Solo Chick Alaska Adventure

I'm making one of my dreams come true by doing a solo chick adventure to Alaska. I’ll chronicle my trip here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Learning About Dog Sledding

Sunday was my last full day in Alaska. It was raining when I woke, a good excuse to relax after my long, early day on Saturday. That evening I went to Ivory Jack’s for dinner. It’s a little out of the way but it was recommended as a more authentic Alaskan restaurant. Plus, it was on my way to learn about mushing. The restaurant was very down home and friendly with a big bar. The people seemed to be more locals, which was interesting.

From Ivory Jack’s I drove up to Mary Shield’s place, where she gives a Tales of the Trails presentation every night at 7:30 at her home. Mary was the first woman to finish the Iditarod, the world’s most renowned dog sled race – over 1,100 miles long – from Anchorage to Nome in March. Mushers travel from 10 to 17 days in temps way below zero and often enduring blinding winds. There are rules they must follow, especially when it comes to taking care of the dogs.

Mary is now 61 but still going strong. She still takes her dogs out when the snow comes and still loves her trips in the snow. After Mary gave us an introduction talk, we got to go into the pen with her huskies and pet them. You can see the love between Mary and her furry friends. They depend on each other on the trail. It was drizzling but we all wanted to see the dogs so we joined Mary with them. She takes excellent care of them and explained what they need to stay fit.

People are concerned about hurting the dogs by using them to pull the sled. Mary affirmed what I was told all along the way – the dogs LOVE it. As soon as they’re given the signal to run, they’re off. While they wait for the signal, they’re anxious to get going. Being sled dogs is what they’re bred for so it’s in their blood to do it. Mushers take good care of their dogs. During her talk, Mary explained how they do it. We got to see her sled and she explained life on the trail.

After an hour outside, we went into Mary’s log cabin home, which is lovely. We sat around her big table drinking tea and eating homemade cookies while Mary told us more stories about her adventures with her sled and dogs. Her descriptions were vivid and fascinating. She explained how the Iditarod works and about other races she did, including the Yukon Quest and Hope Race from Alaska to Siberia. We were all enthralled as she told what it was like dog sledding to Siberia in Russia and how she made friends with a Siberian musher who she kept in touch with for years, even though neither spoke the same language.

At the end, Mary showed us part of her video that was televised on PBS. It showed her actually out with the dogs in the snow. She sold some that night, as well as her books. She’s written 5. I got a copy of Sled Dog Trails. It’s an interesting read about her experiences on the trails with her dogs. Everything is offered for sale on Mary’s website.

I highly recommend Mary’s Tails of the Trail if you’re in the Fairbanks area. You’ll really get a taste of a special side of Alaska that most tourists never see.

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At 9:59 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Great post!
I just want to add that you don't have to go to Alaska to experience the adventure of dog sledding (mushing). I have been a dog musher for 5 years and I live in Maine. I dream of racing in the Iditarod but that requires an ENORMOUS investment of time and money - neither of which are in great supply for me! For now I'm content with racing in local short distance sprint races.
Mushing is a great sport for people AND dogs. The dogs really do love their work.


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