Image of Gary from Guts Gary Paulsen - Image of tree cover hills

Iditarod Journal

February

Right now I’m in Alaska, about 100 miles north of Anchorage in the bush. The snow is 5 ½ feet deep although slightly north of here the snow goes up to 14 feet. It’s an amazing amount of snow!


In Training for the First Day of the Iditarod

The Iditarod officially begins the first Saturday in March—on March 5. I’ve been in training so far. I’ve run the dogs about 700 miles, but I would love to have run 2000. I’ve got 31 days now until the race and only 22 of those I’m going to be able to run. I do not know if I will finish the Iditarod or even that I will start it. I’m down to 13 or 14 dogs that I think will be able to make the run. If I get down to 10 dogs, I will not run this year. If trail injuries occur or they catch a flu I can’t finish training the dogs and get the miles on them that I need.

Breakfast

A Typical Morning

A typical day is like this morning. I got up about 6:00 AM. It was 46 degrees below outside. The dogs have houses and they sleep in straw beds to stay warm. I go out at about 6:30 and give them a warm breakfast which consists of a beef heart cut in chunks about 3 inches square. Each dog gets about 3 pounds of either beef fat, pork, meat, pork fat, or lamb sausage for breakfast. I have 26 dogs that I’m feeding so it takes awhile to go around and feed all of them. Then I examine each dog’s feet to make sure they’re good for running. I also have to rub their shoulders in order to keep them in shape for running just as you would with athletes. You do all this during breakfast in the dark. Then after they’ve had breakfast, I come in and have a bagel. Although I shudder to call it a bagel. It’s what passes for a bagel in the northern Alaskan bush. They’re shipped up from Seattle on the barge and they’re not that fresh.

Running the dogs

At 10:00, I go out and start picking the dog team I’m going to run that day. All of the running up here occurs with sleds. And the problem with sleds is that you can’t train as many dogs.

During training back in Minnesota I usually like to run on wheels. I take a Toyota pick-up with no motor in it and pull that with 20 dogs up to 80-100 miles a day. The problem with sleds is that you can’t put that many dogs on a sled. So you run 5 dogs on a sled in Alaska and run a 5-dog team. I have a young man helping me. He runs one team while I’m running another. They stay full of fire and we’re covering 50 miles in 3 ½ hours. It’s just a blur as you go through the woods.

The Dogs

Smarter than people

Dogs are similar to people except smarter and much more sensitive and aware of everything around them. Dogs are interesting. They give unconditional love which people don’t do; can’t do. Dogs don’t care where you’re going just as long as you’re with them. And the whole team is like that. The dogs will even stop to watch the northern lights. The Inuit call the northern lights the souls of children waiting to be born which is a wonderful way to look at them. The dogs don’t think of them in terms of ionization of the ionosphere! The dogs simply see the beauty!

Some dogs are smarter then others like people.
I have one dog named Flax and he’s amazing! He’s the best lead dog I’ve ever had or ever seen. He’s very fast and dedicated. I don’t let anyone else run him. He’s a special friend. He comes in the house and pees on everything since he thinks everything in the house is his. I also have a female leader named Rusty. She’s a love, though she doesn’t have that fire in her soul that Flax does. Flax will take you anywhere you want to go as fast as you want to go and as often as you want to go. He’s an amazing dog. Rusty, on the other hand, will negotiate sometimes. It’s as if she’s saying, “If we’re going to do this then let’s do it a little later or I’m gonna wait for awhile or why don’t you come up and walk with me or pet me.”

Read Gary's January entry

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Photo of Gary Paulsen 2002 by C.E. Mitchell
Hillscape photo 2002 by The Longhouse Company

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