You've heard her on the show sharing her tips for great family vacations and each weekend we've linked to her Fun Friday posts on AKontheGO. Today KidsTheseDays.org is pleased to introduce a new weekly blog from Erin Kirkland aka AKontheGo Mom! Each Friday she'll be keeping KTD in the know and on the GO with her ideas for family fun in the 49th state.
The first time I wrote about the Iditarod, I received nasty-grams from animal advocate groups citing abuse of sled dogs who, according to these folk, did not want to be hitched to a sled with 17 other canines under the supervision of a human, day after day, until collapsing from exhaustion in Nome, tongues dragging on the frozen tundra. Sheer cruelty, these Lower 48 informants wrote to me.
Still considered a bit green in the ways of Alaska, I tucked away this information until sure I could confirm or deny its relevance. After all, my family, like many others new to mushing-the sport and not mushing- the Hollywood movie, had been a bit surprised by the scrawny creatures we saw our first Iditarod year, looking for all practical purposes as if they could use a good bath, a hot meal, or both. These dogs were going to run all the way to Nome in just over a week? I wanted my fluffy huskies, not these yowling, pooping pups who kept trying to crawl under their trucks. Had I made a terrible mistake?
Nope. It took some on the ground learning on our part to understand both the science and subtle emotionality of dog mushing. It’s more than a man or woman hitching up and driving down a forested trail; it’s trust, respect, and sheer grit on everyone’s part, so finding out what makes a team tick adds meaning to a race that already captures the hearts of millions of Iditarod spectators.
The opportunity to visit a sled dog kennel is full of such moments. Ever heard a pack of 60 or so dogs greet their master? Cacophony, that’s what it is. Tails wag, bodies shiver in anticipation, and voices combine in a joyous shout of “Pick me, pick me!” A good musher is in love with his dogs, and the feeling is mutual. A perfect example is found at the kennel of recent Yukon Quest winner and definite Iditarod contender Dallas Seavey, son of Iditarod legend Mitch Seavey. At the young age of 24, Dallas Seavey opens his home and life to those wanting a glimpse into world of mushing and the hundreds of hours of work required to fashion a successful sled dog team. Through the assistance of local tour operator Candice McDonald’s Salmon Berry Tours Seavey’s kennel near Willow provides guests of all ages the opportunity to experience a team close up, learn about dog care, and ask any question at all of this successful musher.
All this backstory makes attending the Iditarod ReStart in Willow even more exciting. McDonald provides her guests with transportation, VIP passes to the staging area, and a front row seat to watch Seavey and his fellow competitors mush out from the starting line, game faces on. There is, I think, nothing quite like watching a team waiting in the chute for their chance to begin their 1,100-mile journey with the person they trust more than anybody in the world. Each musher takes a moment with his or her dogs, ruffling fur, whispering choice words of encouragement to leaders in these last few moments.
Amidst all the falderal, the ceremony, and even the naysayers, it suddenly becomes clear. The Iditarod isn’t just about completing a race. It’s life and love at its raw, unfettered, wild best. Not always pretty, but ultimately a beautiful slice of Alaska.
Mush on, teams. This family’s behind you all the way.