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,