in this article. It is THE mushing poem and many mushers have referenced it and claim to quote it while on the trail.

The Creamation of Sam MacGee
by Robert Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
Where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam
'Round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold
Seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say in his homely wayThat he'd "sooner live in hell".

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way
Over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold
It stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze
Till sometimes we couldn't see;
It wasn't much fun, but the only one
To whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight
In our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead
Were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he,
"I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you
Won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no;
Then he says with a sort of moan:
"It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold
Till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead -- it's my awful dread
Of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair,
You'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed,
So I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn;
But God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day
Of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all
That was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death,
And I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid,
Because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say:
"You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you
To cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid,
And the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb,
In my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight,
While the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows --
O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay
Seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent
And the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad,
But I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing,
And it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge,
And a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice
It was called the "Alice May".
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit,
And I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry,
"Is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor,
And I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around,
And I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared --
Such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal,
And I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like
To hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled,
And the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled
Down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak
Went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow
I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about
Ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said:
"I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked"; . . .
Then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
In the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
And he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear
You'll let in the cold and storm --
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
It's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Alaska Days 13–14, Wednesday and Thursday March 7-8, 2007

Day 13 : Wednesday, March 7
This was the last day to go souvenir and gift shopping. Found the best place to get reasonably priced Alaska goodies -- Wal-Mart. Now, anyone who knows me will understand I HAD to make a stop at my second favorite store. It seems as if my travel stories when in the RV consist of which Wal-Mart I stopped at today, so why would anyone be surprised that I had to make at least one stop at an Anchorage store?

Actually, there was a legitimate reason to go there – it seems that the collection of ‘’stuff” I have purchased far exceeds the volume of suitcases I bought with me. I either had to leave behind everything I brought up here OR buy shipping boxes and make a trip to the post office to mail home the goodies which won’t fit on the plane. Note to self – next time I make a trip like this, forget return tickets on an airline, just charter a Fed-Ex plane home.

I then went back to the hotel to start the packing process. I think someone could succeed very well with a cottage industry packing for visitors’ return trips home.

That night was dinner at the Mexican Restaurant which was just outside my window. Yup, two Texans, in Anchorage, eating Mexican food. However, La Cabana has some of the best Mexican food I have eaten anywhere. The only problem I found is that ‘HOT’ to the Alaskans comes out ‘very mild’ to Texans.

From what I have heard, Native Alaskan food is an acquired taste and Anchorage is primarily a city settled by flatlanders from all over the US and the world. Restaurants in Anchorage are a mix of any type cuisine you can imagine. Much to my surprise, Mexican, Chinese and Pizza seem to predominate. The one food I discovered and will be attempting to import to Texas is Reindeer Sausage. I have no idea if it is just sold to cheechacos (newcomers) or if is eaten by real sourdoughs (those who have seen the ice on the rivers freeze AND thaw) but it is delicious! Bambi and the Claus Team are in trouble!!!!!!

There is a nice video about the dropped dogs at the prison. Check it out.

Day 14 - Thursday
This was the last day of sight seeing. We went north up the other leg of the Mat-Su Valley towards Glenallen to see the Matanuska Glacier. This is a active valley glacier 27 miles long and four miles wide a the terminus It flows much as a river would at a speed of about a foot a day and it takes 250 years for an ice crystal to travel from the beginning to the terminus. This is the largest glacier accessible by car in Alaska. Unfortunately, the park was closed when we got there and we had to be content ‘just’ taking photos from the Glenn Highway.

To save time trying to describe the scenery, refer to Journal entry for Day 12 and just change the locations to Matanuska Glacier ;^) Yes, another OOOHHHH AHHHHH Day!

On the way back to Anchorage, I stopped at the Iditarod Trail Committee Headquarters in Willow. This was a pilgrimage for me. Having been an ITC member for years, I have seen pictures of the HQ, talked on the phone to people who work there, and consider this the home for the Keepers of the Dream. I did not genuflect at the entrance, but I was close!

I am not one who, takes lots of pictures to be labeled ‘me in front of the world’s largest XXXX’. But, in front of the HQ building is a bronze statue of Joe Redington, Sr., the Father of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. I now have a picture, “Me, next to the Redington Bronze.” THIS is the one photo which will be printed out, framed and hung on my wall.

Remember, “fan” is short for “Fanatic” and this Fan has lived a dream and had the trip of a life time. Tomorrow at 0600am, my plane leaves Anchorage and I return to life as a Texan….with a piece of my heart left in Alaska.

Alaska Days 11 – 12, Monday and Tuesday March 5 - 6, 2007

Day 11
Monday was a day of rest….. and a day to feel my age. That is if I am about 100 years old. My everything hurt. However, it did give me a chance to catch up reading, if not responding to emails and following the race. I finally got to moving at a near human speed in time to go to an early dinner and then over to the Millennium.

I stuck my nose into the Dog Drop room and got to see the working of the care of the dogs after they are out of the race. Things were rather hectic. It seems there had been a rash of dogs dropped and sent back to Anchorage. About 5 teams scratched each with 16 dogs, in addition to the usual number of one or two dropped from teams by some of the their Mushers. Peg said they had already received about 90 dogs today and another plane landed while we were there.

I actually got to see the process when a dog is dropped. As soon as the dog is gotten out of the plane bringing it back to Anchorage, it is taken to the tie out area where it is given an exam by a Vet and a Tech. Any urgent medical issues are addressed, medications, if needed, are administered and then the paperwork is bought inside. Since many of the dogs this day were team members of Mushers who had scratched and there were few medical issues, the dogs were able to be vetted quickly.

Each dog is tracked by a tag placed on its collar before the race with the musher’s bib number and a number for that dog; it also has its microchip number verified. Each dog has at least 2 methods of ID, and often the dog’s name is written on the collar. Each of the dogs are called by name and all efforts are made to make the dog feel safe, secure and comfortable. Each dog is given a fresh straw bed to lie on, a coat if the weather is particularly cold, and a fleece blanket to cover up with.

Prior to the start of the race each Musher must have designated a handler to pick up any dropped dogs, and two back up handlers. As soon as the paper work gets to the dog drop room, a volunteer contacts that handler and lets them know that a dog needs picked up. The dog is identified by name and the decision is made if the dog will be picked up at the Millennium or will be taken to the prison for later pick up by the handler. Vet and/or Techs are outside with the dogs as long as they are at the Millennium.

The dogs are fed and watered and the vets are very concerned and watch to make sure the dogs are eating and drinking. If they aren’t, there could be something more serious going on with the dog and it will get a more through exam. If a dog comes in with a known medical condition, be it injury or illness, the vets recheck its condition and note any changes since the vets at the checkpoint where it was flown out of had seen it.

Zuma has posted pictures of the Dog Drop area:

For pictures of the process of sending dogs out of the checkpoints take a look at the pictures Zuma has attached to her column.

The dogs are placed mostly loose in the back of the small bush pilot planes and I have heard that should any problems with the dogs develop, like a fight; the pilots will give an attitude adjustment by a sudden change in altitude. It seems that a sudden drop of several hundred feet and a little Zero G will straighten out any problem with the dogs. This seldom happens as most of these dogs have flown like this before, especially the veteran dogs.

The only way to get the dogs back from any point on the trail, including Nome is by air.

If you look at the picture on Zuma’s report where it shows the dogs in the plane you can see they are not very stressed. One of the dogs has a grin and another is sitting there looking out the window. It seems dogs want the window seats, too. I bet they are wondering if this is a meal flight or if they just get a bag of peanuts.

Day 12

Tuesday was a day to tour north of Anchorage. Heading anywhere, is an OHH AWWW WOW experience. The scenery is breathtaking. It is hard to put in to words the beautiful vistas revealed at every turn in the road or over every hill. This is where every cliché about Alaska comes true.

It is as if someone called up the special effects department of a Hollywood studio and asked them to make a backdrop which looks like Alaska. The mountains are everywhere. And you can easily see for hundreds of miles.

We went up to Talkeetna, about 100 miles north of Anchorage. It is the gateway for those who are trying to climb Mt McKinley about 80 miles away.

As you approach Talkeetna, there is a bluff with a scenic overlook where in front of you are the three highest peaks in Alaska and three of the four highest in the US. From left to right, lined up are Mount Foraker (native name Menlale, Denali’s Wife) at 17,400 feet, Mt Hunter (native name Begguya, Child of Denali) at 14,537 ft and Mt McKinley (native name Denali, the Tall One) at 20,320 feet standing 18,000 feet above the neighboring lowlands.

The view is breathtaking! I just stood there in awe, almost forgetting to take pictures. A truly spiritual experience. Neither words nor photos can capture the view and emotions of actually seeing these mountains. This was worth the price of the entire trip.

Talkeetna was founded in the mid-1920’s and many of the buildings date from that period. It is a small town in the winter but in summer is the host for most of the 36,000 visitors to Denali Park. The slogan for the town made me laugh: A quaint little drinking town with a climbing problem. And, yes, I did get a bumper sticker with that on it. Can’t wait until I am traveling in the RV with the assortment of Alaska bumper stickers on it. Should get me some ‘looks’.

With Denali having a vertical climb higher than Mt Everest, mountain climbing is very popular during the summer. Only about 350 permits are issued each year to climb the Denali/Foraker/Hunter, and all requests must be made 60 days prior to the date of the climb. I was surprised to find out there is one man currently making a winter assent of Mt. Foraker, and another man camping on one of the glaciers photographing the Aurora Borealis. No Good Old Boy, ‘hold my beer and watch this!’ type of climbing. But even with trying to make sure the climbers are properly prepared and sufficiently experienced, there are still several rescues each year. One of the shop owners told tales about the rescues of climbers who were candidates for Darwin Awards on the mountains.

Denali is ‘growing’ approximately a millimeter a year and the entire Alaska Range is a very active seismic area. Denali and Foraker are granite, whereas the surrounding mountains are made of sedimentary rock. That means there is both tectonic plate over thrust, a fancy term for ‘you ARE gonna feel an earthquake’, and volcanic activity present. Fortunately, THIS earthquake phobic did not feel any movement. Had I, this flatlander would have broken all land speed records getting out of there.

I can make one guarantee – I will never be on the list to climb any of these mountains! I may be plumb crazy but I am not suicidal. Looking is good – climbing is best left to those much younger and fitter than me.

Just let me back in the car to sit and enjoy the scenery on the drive back to Anchorage.

I am continuing to follow the race closely, on radio, television and on the web. The best quick updates for the race are and and, of course, Zuma’s Paw Prints.

More pictures of the Race Start/Re-start and on the trail by amateurs. Great pics!
Alaska Day 10, Sunday, March 4, 2007


The Official Start of the Iditarod -- The Last Great Race!

Eighty two Mushers are gathered on a frozen lake just north of Willow, Alaska. Along with them are family and friends, race volunteers, and about a thousand fans who have come to this lake by most every mode of transportation you can think of…. Dogsled, snow machine, car, bus, train, and airplanes landing on the lake…..all to witness the culmination of as many dreams as there are people here.

The only ones who aren’t affected by the hoopla are the 1312 dogs waiting in their boxes on the trucks to do what they were bred to do --- pull a dogsled.

The common dream of every one of the Mushers is to arrive in Nome, 1049 miles from here, safely and with all the dogs in good health. Some hope to win the race by getting to Nome first….but to most, winning the race is just getting matter the time. This is one race which is not finished when the ‘winner’ arrives but continues with as much interest by the fans until the last Musher crosses the finish line under the Burled Arch, the Red Lantern is awarded and the Widow’s Lantern extinguished.

I can only guess at what most of the dreams here are but looking into the eyes of the people here, you can see there are dreams. There is a far off gaze in many eyes, perhaps, even now, seeing the lights of Nome across the frozen wilderness, much as Gunnar Kaasan and Balto did on that day in 1925 delivering the lifesaving Diphtheria Serum.

I can, however, tell you of one person’s dreams of this day……mine.

For 6 years I have followed the race on the internet, and if available, with sketchy reports on the TV. Subscribed to several Yahoo groups dealing with the race. And sat in Texas, dreaming…if ONLY I were there…..

We went very early to Willow as Roland was working as a volunteer. Yesterday he had handled a dog team, taking it to the Start line and managed to sprain an ankle, so today he will be working security for the staging area. I had nothing to do but be a tourist.

While I was at the Community Center, I ran into Morna, Karen’s mother.

Friday I met her with my usual foot in mouth method. At Karen’s open house a group of 5 or 6 of us were talking, and introductions had not been made. Karen walked up to the group and I asked her if either of the Mother’s (hers or Mark’s) had made it up. Karen smiled. Put her arm around the lady I had just been talking to and said “Yes, my mother is HERE”. Cool move, Marshall! Introductions were finally made.

Morna asked if I was working with any of the Mushers and I said, no, so she invited me to come down to Karen’s set up and join them, at least until the security sweep to remove everyone without credentials. I was very pleased to join them.

The rules state that each musher must carry certain items at all times while on the trail. They are: Cold weather sleeping bag, weighing a minimum of 5 lbs; Axe, head to weigh at least 1-3/4 lbs, handle at least 22 inches long; Pair of snowshoes, each to be at least 252 sq in.; Promotional Material provided by the ITC (Usually mail caches); Eight booties for each dog, in the sled or on dogs; Cooker and pot to boil at least 3 gallons of water; Veterinarian notebook; Adequate fuel to boil 3 gal of water (alcohol is the usual fuel); Cable tie out capable of securing entire dog team; Adequate emergency dog food in addition to regular feeding amounts. This is in addition to other items the Musher decides to take, like, maybe FOOD for the musher.

Karen was packing her sled. And I was watching the process. This is amazing. I wish I could pack my RV as efficiently, I would only need a 20 footer instead of 36. Karen was busy getting ready and I could see in her mind she was already on the trail.

I then decided I was going to look up Eric Rogers, who I had met the day Mike Suprenant took me for a dog sled ride. Eric was half a dozen trucks from Karen and he also was in the process of packing his sled. In contrast to Karen, who had about 10 people around her truck, Eric had about four. Being my shy retiring self, I asked Eric if he needed any help, he introduced me to Lexie, his ‘crew chief’ and said I would have to get her permission since she was in charge of the team, at least until he hit the trail. Lexie said I could help. Thus, I joined Team Rogers.

Being the rookie, unknown, non-musher I helped out where I could….I packed the first aid box, put spare gear in stuff sacks, attached the sponsor placards to the sled and was the go-for. And in general did the non technical jobs, leaving those who knew what they were doing to do what they were more suited for. I sort of felt like a fish on a frozen lake but hoped I was really helping—I tried my best.

For those who know me, being the omega dog is not my normal place in the pack – but that is what I was – the omega. I was thrilled. I was gassed. I was living a dream. I was working with a REAL Iditarod Musher!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had a REAL armband which said MUSHER HANDLER!!!!!!!!!!! I was the happiest omega in all of Willow!

At one point, Bonnie, one of the team, who is another of the ‘Old friends’ just met, and is on the Idita-Support list, pointed out Libby Riddle to me. Libby was wearing the most beautiful seal parka which she had made. Bonnie encouraged me to go over and introduce myself. I finally got the courage to do so. Libby is as nice in real life as I hoped she would be. She was gracious and has the ability to make me feel she really was happy to meet me. We chatted for a few minutes, and I got the courage to tell her, that I admired her so much that I named my first rescue bitch after her. She laughed and thanked me, and said she had had a dog named Belinda. Only true dog people could understand . . .

About 1:00, and hour before the start, the mood in the staging area subtly changed. The intensity increased. Dogs were starting to be taken from their boxes, picketed out on the trucks and given broth to drink. Hydration is more important at this point than feeding since all of the dogs were fed last night and this morning. The Mushers are giving what is called baited water, water with meat or fish broth in it to give flavor. A close eye is kept on the dogs to see who is or is not drinking.

The dogs are beginning to feel the excitement, too. The handler’s job at this point is to go up and down the picket line and keep the dogs calm. These dogs know it is getting close to the time to go out and work. Right now they are calm but as start time approaches, they become more and more anxious.
THIS was a job which I felt I not only could do, but might even be good at. I spent most of the next hour, at the picket line scratching and talking to dogs. One of Eric’s dogs, Mocha, decided she was going to be the designated hyper dog of the day and was barking, and carrying on. I spent most of my time sitting on the ground, talking to her and the 5 dogs around her. I was using all the techniques of calming a dog I have learned through doing rescue. It seemed to work, as long as I was focused on her. However, there were 5 other dogs who would decide that Mocha had gotten enough one on one and it was their turn, so I would give each of them some pets and talk to them. Mocha would start barking and pulling on her picket line and in general, cranking herself and the others up. Most of the dogs, however, were intently watching the other teams.

Eric had bib #21 and so his start time was 2:40. About 2:15 the Iditarod handlers showed up, to get acquainted with the dogs and each other and to get last minute instructions. Handling mainly consists of hitching a lead to the tugline of a dog and holding on for dear life, try to keep that dog to a walk as we go from the truck to the start line, and if you fall, roll away from the line of travel. Now is the time to make sure the sled is securely tied to the truck with the snub line, and to stretch out the gang line.

It is not just the dogs who are getting emotional at this point of the day….Mushers are beginning to get that far on the trail look in their eyes, crew chiefs are beginning to harness and bootie the dogs, handlers (at least this one) is starting to ask WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MY SELF INTO?
The real crew is now putting harnesses and booties on the dogs, and the dogs all are starting to gear up into race mode. Even the calmest ones are showing the tension. By the time the dogs are harnessed, most of them are shaking in anticipation.

The start line which a few hours ago was a short walk, is now beginning to look like a full length marathon run as I watch the first teams stage and then leave. It is time to give the last of the good luck wishes to the Musher, Eric gives me a big hug as I wish him “Via con Dios”.

Recheck the dogs and hook all 16 up to the gangline.

Handlers hook the leads to the tug line.

Check the dogs, always check the dogs.

Recheck booties, a dog has already thrown one. Replace it.

Repeat several times. All the dogs need their booties on.

Eric gets on the sled.

Back the team up a couple of inches so Eric can release the snub line.

The musher and helper (it takes 2 of them to stand on the drag brake) and the handlers are controlling the dogs.

We are on our way.

Lexie has the lead dogs, and starts to lead us out – I look down and behind me an empty collar…….. Mocha has slipped her collar! The handler has hold of her, keeping her from backing out of her harness. He pulls her up to her collar and I slip it back on. One of the other handlers, walking beside the team tightens it.

Another dog slips the collar. New collars and they are slippery. Lexie lets Eric know what the problem is and to keep an eye out. This should not be a problem after the start line when we stop pulling back on the dogs, giving them the leverage they need to slip collars.

The starter is beside us, letting us know we have three minutes to Eric’s start.

The team, now all bootied and hitched, and 10 handlers begin our way to the Start Line. There should be two stops where we wait for our team to move up, but because of the problems with the collars, we did not get these rests.

I am holding my dog, and moving at a fast trot. The best method I found was to plant my heels and let the momentum of the dogs actually pull me foreword. If I were able to stay coordinated, I would not have to do any running, just lift a leg for the next step then plant my heels to help slow the dogs. This is much the technique you would use running down a steep sand hill. The trick is to keep my feet in front of me. If my feet get under my body OR behind me, I am down.

Then we turned the corner to the starting shoot….Sigh of relief, I have not fallen yet and I still can breathe. Just a few more feet to go.

OMG!!!!! It is not the lead dogs at the start line, but the SLED!!!! I have to make it another 50 feet in ankle deep loose snow!

About then, the handler on the other side of the gangline from me falls. We continue. She rolls out of the way of the sled.

Lexie stops the lead dogs and the team stops.

I lean over to unhook the two leashes from tug lines…

I made it! I can’t catch my breath, every muscle in my body is screaming at me. I wonder if I am going to make Iditarod history by being the first handler to die at the Start Line. I stagger over to the side of the starting shoot and lean on the fence to catch my breath as Eric and the Team goes by – MY team is on its way to NOME!

I walk, well, I stagger over to the exit. I must have looked bad, because one of the Vets comes over and asks if I am OK. I gasp, “Yes, just need to rest a minute”. And yes, after a couple of minutes my heart rate is under 200 and respiratory rate under 60.

Back in the staging area I am standing, looking at the banner which says Start Iditarod XXXV 2007. I have just helped get a team off on the trail. I am HERE! Tears start rolling down my face. One of the other handlers – I don’t even know who – all I could see was a red Musher Handler arm band – came over to me, put her arm around me and said “Its special, isn’t it.”

“Yes”, I respond, “A day of dreams.”