Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The first ten great races – Iditarod

When I was fresh to Alaska, one of the first events I observed was the 1974 running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the second in what has became an annual festival in the state. All those dogs and their rough-looking Alaska drivers and sleds packed for the long trail and heading out for Nome a thousand miles distant, epitomized everything I had envisioned as a boy playing in the woods and dreaming of a day when I could venture north.  Over the next few years I stayed close to the race, at times envisioning ways I could get free to enter it myself, something that never quite materialized.  The best I could come up with was flying along with it a couple of those first ten races and writing the first book about the race.

Over time my own adventures led me elsewhere, but my interest in the race remained and come March the urge would rise again. I eventually built a cabin in Bush and usually venture there during Iditarod time and follow the race on a local public radio station. I will never forget the first year I did that.  I had made it to the cabin, got inside and started a fire, brought in my supplies and then turned on the radio and began putting things away, straightening up and sweeping the floor, all the little chores you do when you come back to a cabin after a while. I had heard this little radio station had started up during my most recent absence, so I twirled along the dial until I found it. At that moment there was a radio-reader program on, and I pretty much tuned it out as I went about my work.

Once in a while, I would catch a phrase the reader said and it would sound familiar but I never stopped to focus enough to try to figure out what he was reading. That happened several times over the next hour until I sat down for a rest and listened more carefully. That was when it hit me: He was reading MY book, my Iditarod book, during the running of the race.  Wow. There are a lot of joys in writing a book and seeing it published. That one had to be close to the top of the list.

Now, many years later I have been given the opportunity to contribute to a book about the first ten years of the race. which has been running 40 some years now. What we are writing now is almost ancient history.

This new book about the Iditarod has been mentioned in posts over the past couple of years.  Well, it's getting closer. The final edit has been sent to the printers and it's not too long until the book will be available for sale.

More than 100 contributors wrote a variety of articles for it, mushers, pilots, veterinarians, family members. volunteers and even a few sundry writers such as myself. These are complemented by historic photos from the trail and original art works. The end product documents in a very down-home way, the first 10 years of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, called by many who have not sailed single-handed around the world, the last great race on earth.

The Old Iditarod Gang, a collection of people who had something to do with the race during those first years joined together over the last four years gathering materials and preparing the tome for publication. The group has now put up a web page where interested folks can learn a lot about the book and the people who made it, and how you can purchase a copy :) . Look for the link at the end of this posting.

Take a look at some preview pages
There's a link to some preview pages attached to the illustration to the left. Those selections include part of one of my contributions. Flipping through those pages will give a reader an idea of what the more than 400 pages in the entire publication will be like.

There is quite a variety of articles including personal accounts by racers themselves, adventures and profiles told by others, recollections of people and places woven into the very fabric of the trail.

When that first race took off in 1973, many of the folks didn't really know what they were getting into. One musher, Dick Mackey, told of wives and sweethearts in tears kissing their mushers goodbye not knowing for sure if they would ever see them again.

It was a huge logistical undertaking by a whole bunch of people who had never tried anything that huge before. In those first years mushers often found there was no trail, supplies had not reached some checkpoints when they arrived with hungry dogs. And that difficulty seldom brings mention of the frantic volunteers trying desperately to get supplies to those drivers and teams. There are tales of competitors stopping to hunt for food along the trail, of temperatures with wind chills going lower than minus 100. Many looked at it more as a long camping trip than a race. But year after year the support logistics matured and evolved, better equipment also came available, lessons learned in dog care and nutrition all grew to make the race more and more competitive.

And, you will hear survivors of those first years today talk with pride about how tough it was in the old days, but no one ever complains about the improvements, either.

It is a different race today. Tougher? Maybe, maybe not. When you figure the race usually took more than two weeks in those early years, now it's done in eight days. Racers may be better equipped, but they are going faster on less sleep too. Perhaps it's just a different kind of tough.

It's like the time my son complained about how hard sports practice was.  He thought by the time he was a senior it should be easier because he was better at it and knew more. I used the example of a sprinter.  His big goal is a 10-second hundred-yard dash. After he does it, do things get easier? No, they get harder, because now he wants to run a 9:98 and that is going to be even more difficult.

Safe to say, anybody who competes and finishes that race has accomplished something major in respect to the outside world and can take pride in it but that racer also can still tell next year's rookie how tough he had it last year.

Along with the heritage of Alaska, this book celebrates the accomplishment, for individuals and as a tremendous amount of teamwork in the group effort it takes to put on a race the magnitude of the Iditarod. Some of those original team members are responsible for producing this book

Iditarod: The First Ten Years website

A most fortunate encounter
200,000 miles on a dog sled
What do Truman Capote and the Iditarod have in common?
Not just another Iditarod book

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Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve