Paws Along the Trail, Riding With the Team
What an exciting day! The streets of Anchorage, Alaska, were filled with graded snow, dog trucks, sleds, and hundreds of volunteers and onlookers. Those of us who had the privilege to be IditaRiders followed our maps to check in with our mushers. We were to ask them two questions:
- Which way should we lean in the sled when we go around the 90 degree turn?
- What time do you want me back here to get into the sled?
I was so fortunate to get a ride with Andy Pohl, a rookie musher. He’s not a rookie to the Iditarod Trail, however. He has biked the entire trail in the winter on a fat bike. That means the tires are huge, about five inches across!
Andy told me not to worry about the corners; just do not try to reach out and stop tipping. I am to wrap my arms around me and go with the sled. That avoids an arm or hand injury. Rarely do the sleds tip, but I took the advice to heart.
The dogs all around us had varying personalities as we waited our turn to get into the starting chute. Some were jumping high in their harnesses, so excited to get started. Others howled, as huskies do. Others looked annoyed with the jumping dogs and sat quietly, probably planning their strategy for today’s run.
It was soon time to put on the dog booties and Andy’s wife, Kristy Berington, helped him out even though she would later be doing the same for her team. Both of the mushers straddled the dogs to hold them while they brushed the snow off each paw and added a Velcro topped bootie. One dog kept trying to lick Andy.
It was time to harness the team and for me to climb into the sled. Some foam-filled drop bags made the hammock-like sled bag comfy as I squeezed in. Handlers held onto the dogs so they wouldn’t barrel down the street and get to the starting line before their turn. Finally, the announcer began announcing Andy Pohl, #12, as the next musher to leave. As we were waiting, Alaskan Governor Bill Walker came over, shook our hands, and wished us the best. After a countdown, we were off! Crowds lines the streets and cheered for Andy. As we left the city, we continued on lovely wooded trails, through a couple of tunnels under streets, and then back onto the wooded trails. Children and adults lined the path at different spots. Some had cross-country skied to cheer on the mushers. Others were having tailgate parties and handed us warm hotdogs to eat!
We were able to talk amidst the quiet of dog paws and the swishing of the sled runners. Ray, Andy’s brother, was riding a tag sled behind him. He asked Andy how fast he could name all 12 dogs. Andy rattled them off in probably 15 seconds! I said, “How can you possibly recognize them all from BEHIND?” Their tails all looked alike to me! It’s another example of how well mushers know their own dogs.
I learned a lot today about sled dogs and how they work today, all from my spot behind them!
A math problem of the day for students: If 67 mushers had 12 dogs each for the Ceremonial Start, how many dog booties were put on paws today?