Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alaska Day 6 Wednesday, Feb 28, 2007

The Millennium Hotel is the hub of the Iditarod in Anchorage. Today I went over there with Peg M, who does a Malamute/Sibe rescue in MO and is a Vet Tech. Up here she works the intake for the dropped dogs as they are returned to Anchorage from the trail.

The first thing we did was to check out the Dropped Dog area. It is on the shore of Lake Hood/Lake Spenard which in the summer is the largest float plane anchorage in the nation. Now, of course it is frozen solid and is a Ski Plane lading area. On the shoreline, for the summer, is a decorative split rail fence which this time of year becomes the tie out area for the dogs. This is where the initial vetting of all dropped and returned dogs is done. Each dog comes with a vet form listing why it was dropped, and any health issues noted on the trail.

Dog trucks are already parked and waiting in the parking lot to take the dogs home. Any dogs not picked up from the Hotel are then sent to prison. REALLY! The holding area for the dogs is at the State Prison here in Anchorage. I have heard that the Trustee job of caring for the dogs is a highly sought position.

Mushers are allowed to start with up to 16 dogs in the team. Dogs may be dropped but no dogs may be added or exchanged with other dogs.

Dogs are dropped for many reasons. Some teams will take some slower, but stronger dogs on the team to help them get across the Brooks Mountain Range, the first major natural challenge in the race. Aside from the weather, that is. The teams will climb from sea level in Anchorage to 3,160 feet at Rainy Pass. Here strong dogs are needed to help pull the sled and Musher over the Mountains. For the front of the pack racers (those 30 or so teams which really do have a chance of winning or at least finishing in the top 20) will often drop the bigger dogs at Nikolai since the hardest part of the trail, as far as physical challenges are concerned, is behind them. From Nik on, the race becomes more of a speed and endurance race.

Other dogs are dropped because of injury or illness. Each checkpoint on the trail has a vet and every dog gets a vet check. Also, the Mushers keep a close watch on their dogs. There is no advantage to running an injured or sick dog…even if the musher was a troll and didn’t care about the dogs…a dog not in top condition will slow the team. And a team is no faster than the slowest dog. One Musher, Karen Ramstead, has been known for dropping dogs for, as she wrote on her Drop Dog Form, “not having fun”.

At the Hotel, Peg checked on the Dog Drop Room. No, the dogs don’t get a room in the hotel, it is where the staff and equipment are stored, making sure the Vet equipment was there and then we hung out for a while with the volunteers who were making the last minute arrangements for the Musher’s Banquet which will be held on Day 7, Thursday night.

Also, I was in the phone room, where volunteers were already fielding emails and phone calls from the public. (Race Headquarters Phone Room
(907) 248-MUSH (6874) ) Sitting in the background was the intrepid Canine Reporter, and Honorary MRM member, Snowtalker Zuma who is busy supervising her helpers answer her emails and gathering intel on the race preps.

I got to meet several people who I know through the Internet but since I am such a Irod geek, for most of you it would just make your eyes glaze over and wonder WHO????

The one ‘celebrity’ I did meet was Jeff Schultz, the official photographer for the Race. His work is noted throughout AK and the racing world. Most of the photos you see on both the Iditarod and the Cabela’s site are taken by him.
Jeff actually goes out on the trail and is in the trenches shooting some of the most amazing pictures.

Well, having given all of you your surfing assignments I will head to dinner and then to bed. It is scheduled to be a bitter cold night with wind chill temps in the negative teens. Sounds like a good test for the heater in the room.

A three dog night with no dogs…………….

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