20 January 2020


Pat Moon and his team travel the Kuskokwim River toward McGrath, Alaska, during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.   
Picture: Anchorage Daily News, Marc Lester/AP, via The Telegraph.

An awesome image showing the immensity and solitude of Alaska.

While we're on the subject, I'll mention the book shown at right - Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod - which I read about fifteen years ago and thoroughly enjoyed. 

About the same time the book was published I was offered an opportunity by a friend to go winter camping by dogsled near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota.  It would have involved a couple days of preparation, then several days of dogsledding, sleeping in tents along the trail.  For reasons I can't remember now, I declined the offer.  I think of that missed chance at times like this week when reports of a "solar storm" sent me out into the midnight air for two nights, hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights (sadly, they weren't evident at our latitude).

Life is short, and there are always choices to be made.  I was once advised, and am more and more coming to agree, that as one gets older, the regrets one has are most often not about the things you have done, but about the things you didn't do.

Reposted from 2012 because I gave the book a final re-read this past week and once again thoroughly enjoyed it.  What I had remembered most from the first read was the often self-deprecating humor when the author describes his efforts to learn the art of dogsledding (including what his wife described as a "two-skunk night") and his comical start at Anchorage in his first race.

What I appreciated more on the second read were the aspects of the "quest," the bonding that occurs between the musher and his dogs, and the introspection that occurs when someone is virtually alone in the wilderness.

This is an easy read - a couple hours spread out over a couple evenings.


  1. You are not alone:



  2. For the dogs, the Iditarod dog sled race is a bottomless pit of suffering. What happens to dogs during the Iditarod includes death, bloody diarrhea, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, kennel cough, broken bones, torn muscles and extreme stress. At least 142 dogs have died in the race, including two dogs who froze to death in the brutally cold winds.

    Veterinary care during the Iditarod is poor. Here's just one example: Veterinarians have allowed dogs with kennel cough to race in the Iditarod even though dogs with this disease should be kept warm and given lots of rest. It's dangerous for the dogs with this disease to exercise with any intensity. Strenuous exercise can cause lung damage, pneumonia and even death. Kennel cough is a highly contagious disease that normally lasts from 10 to 21 days.

    Iditarod dogs are beaten into submission. Jane Stevens, a former Iditarod dog handler, describes a dog beating in her letter published by the Whitehorse Star (Feb. 23, 2011). She wrote: "I witnessed the extremely violent beating of an Iditarod racing dog by one of the racing industry's most high-profile top 10 mushers. Be assured the beating was clearly not within an 'acceptable range' of 'discipline'. Indeed, the scene left me appalled, sick and shocked. After viewing an individual sled dog repeatedly booted with full force, the male person doing the beating jumping back and forth like a pendulum with his full body weight to gain full momentum and impact. He then alternated his beating technique with full-ranging, hard and fast, closed-fist punches like a piston to the dog as it was held by its harness splayed onto the ground. He then staggeringly lifted the dog by the harness with two arms above waist height, then slammed the dog into the ground with full force, again repeatedly, all of this repeatedly."

    During the 2007 race, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jon Saraceno wrote in his column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens. Or dragging them to their death."

    Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." He also said, "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..." Former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford wrote in Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper: "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses....."

    Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Most mushers have more than 50 dogs. Some have more than 100. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness or have no economic value, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death.

    FOR MORE FACTS: Sled Dog Action Coalition, http://www.helpsleddogs.org

    1. Here are a couple of responses to these ridiculous accusations: http://blog.nj.com/skiing/2010/01/and_another_side_to_the_iditar.html

      You cannot win a race like this by beating or mistreating your dogs. Reality does not work that way. If you had ever been anywhere near the Iditarod or any other dogsled race, you'd know how much these dogs want to run. And the vast majority of mushers spend most of their time and money caring for their dogs. It isn't exactly a lucrative lifestyle. They do it because they love it, and they love the dogs. I know mushers personally, and know what kind of care their dogs receive. The founder of the Sled Dog Action Coalition apparently lives in Miami and has no experience with sled dogs or any other aspect of Alaskan culture. Why she decided to make this her cause, I don't know. But her assertions bear little resemblance to reality.

    2. Unknown, in the book Paulsen describes witnessing an occurrence where a musher mistreated a dog. He reported the incident at the next checkpoint so that the malefactor would be permanently banned from future races.

  3. As an avid runner I frequent the site irunfar.com, and while perusing around this morning I came across this race report.( http://www.irunfar.com/2012/03/geoff-roes-2012-iditarod-trail-invitational-350-miles-race-report.html ) Thought I would share. Enjoy.

  4. There's a great interview on NPR with Dallas Seavey, the winner of the 2012 Iditerod. He addresses some of the controversy surrounding the effects of this race on the dogs. http://www.npr.org/2012/03/20/149002199/iditarod-winner-dallas-seavey-raced-against-family

  5. Thanks for the recommendation. This sounds like a good read.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...