Saturday, February 28, 2009

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!

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