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.

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