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.”