A team of Iditarod sled dogs thunders into Finger Lake, the fourth checkpoint in Alaska’s great Iditarod Dog Sled Race held every March.
I knew the first teams were soon to arrive long before dawn when I heard local sled dogs begin to howl and yip. Throwing on warm gear and a headlamp, I tromped through deep snow down toward the lake to watch the first dog team led by Lance Mackey (three time Iditarod winner and four time Yukon Quest winner) come racing into the checkpoint before the sun’s weak winter rays even began to illuminate the sky. Mackey is a personal favorite of mine, having been honored for taking the best care of his dogs in both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest races. Mackey rightly considers his dogs “the true champions.”
The demanding dogsled race courses approximately 1049 miles (get it?—Alaska, the 49th state in the Union???) across the magnificent, challenging Alaska Range, through the Interior and Yukon River basin on toward the Bering Sea’s frozen Norton Sound to the finish beneath the burled arch in windswept Nome, Alaska. Attracting many mushers and dog teams, the Iditarod hosts teams from many countries.
I was fortunate to witness close to 89 teams of Iditarod participants as they came into the Finger Lake checkpoint. Some mushers bedded down their teams after a hearty meal of warmed, high caloric food…the dogs’s needs always come first in this race. The mushers spread hay for the dogs to bed down while veterinarians checked over the dogs for dehydration, sore feet, and other potential problems. Injured or exhausted dogs were placed into a makeshift dog hospital in order to be flown to Anchorage by the Iditarod “Air Force,” a volunteer private airplane armada that ferries dogs, equipment and just about everything else to and from remote points along the race route.
At the checkpoint, some mushers took a much needed rest from the demands of the trail while others continued along the trail past the checkpoint either to bed down their dogs at a more quiet spot or gain time while other teams rested.
Sled dogs are mutts. Often called Alaskan sled dogs, these dogs are comprised of all sorts of individual breeds and mixed breeds. Most of the sled dogs weigh in at 40 pounds and are slight in build. Yet they have strong hearts and big lungs and the will to run with the sled pack for extremely long distances. Sled dogs are among the most well-conditioned athletes I have ever encountered.
Surrounded by the 1600 dogs that participated in this particular Iditarod was a dream come true for me. Next to whales, dogs are pretty high in this whale geek’s book!
FInger Lake, Alaska, USA
Canon 10D, Tamron 28-75mm lens, shutter 1/200, f/16.0, ISO 200
March 6, 2006, 4:35 pm
Views: 349 (as of November 28, 2010)
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