The Iditarod is the hardest thing that most people will ever attempt in their lives. Its a fact that more people have summited Mount Everest than have completed the Iditarod. That is testament to the brutal conditions, lack of sleep, round the clock care for your dog team and the pressures of a race that makes men and women mere mortals.
Yesterday, March 9th, the trail consumed two mushers in the race. Iditarod veteran Gerry Willomitzer of Whitehorse, Yukon Territories and rookie Bob Storey of New Zealand.
I have spoken at length to Bob. He was my neighbor here in Willow and he was training with Iditarod veteran Vern Halter at his Dream a Dream Dog Farm just up the road. I had seen Bob and his wife Marilyn on the trails many times over this past winter as we passed each other’s dog teams on the miles of trails behind our houses.
Even at 65, Storey was a ‘tough ole’ bird’. A former military man, he knew what it was like to be in the trenches so to speak. But that was before the Iditarod consumed him. While I have not spoken to Bob since his withdrawal from the race, the reports are saying that when he scratched in Rainy Pass with all 16 dogs, he cited problems with his team and doubted they could keep up over the next 700 miles.
While Bob had cleared a huge hurdle on the trail, passing over the notorious Happy Valley Steps he still had a distance of 700 miles. Think just how far that is: New York City to Saginaw, Michigan is exactly 700 driving miles. Imagine doing that distance on the back of a dog sled on three inch wide runners in the worse conditions in the United States.
At the Willow Winter Carnival I was talking to Mrs. Storey about how they got into this crazy sport. It all started with a dog and a dog show and Bob proclaiming to his wife– Let’s try dog sledding!
In New Zealand they race sled dogs in what is called cart or dry-land racing. In Storey’s case they used to race around farmland and on the beaches with their dogs on carts with little to no brakes.
In the summer of 2009 Bob and Marilyn headed to Alaska to begin training for this years Iditarod. He completed his qualifiers in respectable fashion and when we last spoke he said he was ready for the Iditarod.
I am devastated for Bob and I hope he is in good spirits. I wish him and his family well.
But one thing is for sure, the Iditarod is not prejudiced. There are dreams littered all over the trail from Skwentna to Safety and beyond.
In a Superman analogy: Even he couldn’t beat Kryptonite. Imagine what the Iditarod can do just to regular guys…
Listen to our continuing coverage of Iditarod 2011 on Mush! You Huskies. The show is available on iTunes (search Dog Works Radio) or click Mushing Radio here.
Photo credit: akphotograph.com