Trail to Alaska, Part VII – Winter

The Alcan Highway is a part of every Iditarod for Ed Stielstra and his dog team. Musher, handler and dogs from Nature’s Kennel in the upper peninsula of Michigan have made the trek to the starting line of The Last Great Race seven times and will be heading to the start line again in 2013. Tulip and I decided our best resource for winter travel on the Alcan would be a dog from Ed’s team. We chose Triton, Tulip’s brother and my cousin. We talked to Triton, dog to dog, when we attended Stielstra’s Musher Symposium and Teacher’s Conference.


Q: How many miles is it from your doghouse to the starting line in Anchorage and how long does it take?

TRITON: It’s a far piece but we have Ed, our musher, and Cliff, our handler, very well trained. For the 2012 race we left Nature’s Kennel about 10:00 in the morning on Thursday and arrived in Wasilla where Race Headquarters is about 7:00 on Sunday Morning. We started in the Eastern Time Zone and crossed four time lines along the way. It took 73 hours to travel 3,451 miles. That included time for dropping and feeding us dogs and the humans. Ed and Cliff took turns driving and sleeping. According to Ed, the truck and we dogs were perfectly behaved. We don’t mind the trip because we know it’ll be beautiful and we are so looking forward to running Iditarod.


Q: Is there any part of the trip you look forward too?

TRITON: I look forward to the race!  Getting there is just a small part of the whole Iditarod experience.  I have three favorite places along the highway. One is Lake Muncho in the Canadian Rockies. Both of the others are called Sheep Mountain. The first Sheep Mountain we come to is in the Yukon Territory by Kluane Lake, the largest lake in the Yukon Territory. The other Sheep Mountain is in Alaska on the Glenn Highway only a couple hundred miles from the start of the race. We usually do a dog drop and feeding at these spots so everyone can get a good look at the scenery. Here’s a little travel tip, on the way up, the trailer cubbies on the left are the most scenic and on the way back, pick a box on the right. If you fly from the lower 48 to Alaska choose a window seat on the right for going up and the left for going home.


Q: Is there any part of the highway that you dread?

TRITON: Frost heaves left over from the spring and summer thaw can make the road between Whitehorse and the Alaskan border into a roller coaster. The Iditarod equivalent to these frost heaves would be the tussocks of the Farewell Burn. Go too fast and the ride is brutally rough and something is bound to break! We’re never happy when the truck breaks.  That can be anywhere and then we have to go to a garage fix-it place and wait and wait and wait until the truck gets fixed. Waiting around isn’t really our thing. We prefer to be on the go! Ed and Cliff get stressed out when the truck breaks down. We try to make them happy by wagging our tails and giving them lots of kisses. No problems with the truck last year!  The whole trip went really smooth.


Q: How’s road maintenance during February and March when you’re on the road?

TRITON: Sometimes it snows and sometimes it’s cold. Crews do a great job plowing the road and they also put down a lot of gravel. The gravel provides traction for all the traffic on the road but it can be really hard on windshields! Ed told us a story about coming back to Michigan from the race a while back – it was raining and the rain was freezing on the road. He said there was about an inch of ice. Lots and lots of BIG RIG tractor-trailer had lost it and were tipped over in the ditches. Ed and Cliff decided to park at a turn out and sleep until the road was sanded and safer to travel. Good boy, Ed! Good boy, Cliff! Great decision!


Q: How are you feeling about the 2013 Iditarod?

TRITON: My brother Conch and I are currently on the main kennel team and training for Ed’s Iditarod team. We’ll be almost three years old for this race. Conch is a very athletic dog and Ed says that I have a good head and can handle all of the new things that might come up during a thousand mile race. Our team is strong and fast, this is our year to really race. I’m predicting our fastest Iditarod time ever!


There you have it, a view of traveling the Alcan Highway in the winter. Hey Triton, thanks for taking time out from your busy training schedule for an interview. We’ll be keeping very close track of your musher Ed, and the Nature’s Kennel team along the Iditarod Trail.  It’s in your genes to run and pull, so have at it!


Born to Run,

Sanka and Tulip