Friday, July 10, 2009

My trip to Alaska becomes a news item

Since I'm entrenched with the neighborhood dog culture and provide pet caretaking for several neighbor families, one of my client-friends felt my trip to Alaska was news worthy. She interviewed me and wrote this article for our neighborhood newsletter. The feed back from friends has been all positive.

We had fun writing it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Winding up the Musher's Banquet

I was in a good position to get video of Lance drawing his position for the start:

After the mushers leave the stage they are fair game for autograph seekers and fans wanting pictures. Lance is like a rock-star up here and sought by people from all over. I hustled over to where he was working the crowd with the Larry and Zorro patches. I was flogging them right by Lance and sold about 30 to fans as they were leaving. Some folks had been looking for me get patches, so it was great timing.

More of the Musher's Banquet

Now inside the banquet hall and at my table:

My table was down in the center four rows back from the stage, very nice:

Immediately behind me at the next table towards the front was Libby Riddles. She's the first woman to win the Iditarod. She won in 1985.

The Musher's Banquet

I'm running a day behind on posts, but bear with me. I'll catch-up. Last night (Thurs.) was the Musher's Banquet when they draw their starting positions and mingle with the fans. Here are some highlights:

Inside the new Convention Center where the banquet was held, I caught Lance obliging fans:

This was of course just the beginning of the evening.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Vet Check in Wasilla

Before asking, no, I didn't see Sarah Palin. Just some of her old faded campaign signs and a few about lipstick and pitbulls....oh well.

Helen has graciously given over her time and vehicle to become the Texas Taxi for me and Betty Waldon, another Iditarod infected Texan. Here we are arriving at Iditarod HQ for the Vet Check.

The Vet-Check takes place in the parking lot of the Iditarod Trail Committee head quarters. The HQ houses offices, a meeting room, a small museum of the race and a swell gift shop. My trip shopping began here and there was lots of pretty cool swag. I bought several books, dog booties, the trail map, the 2009 program and an ITC logo patch.

Among the trophies, displays and memorabilia was a curious and poignant relic from the 1925 Serum Run to Nome. Inside a large glass case, stuffed and mounted was Leonard Seppala's great lead dog, Togo. A touchstone of an event nearly lost now to living memory but one of the greatest sagas of the 20th century.

Greeting visitors outside is the Joe Redington Sr. memorial. The Iditarod trophy is a minature version of this statue and the headlamp really lights up.

Outside temps were just under 20', so the HQ offered a nice warm-up while shopping and studying the displays. We were beginning to think about heading out for lunch as we had seen several dog teams come through and it looked like Lance was not going to be here today. But then, as we were walking out who should drive up but Team Mackey. Yee-Haw!

We were right at the spot where Lance parked and before he could get out of the truck the crowd started to gather. I did have the presence of mind to start recording. I took the following video just as Lance started to drop dogs for their vet check. Larry is the dog that just walks around loose. He is so cool, enjoy.

Oh, I got to meet Lance, too. Great guy! I overheard some say to Lance, "I think she's more excited to meet Larry than you." Lance replied, "That's the way it should be."

I've worked with the famous and semi-famous during my years knocking around backstage. I've loaded guns for Howard Keel, bought fruit for Van Johnson, been on a video shoot with Willy Nelson, built stages for Shamu the Killer Whale and never felt any excitement for performers.

Lance Mackey has me star-struck.

Note: he's wearing a Larry Appreciation Society patch.

It has been the most enjoyable of days and one of my goals has been accomplished. I met Larry. Not only met but got kissed by him. A big wet sloppy one.

I hung around for a good long while and wached the newspaper photographer take pictures of Lance and Larry. This was published in the Anchorage Daily News the next day. Great portrait!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Arrived and tired

I've flown from San Antonio to Houston, Houston to Seattle and finally Seattle to Anchorage. Each stop was fairly short and I didn't have to try to run across the airport to make my next flight.
Cousin Lisa made it easy for me.

At the Seattle airport I switched carriers to Alaska Airlines. At the gate I met Jan & Walt Tremer who were on the same plane to Anchorage. I feel like I know them already because of all the chatter on the Idita-Support mail list. They were wearing their Larry & Zorro patches on their parkas. I guess I can expect to meet alot of folks wearing them.

At 6:30 pm Anchorage time, I arrived. Tired from sitting nearly immobilized in cramped airline seats for almost 10 hours. I found my friend Helen who came to meet me and she had my two trunks that I had shipped here two weeks ago. Hooray! I'm checked into my hotel room and have had a hot bowl of soup for dinner. I'm set for going to Wasilla for the Vet Check tomorrow.

Its about 20' and there is snow on the ground. Its cold and I'm having flashbacks to 1971.

More tomorrow,

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rondy Champion 1972

This picture of George Attla is from the Anchorage Daily News, February 1972. That was the last dog racing season I enjoyed in Alaska. Check out the video on this site.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How did a gal from South Texas become a Lance Mackey fan?

A few weeks ago I was asked how a Texas girl way down in San Antonio became a Lance Mackey fan. Fair question and deserving of an explanation.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I became a dog mushing fan back in the early 1970s when my family lived in Alaska. I remember the old mushers like George Attla, Joe Redington, Dick Mackey, Lolly Medley, Gareth Wright, Chester Topkok and Roland Lombard. Those names are familiar and summon from the dusty closets of my memory the sights, the sounds and the smells of Alaska nearly four decades ago. They are the teenage memories of a middle aged woman peering back through a fogged and cracked lens. Memory, imperfect and mutable, is the stuff of our souls, it makes of us the individual person we are. So, somewhere back on the archival micro-fiche of my life are the four short years I was an Alaskan. Now, 37 years later, Alaska is calling me back.

I’ve followed the Iditarod race on the internet for about 10 years. As the coverage and reporting have improved and expanded it has fueled my interest and allowed me to connect with other dog mushing fans and the mushers themselves. Lance Mackey first appeared on my radar in 2004. That year several sets of brothers were running the Iditarod, Lance and brother Jason, were among the brothers of the “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” year. At the time I smiled and thought, “How great, Dick Mackey’s boys are running this year.” Mitch Seavey won the race that year, Lance was 24th, a respectable finish.

The next year, 2005, Lance won the Yukon Quest on his rookie run. He then went on to place 7th in the Iditarod. Whoa! This guy just ran two 1000 mile races back to back, won one and placed in the top 10 of the other! Who is this guy?!!!

I went looking for everything I could find about Lance Mackey on the internet. His story brought me to my knees. The more I read, the more captivated I became. I read about the diagnosis of throat cancer right after his rookie run of the Iditarod and his long ordeal with radiation treatments. The cancer left him without saliva glands and even a year later he was still on a feeding tube. I read about how his dogs help to bring him back from the slippery edge of oblivion. I read about the nerve damage in his left hand and the amputation of his left index finger. He was running dogs right after the finger surgery.

It all seemed kind of spooky to me. I underwent cancer treatments at the exact same time. Different cancer, (mine was breast on the right side) but still, that spring and summer were four rounds of chemotherapy, radical surgery, a month of recovery and in the Fall, two months of radiation treatments. I also suffered nerve damage from the radiation therapy. The love and trust of a dog also helped me through the toughest days of the ordeal of cancer. (My Lucky is the same age as our hero, Larry.)

Lance became inspirational to me. His dogged, single minded determination was uplifting and reaffirming. Beating cancer can make other obstacles in life seem rather small and he made me mindful of what was truly possible.

In 2006 Lance again won the Yukon Quest and was 10th in the Iditarod. He was not just knocking on the door, he was about to kick it in. Could he do it in 2007, could it ever be done? The stars aligned that year and he made history. His rise has been meteoric and spectacular, and many will say he can’t stay at this level. They doubt he has the experience or the knowledge to remain as the top long distance racing team. I think they continue to under-estimate him. Lance is the most natural born dog man since the days of Attla and Lombard. Of that I’m certain, and that’s why I’m a Mackey Maniac.

South-Paw Sarida
Snowless in San Antonio
I do not know who took this photo, if you know please drop me a note so I can credit them or edit as needed.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Hello, My name is.........and I'm a Mushaholic

Yes, I'm a Mushaholic and here's how I got hooked.

I grew up in an Air Force family and in 1969 my dad was ordered to Elmendorf AFB near Anchorage. We were a long, long way from Texas and this was a whole new world, culture and experience for us. I went to and graduated from West Anchorage HS, Class of 1972.

During those years the sprint races at Fur Rendezvous were the dominate dog sled races in the state. My folks and I would go down to 4th street to see the race starts and enjoy Rondy. We were privileged to witness one of the greatest rivalries in sled dog racing history, George Attla and Roland Lombard. We followed those races and others around the state through the local news-papers and radio. We were Attla fans, but you had to admire Doc Lombard and his tough New England dogs.

At that time, you could wander among the dog trucks and get really close to the dogs and mushers. It wasn’t nearly as well organized or the logistical challenge that the Iditarod is today. The dogs seemed fiercer then, more intense and feisty, but maybe that’s a sprint dog characteristic. So my memories are of walking around the dog trucks while eating a caribou sausage and watching the mushers get their dogs lined out.

My mom worked at one of the banks downtown and she was acquainted with some of the well known mushers of that time because they did their banking there. I remember her coming home one night and saying, “That crazy old Joe Redington. He wants to race dog teams from Anchorage to Nome! Can you believe that?!” That was 1971.

We left Alaska in June of 1972, so we did not see the first Iditarod, but we sure heard about it in the early months of that year. We were happy to hear about the first race starting out of Anchorage in March 1973, it was one sentence on the evening news with Walter Cronkite. After that first year we would hear snips and brief commentary that there was a 1000 mile dog race underway in Alaska, but no details no real content.

In the 1980’s Libby Riddles and Susan Butcher brought the race to the rest of the country, but still we got only the quick highlights and none of the strategy and dog management that makes the race so compelling for the fans. We had to be content with the news media and wait until someone wrote a book about running the race.

Everything changed in the late 1990s when the internet made it possible to read the Anchorage Daily News online for Iditarod reports. Then Cabela’s put up a website dedicated to the race and it was captivating. The Iditarod Trail Committee went online, so then we had two daily reports to compare and watch the strategy and maneuvering unfold. I’ve been following the Iditarod online for about a decade, but this year I’ve watched the mid distance races more closely and the Yukon Quest has greatly improved their online reporting. The internet has fed my addiction and allowed me to follow individual mushers and teams. It has brought me to the mushing community and given me new friends to share this old passion with.

That’s how I got addicted to sled dog racing, what’s your story?

South-Paw Sarida

Friday, February 6, 2009

Its not chance, its Lance

To the tune: Springtime in Alaska

He mushed out of Whitehorse through rivers and peaks.
He’d been on the trail then for almost two weeks.
Pulled into Fairbanks, the city was amazed.
His third Yukon Quest win was in just 10 days.

The old mushers said it could never be done.
Two one thousand milers in a year can’t be won.
Lance never listened to their sad and dismal wail.
He hitched up the team for Iditarod’s trail.

The trail was hard and rocky, icy slick and fast.
Many sleds and dreams were shattered by Rainy Pass.
On only one good runner through the Gorge and the Burn.
The dogs taught a few things men would soon learn.

They blew through checkpoints and camped on the trail.
The old men kept saying Lance’s team was doomed to fail.
The dogs just kept running like they were headed home.
When its springtime in Alaska they’re racing to Nome.

Along the frozen Yukon and across the Bering Sea,
Lance stopped the team a few miles out past Safety.
Lots of love was given and each dog got them some.
When its springtime in Alaska they’re winning in Nome.

When its springtime in Alaska they’re racing to Nome.
The above photo was taken by Donna Quante on the 2008 Yukon Quest. Its one of my favorites and I appreciate Donna's great eye for scenery and drama.

The Larry Appreciation Society

In the Larry Appreciation Society, we have no board of directors or officers or parliamentarian, and the only items you get for joining are the patches. We are a loose confederation of Larry Lovers spread around the US, Canada and as far away as Great Britain.

The Larry Appreciation Society started as a lark among members of the Idita-Support Yahoo Group. During last year’s race season we were all commenting on what a great dog Larry is and how many of us admire him. Then someone said, “There ought to be a Larry Fan Club!” To which someone else said, “Yeah, with posters and mouse pads and t-shirts and coffee mugs!” Well, I couldn’t resist the idea, so I sat down and designed a patch, just for fun. I posted it to the Idita-Support Yahoo Group’s files and within a day I had about 30 orders for patches.

At the same time Lance and Team Mackey were in Nome for the start of the All Alaska Sweepstakes. Also in Nome were Theresa Daily, Donna Quante, Helen Hegener, & Jan Napoli. One of them printed the design out and took it to Lance and Tonya. The Mackeys liked it and said they would OK production of the patch if it benefited the kennel. Who could say no to that?

I started getting quotes and reworking the design for stitching. The folks on the Idita- Support Group started sending me reserve orders. Then the snowmachine accident happened and everything went on hold. We just waited while Lance and Tonya tended to Zorro and we all hoped for the best. Some weeks later as Zorro was healing and looking much better, we restarted the patch project and went into production.

The whole purpose of the Larry patch is as a fund raiser for Lance’s Comeback Kennel. For each $10.00 patch sold the kennel gets $7.00. Tell your Larry loving friends to order their own patches and help us raise money for Lance and the team.

I’m asking folks who order Larry’s patch to send me a picture wearing it. These pictures will go into a digital scrapbook for all the Larry Appreciation Society. Join the team.

Happy trails and wagging tails,

Monday, January 19, 2009

The days are growing longer in the far north

Its been just about a month since the Winter Solstice. The days have been growing longer, gaining some minutes every sunrise. The Earth is well underway tilting her poles back and we will regain those lost minutes of daylight in the mornings. The Sun will rise ever earlier each day.

I became hyper sensitive to the the Earth's shift and tilt during the years I spent in Anchorage. The effect is very pronounced there. The days shorten as the solstice approaches by losing nearly ten minutes every day. By December the sun breaks the horizon at about 11:30 AM and drops back by 1:00 PM. Near Fairbanks it does not rise at all. The world is twilight for just an hour, then dark again. Polaris remains directly over head at all times and is clearly visible in the twilight. Ursa Major swings in a tight circle around Polaris, the Great Northern Bear forever stalks the polar skies.

On this return trip I hope to see the aurora again. At times of solar activities we are treated to the spectacle of the Northern Lights. Charged particles pulled into the atmosphere by the magnetic poles of our planet, strike molecules in the upper levels and release visable light energies around the arctic circle. These banners of light wave in the solar winds, slowly fluttering on the magnetic breeze. On cold, clear and profoundly silent arctic nights, one can hear their faint static, crackling like a lost radio signal, tuning into Infinity.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Old tunes, new lyrics

To the tune of that old Johnny Horton classic:

Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
North to Alaska, They're goin' North, the race is on.
North to Alaska, They're goin' North, the race is on.

Old Joe dreamed of racing in the year of seventy two,
With Dorothy Page, his partner, and Susan Butcher, too.
They mushed the Yukon River and found the dog team homes.
Below that old white mountain just a little south-east of Nome.

Joe crossed the majestic mountains to the villages far below.
He talked to the native elders and their huskies on the snow.
With the northern lights a-running wild in the land of the midnight sun,
Yes, Joe Redington was a mighty man in the year of seventy-one.

Where the moose are shying,Great dog teams are flying.
North to Alaska,They're goin' North, the race is on.
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
North to Alaska,They're goin' North, the race is on.
North to Alaska,They're goin' North, the race is on.

Joe turned to Susan with his leaders in his hand,
Said: "Susan you're a-lookin' at a dreaming, crazy man.
"I'd trade all the gold the sourdoughs ever panned,
"For one small chance to race across this bold and frozen land."

'Cos a man needs a good team to take him down the trail.
"Remember, Susan, a true team will never let you fail.
"Build for your huskies a loving, sheltered home.
"Below the great white mountain, further south-east of Nome."

Where the moose are shying,Great dog teams are flying.
North to Alaska, They're goin' North, the race is on.
North to Alaska, They're goin' North, the race is on.
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)

More of this kind nonsense later.....

1972 Fur Rondy Mushers

This is the 1972 draw for the Fur Rendezvous published in the Anchorage Daily News 17 Feb 1972. The text maybe a bit too small for legebility, so the list is:

1. Isaac Douglas, Ambler
2. Charlie Fitka Jr., Marshall
3. George Hood, Anchorage
4. Jerry Riley, Nenana
5. Tim Boedigheimer, St. Paul, Minn.
6. Joe Redington Sr., Knik
7. John P. Norris, Willow
8. Lavon Barvey, Chugiak
9. Dr. Richard Hanks, Anchorage
10. Dr. Roland Lombard, Wayland, Mass.
11. Leo Kriska, Koyukuk
12. George Attla, Huslia
13. Nick Molofy, Edmonton, Alberta
14. Pete Shepherd, McGrath
15. Walt Palmer, Chugiak
16. Dick Mackey, Wasilla
17. Chester Topkok, Teller
18. Lolly Medley, Fairbanks
19. John Phillip, Akiak
20. Lefty Shallock, Fairbanks
21. Charlie Bolle, Eagle River
22. Gareth Wright, Fairbanks

I remember the great rivalry between George Attla and Dr. Lombard and watched Lombard win in 1969, 1970 and 1971. The 1972 race would belong to George Attla and give him his fourth Rondy win since first winning it in 1958.

If you remember any of these mushers or have a story to share, please post here or send directly to me at:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Where the soul is most contented

In the late summer swelter of south Dallas, 1960, I sat in the lap of my uncle Phil and wondered about the color of his chest hairs. He was shirtless and that bright red hair was fascinating to his 6 year old niece. He was working at his "radio" bench and trying to explain to me how far away Alaska was. He indulged my demands for his attention because he knew he would not see me again for, perhaps several years. As he tested the knobs on his project the refrain of a rising hit song came through the speaker, "...North to Alaska, go north the rush is on...." Uncle Phil sang along with the chorus, he knew the whole song by heart.

From the kitchen in the rear of the duplex, we could here my grandmother slamming cook pots around the stove top. She was again expressing her disapproval of her oldest son's decision to move to Alaska. That damned song was just aggravating to her. Why did that have to be such a popular tune right now? She heard it everywhere and it was a constant, nagging reminder that she was loosing her son.

Phil had just recently been discharged from the Air Force. He was back at Gramma and Grandpaw's house for a few weeks to gather his hunting and fishing gear, visit family, see friends and prepare to move. His decision had not gone over well with the family and we had hastened up the road from Austin for a weekend visit before he left. Why Alaska, for crying out loud? Nothing anyone said could change his mind, because Alaska had claimed his heart. His last tour of duty was in 1959-1960 at Elmendorf AFB, where the wilderness pressed against the chain link perimeter. For this backwoods Arkansas boy, the seduction of this land was complete.

He could truly breath no where else. By the time Johnny Horton's anthem went to number one on the charts, Uncle Phil was back in Anchorage getting settled. He lived the next six years there, working, hunting, fishing, even experiencing the terror of the Good Friday earthquake, happier than he believed possible. Back in Texas we got letters, cards, and holiday packages from that remote, exotic land. One Christmas I got a little bracelet made of walrus ivory tiles. Three of the tiles had sketches of Eskimo children playing and I still have that cherished bracelet. Clearly, this was heaven on earth for Phil Manley from Nashville township, Ark.

In mid August of 1966 my family was stunned by his accidental drowning near Chickaloon. He and a buddy were deep in the bush hunting. They had packed in with a horse to help carry out their kill. While leading the horse across a swift running river he lost his footing and was swept away. The heavy pack he was carrying pulled him down, his friend couldn't see him or get to him in time. Many days later his body was found some miles down stream. My uncle Phil was 27.

His body is buried near his hometown in Arkansas, but his spirit resides in the wind from the Chugiak Range, in the tide rising up the Turnagin Arm and across the land still as wild as when God finished creating it, where he felt most alive. I had a dream about him last dog racing season. While watching video feeds from the Anchorage start you often see those old sourdough types, in wild furs from parka hood to mukluks. I spotted one inside the chute near the cameraman, he turned to the camera and to my astonishment it was my uncle. He was 69, hair and beard no longer red, but silver. His contentment was plain to see.

Among the souveniers I plan to pack from my trip in March is some Alaskan dirt, pebbles, mud or such. I can't bury him in Alaska, but next time I'm in Arkansas, I can bury some of Alaska with him.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Exactly Eight Weeks

In exactly eight weeks I leave San Antonio and return to Alaska after 37 years away.

I left the north a few weeks after I graduated from West Anchorage High School. In those years we had several native students from remote villages who were hosted by families in Anchorage. A kind of ironic foreign exchange program for Native Americans. One of the students was a boy in my art class that I became friendly with. As a lost Texan in those far norther climes I must have seem an exotic and strange creature to him.

At the end of the semester I was growing more excited about returning to Texas and happily anticipating the trip home. This young man, who's face I remember clearly but his name I've forgotten, listened in a quiet thoughtful way to my chattering about returning to Texas. He said to me, "Yes, you will go home but someday Alaska will call you back. You will hear her and you will return."

At the time I couldn't conceive of ever wanting to go back to Alaska, but Alaska has called me back. Over the past year and many months I've found my thoughts and dreams turning north as if magnetised like a compass needle. I'm almost ready to go.

Mush y'all