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Ride along with an Alaskan dog team

Welcome To Hell

(Above: The team stopped for a break in the BWCAW)

It was fifteen below (Fahrenheit) this morning. Typical, even mild, by Minnesota standards but a bit colder than we’ve had in a while.

I relished it.

“How does running up to 100 miles a day across treacherous ice, through biting winds and blinding snowstorms, and in subzero temperatures sound?” Michelle Feinberg wrote last month in an anti-sled dog piece for a People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) website.

Been there, done that. Sounds kind of normal, to be honest, and gives me flashbacks to the UP 200. But then, my sense of normal has always been a bit skewed and, as I love to say, my life is not normal.

Michelle goes on to add “I think it sounds like hell - cold hell.”

Now I don’t know Michelle and, although we come from very different philosophies and I’m no fan of PETA as an organization, I am a proponent of treating animals ethically, so we have common ground there. I’d be happy to introduce her to the world of sled dogs that I know, which I’m is very different than what I gather she’s read. I’m also going to bet, from her writing, that she’s never experienced true cold.

I doubt Michelle has run any miles, much less a hundred, behind a team of dogs whose response to subzero gusts of swirling snow isn’t to balk but instead charge forward with enthusiasm and glee. I doubt she has ever felt ice frosting on her eyelashes or sat with a team of sled dogs while the aurora borealis dances on one horizon and the moon rises on another, their breath fogging into a small cloud under stars so bright they seem threatening.

I doubt she knows that snow smells different depending on the temperature or that snow at zero degrees has a completely different feel and consistency than snow at freezing - so much so that it hardly counts as the same thing at all. I doubt that she’s seen snow materialize out of the air on a clear night or seen the sun circled by a rainbow refracting from ice crystals. I doubt that she has spent hours nestled in a straw nest with her dog team, massaging their legs and muscles with rosemary oil, wind chapping her bare hands since this is a task that doesn’t lend itself to gloves.

I doubt she has ever seen sled dogs first-hand, much less as they delight in running - leaping and barking at the start of a run or race, still leaping and barking a hundred miles or more later during a stop, demanding to know why we are stopped. I doubt she has stood with her foot on the drag brake of a sled for hours just to keep the team from going too fast, the spray of snow from the drag gradually coating her boots. 

Have you ever thrown boiling water into the air and watched it vaporize before it hits the ground? Have you ever watched ravens fly on the most brutal of winds, as if it were the most fun they could ever hope to have? Have you ever sung to your dogs on a day where even the sun doesn’t warm the land? Have you ever seen dogs oblivious to the cold run and play or witnessed how much more excited they are to run on a sled team when it is approaching zero? Pulling a sled, far from cruelty, comes as naturally to them as their odd howl-barks that sound more like yodeling than “normal” dog noises.

Frozen hair, clouds of breath, the hot snuff of a dog’s muzzle on your cheek, the entire world coated in crystalline cold. You may call it Hell but we call it home and it’s where we thrive.

Whenever I try to describe how a deep freeze feels, I always come up short. It’s hard to describe, but it’s hard to describe in a good way.

Growing up in the muggy Southeast, the idea of true cold was a foreign concept, one that my friends and relatives there still have difficulty grasping. Why would I purposefully move to the subarctic wilderness to live my life and why would I purposefully go out into it again and again.

Cold can be scary to those unfamiliar with it, who don’t know how to deal with it. It’s something strange and bizarre, something to be respected but it’s also inexplicably beautiful and being out in it is an incredible experience.

If you are a husky then you, like your wild wolf cousins, are physically built to not only withstand the harshest of Winter conditions but to thrive in them. You have a thick double coat - the woolly undercoat insulates and the sleek outer coat deflects wind, snow and moisture, not to mention a tail you can drape over your nose while resting.

For those of us who aren’t huskies, however, it is still possible to dress for such cold weather - Northern peoples have been doing it for centuries. Inuit and Yup’ik anoraks, mukluks and parkas are still some of the warmest clothing and even some of the more modern arctic gear is modeled off these traditional garments. 

But it’s not just about what jacket or boots you have, dressing for the cold involves learning how and where to layer and what to layer with. Terms like “wristies” and “neck gaiters”, which mean nothing to many people, become household words for essential pieces of gear that you wouldn’t dream of venturing into the cold without. Tiny things like this can completely change the cold weather experience. 

Do we still feel the cold? Yes, of course we do! Much moreso than the dogs. For us, warm is relative but it’s worth it for the experience of being out in the cold with said dogs. 

Of course it was the dogs that drew me here - the amazing, wonderful huskies that I love and which my life circles around. As I write this, two of them (Wizard and Poe, to be specific) are snuggled up next to me, fast asleep. My little cold weather-loving friends who practically embody the spirit of the cold.

Our subzero playground might sound like cold hell but, for us, it’s another day in frozen paradise.

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CORY WILLIAMS’ EPIC ADVENTURE: DAY TWO

The second installment of YouTuber Cory Williams’ (aka Mr. Safety/DudeLikeHella) vlog following the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. This one covers the restart in Fairbanks and the first checkpoints of Nenana and Manley Hot Springs - as well as his journey to the checkpoints via car and plane.

It makes for a very intimate behind-the-scenes view of the Iditarod and sled dogs and mushers, as well as those reporters and volunteers who follow the race.

(Also, hey @alaskansnowangel - is that you at 11:53?)

I also shared Day 1 last week here.

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Yesterday, which marked the first official run of the season we were joined by Nika for a canicross run.

Also to make things simpler for us this year, we’ll be utilizing a “dog mushing app” called, Mushometer, (for iPhone users) a data logging tool made for dog powered sports such as: Dogsledding, Canicross, Dryland Mushing, Etc.

Read about it here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mushometer/id369881803?mt=8

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Iditarod by mcgeez

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This is a picture of Lance Mackey embarking on the 35th Iditarod Sled Dog race in 2007. The traditional starting ground (the frozen surface of Willow Lake) is covered in snow.

This year, warm temperatures and unusually low snowfall have forced the Iditarod to change course. The ceremonial start was still held in Anchorage, where dogs ran through slushy streets and light rainfall. But for the actual start yesterday, the dogs and mushers moved up to cooler Fairbanks.

Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

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So the other day I came across a ten-year-old tape in my closet, put it in the player and it turns out it was a copy of the very first show we did at the Wildride Sled Dog Show back in May of 2007. I was brand new to Team Seavey, I’d worked maybe a couple of weeks at that point. I’d never been *this close* to an Iditarod champion before (Mitch Seavey still scares me… and he’s not really a scary guy lol). A lot of memories (mostly good) were brought up watching this very raw/unrefined version of what would become one of the top tourist attractions in Anchorage, Alaska. Dallas and the rest of the team worked tirelessly to make the show great. We recorded every show and Dallas would study it for hours trying to decide what needed work, what just flat didn’t work, and what needed fixing ASAP.

I learned a lot,  not just about mushing, but about work and pride and yeah… I gush. But if you wonder why I stand with Dallas, why I’m a fan, and why I call foul when certain other mushers who shall remain nameless only because their name does not deserve to be mentioned pull crap… this is why.

I put the video on my youtube channel. I didn’t ask permission, but I assume since the show is no more, and that this is a 10+ year old video, that I am not breaking any secret rule. You don’t see me in the video (I don’t think) but any time you hear music, that’s me playing DJ… I ran sound for 4 summers, and I loved it.

(In response to this post)

Thank you for your input! I don’t know Dallas (or any of the Seaveys) but many people whom I do know (and whose opinions I greatly respect) are also adamant that he didn’t drug his dogs. For me, it’s just plain the fact that the dogs were drugged with Tramadol, of all things.

We have so few pieces of the puzzle at this point that creating a picture involves a tremendous amount of speculation and conclusion-jumping and, as intriguing as it is, I hesitate to get into all of that since it ends up seeming more like a conspiracy theory.

Case in point, the plot thickened this week when PETA and affiliated activists reported that one of Dallas Seavey’s handlers was in contact with them. With just the initial information, one could extrapolate that if someone involved with PETA were a handler, they’d have the perfect opportunity to drug food in the drop bags. However, as more information has come out, I gather that this “Handler X” is not a plant but rather an unhappy handler who has been taken advantage of by animal rights activists and I do not believe she is connected to the drugging incident in any way shape or form.

However, I’m not discounting the possibility that the actual “Drugger X” might have been an animal rights activist and, indeed, this seems to be a theory brought up consistently in the media.

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Mushing on With Over 1,000 Dogs: @katieorlinsky Captures the Magic of Iditarod

To see more of Katie’s images and videos from the event, follow @katieorlinsky on Instagram. To feel like you’re in Alaska watching the race, check out #Iditarod2016.

In the state of Alaska, dog mushing is the official sport, and for many Alaskans, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is the year’s most anticipated event. Race action happens 24 hours a day, according to freelance photographer Katie Orlinsky (@katieorlinsky) who’s on the scene photographing the entirety of the race — some 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) in just over two weeks. “There is no other human or animal that can do what they do. They are the world’s most impressive endurance athletes,” Katie says. “The race is so exciting and interesting. The dogs are the best thing ever, and the beauty along the trail is breathtaking.”