Thursday, February 28, 2008

Iditarod Dog Handling Training - February 16

Doug and I attended a training session for those who would like to help hold the dog teams and bring them up to the starting line. Dog handlers are also needed along the trail to help with dogs who have been dropped from the teams by the mushers. These dogs may be injured to just too tired to continue the race. Most of the time, the dogs do NOT want to be left behind. They are bred and trained to run. It is important that a handler keep a firm grip on the dogs at all times, until they are handed to someone else or loaded into a kennel or an airplane. If a dog escapes a handler's grip, he may just take off running.

As you can see in the first picture, there were a lot of volunteers in attendance. Musher Shawn Sidelinger conducted the training with his dog Sitka. Most sled dogs are very socialized and Sitka was no exception. She was a beautiful dog and was very well mannered throughout the entire training. Shawn mentioned that, unlike most other sled dogs, if Shawn's 4 year old son falls off the sled that Sitka is pulling, she will not continue to run. She will stop and wait for him to get back on the sled.

Shawn talked about the names of the ropes and harness and the safest ways to handle the dogs.

After our indoor session, we bundled up and walked to a park about a block away. Shawn had a team of three dogs harnessed to his sled. We each got a turn to jog along side the team, as if we were bringing them to the start line. When the dogs get in harness, they are ready to run. Running along side them in knee deep snow and keeping tension on the lines is no small task. (Doug missed the shot of me where I fell down beside the sled.) Believe it or not, they did teach us what to do if we fall too. The point is to get out of the way and not trip up all the handlers who are in line behind you. I just wanted to make sure that I had practiced EVERYTHING they taught us!!!

This video shows Doug practicing bringing the team around. He is the first handler in the video (with the orange hat). The point where the dogs try to veer off the path is the place where I fell during my round. The snow was plenty deep to run through that day.

Eagles at Eagle River - February 16

After our dog handling training session in Anchorage, we stopped to eat at Eagle River. Eagle River is about 13 miles north of Anchorage. It was a rainy, cold afternoon. As we left the parking lot we spotted a bunch of eagles in the trees behind the buildings. So we stopped and watched them for a while. They were a pretty bedraggled looking group, since it was so rainy. They just huddled in the trees. But every once in a while, one would fly from one tree to the next. Then we got a reminder of what a majestic bird they can be. We hope to see them again on a nicer day. We look for them every time we pass Eagle River now (and we see where the town got its name).

Iditarod Food Drop-February 17 2008

On Sunday, February 17 we went to a warehouse near the Anchorage airport to help with the food and supplies that are delivered to each checkpoint along the Iditarod Race trail.  We started at 8:30 am and finished about 4:30 pm.  It was a long, busy day.  We met some very dedicated folks, without whom something of this magnitude could not happen.  There were a lot of volunteers who pitched in that day.

The first order of business was to unload and inventory all of the supplies and food that had been donated or purchased.
Pallets had been set up with the name of each location or checkpoint on them.  Pallets were arranged in the order that the race is run.  (This was a difficult concept for a librarian who usually puts things in ABC order!!)  By the middle of the day, though, both Doug & I could pronounce all of the names of the checkpoints.  When the race starts on March 2 and we receive reports of mushers progress on our news stations, it will seem more real to us and we will be able to picture how far along the trail they are, now that we know where the towns and checkpoints are.
Boxes had to be assembled for re-packing of food and supplies.
There is a Teacher on the Trail.  Many of the checkpoints had boxes that were to be delivered to the checkpoint and would be picked up by the Teacher when she arrived at each point.

Ready to receive our assignments......

Each team was given a list of supplies and the number that had been ordered by each checkpoint.  We then distributed the supplies according to the list.
This is one of the largest checkpoints-Nome.  It is the endpoint of the race.  They needed lots of supplies for their mushers and volunteers.  All of this stuff had to be repackaged and secured in boxes.  Once the dry goods were distributed, the cold and frozen goods were brought out and hurriedly distributed and boxed up.

Once the supplies were boxed and taped shut, they were loaded back on the pallets and labeled with their drop-off point.  They whole pallet was shrink-wrapped together.  The pallets were then returned to a refrigerated environment, waiting for the freight company to pick them up and deliver them to the checkpoints along the trail.  Most will be flown to their destinations.