Sunday, August 31, 2014

Another report from the trip, August 2

This day turned out fine despite being off and on rainy, more so in the morning. I planned to go to Palmer, town to the east of Wasilla and up to the Independence Mine but decided it was not a good day for that as I wanted good light for outdoor pictures. So instead I headed back out Knik Goose Bay road and stopped at the Iditarod Headquarters. (The K in Knik is not silent!)

It was early and two pickup trucks were unloading some dogs with the normal pandemonium. It was the Redingtons, father and son (son and grandson of the famous Joe Redington who was pretty much the father of the recognition of the historical value of the trail and instrumental in the race as part of that effort.) I chatted a few minutes but they were busy. I didn't try pix as it was gray and drizzly. May go back. Young Raymie Redington gives rides to visitors with a wheeled ATV type vehicle such as they use to train dogs in the summer. Two bus loads of tour groups arrived soon and I got out of the way. I went on over to the museum and gift shop building and began to talk with two ladies there.

Turns out Donna Olson, whose ex-husband Dave ran in some 80s-90s races and I believe won once, has lived in Glenwood, NM just up the road a bit from Gila/Cliff where Joe Runyan lives. I guess her ex still does. But she is an active supporter to include working at ITHq in the summer. She is also a big mule fan!! This is amazing--mules and sled dogs as burning interests in several folks and links from New Mexico to Alaska! My usual Celtic knots and serendipity! I never cease to be amazed at these connections.

She gave me the name and number of the volunteer coordinator who is up in Fairbanks right now at the northern state fair but will be back the middle of next week. I hope to catch her before I leave. (hee hee, my timing is way off here!) I got a few souvenir and research things and saw the video they've done called Why Do They Run.

If you have any doubts about the dogs and their care or their real love for doing what they do, this will dispel them. All our dogs have better nutrition available now because of studies done for the huskies and many more advances are in progress. I got teary, of course. Not for the first time; I got a photo of the sign and the stature of Joe Redington and a favorite dog. I  really had the almost eerie feeling that I was walking on sacred ground. People are so passionate about this stuff and I more and more come to understand why. I also came away from the film with more respect and admiration for a few of the male mushers I had been inclined to think not so well of. They showed sides I had no clue existed. It was all a powerful quasi-spiritual experience.

Then in the afternoon I visited the museum on the former town site of Knik and met another neat lady. She is part Arapaho and grew up with horses as her parents farmed back in the northern Midwest and some in Alaska, I gathered. Knik was a booming town in the gold rush before Anchorage or Wasilla came to be but is now a  shadow with a few ruins and a few restored old buildings, of which the museum is one. Upstairs there is housed the Iditarod Hall of Fame, another pretty awe inspiring place even if in a bit of disarray and not well kept up. This is more due to lack of funds than care and wishes I am sure.

Anyway, this lady, Diane Williams and I had a great visit as I was the only person there for the afternoon. The downstairs was full of antiques and relics of the 1880-1920 period or so and again in a bit of disarray. I wish I had about $250,000 and a helper or two and we'd whip that place into shape but the modern area is under the management of a local Native Tribe who struggle to keep it going and are way down the totem pole in getting the support and funds they need. I may make a cause of this!!

So it was an amazing day and moving in a lot of ways. Now I need to call Deedee Jonrowe, who is an amazing lady also. She emailed me back and has been having family health issues which have been difficult and demanding but she hopes to see me Monday or Tuesday if I can get to Willow, about thirty miles up the highway in the direction of Denali and Fairbanks. Once that is nailed down I will see what else I may be able to do before Thursday morning and my flight to Fairbanks. Still this was a very good day and I feel I've made some positive steps on my project!

Here are a few pictures:  The Redington statue, the Headquarters sign and the Knik Museum

Friday, August 29, 2014

The trip north--re-posted intact from other blog

We (my friend Jim and I) left Alamo about 2:30. It’s about  90 minutes to the El Paso airport, which is smaller than I expected. Check in was mostly done by internet already and I slid through security easily. But then I noticed the flight to Phoenix was delayed.  Ooops, please no glitches right now, I prayed. The connection at Phoenix was tight, under an hour. So I worried—and waited. Finally the plane arrived and it seemed boarding took forever but at last we were off.

I always enjoy looking out—but there were too many clouds to track where we were, although they were pretty. It was sunset when we landed at Phoenix. Again everyone moves at snail’s pace but I was finally out and running. A couple from Las Cruces also heading to Anchorage went by me, old hands at this.They live in Las Cruces but have grandkids here. We'd landed in the B21 gate and were to leave from A26—about as far as it could be. I was thankful I had taken Jim’s advice and checked my larger bag. I ran on the moving sidewalks, recalling  how my brother Alex and I had done this years back on the way to Kentucky for our mom’s funeral. As then, they had closed the door to the jetway but let me and another woman board. Whew. That was too close but my prayer was answered.

It was pretty dark then but we followed the last strip of light west and north. I spotted as slim crescent of moon, crimson, probably from the smoke of many west coast fires, as it sank toward the distant horizon. I have never seen a crescent moon so red.  It was beautiful, though eerie. I sat beside an old gentleman who had a Chihuahua in a carrier that would not fit under the seat so that was stowed overhead and he held the dog the whole way. Thankfully it was a very well behaved little dog.

I don't  think I have ever been so far north—the sky stayed bright and even more so as we got closer to Anchorage. There it was deep dusk, like maybe five in the morning or eight thirty at home. The airport is big and busy—bigger than El Paso it seemed though no Sky Harbor, O’Hare or DFW of course.  I got off and went down to retrieve my suitcase and stepped out into the cool night, into an area crowded with trucks and SUVs since the evening’s last flights must have arrived en masse all at the same time! Pretty soon my hostess arrived in a big Dodge diesel dually and  we were off to Wasilla.

Anchorage, I leaned from a resident, has about 375,000  residents, half the state’s population and there you could be anywhere. It was a bit too dark, and too many trees along the road to see the mountains I had heard of but that will keep. Too dark for an arrival selfie, too, but that is okay.  I am here, on time and all of my stuff with me. The travel gods were good to me!

I got to bed about 4:00 am my home time so a good 22 hours up and going. Today I will rest and recover and tomorrow I  will start to get busy!

The site here is lovely, a bit out of town and on a small lake. There are lakes all over here! I've seen a bit of the town now, which is much more spread out than I had visualized but I will have the use of a car here most of the time.  So far the only dog is the resident Chocolate Lab, a big baby, but got a small doggie fix to hold me for now. Nice big house but three teens bopping around. I can deal with that LOL. I did take a few pix this morning but have yet to download. That's next on my agenda. Selfie and scenery coming up soon. But the big thing is I am here!!!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fast Forward to July

To make a long story short and pick up from the last post, I wrote lots of letters and scuffled around with some results but not a temporary job or other options to make my wished-for trip happen. Instead, I decided I was going to do it anyway and went out on a long and slightly shaky limb. I booked a flight from El Paso to Anchorage a couple of months in advance to get the best rates. That was when things began to fall into place.

Maybe there really is good karma. Several years ago when I lived briefly in the Silver City, NM area, I was active on a site/group called Freecycle. They have local groups all over and connect people with things to give away and people who need things they cannot really pay for. It's definitely win-win. I had used it in Arizona as I prepared to leave my long-time home there and am still using it.

Anyway, I made some amazing friends that way. One I have stayed in touch with and visited while I was in Colorado and since I moved back to New Mexico. We've done favors for each other along the line. When Constance heard about my plan to go to Alaska, she put me in touch with her ex-sister-in-law with whom she is still friends. Gail has a big house near Wasilla and maybe I could use her home as a base camp.

Well, it worked and I did, even doing her a small favor by kind of house-sitting and keeping tabs on her two teens while she flew to Las Vegas to arrange for her upcoming October wedding to her current partner. That's just one example. I also found a very economical hostel accommodation in Fairbanks and booked a stay there for a week. The only huge cost was rental cars--yowza but they were dear. But I still cannot get over how things fell into place for me! I am convinced this trip was meant to be and that my planned book is too!

Sure, I maxed out two credit cards and spent every spare dime, but I have no regrets. This turned out to be a feasibility and fact finding trip; I had so very much to learn and far too much to see, even in three weeks. But I did realize my long term dream of actually setting foot in Alaska and also determined that my project book was not only possible but received quiet a lot of enthusiasm. That's why I've set up a "go fund me"  site to solicit help in making the future trips that I need to make to do my project the way it needs to be done. Here is that link if you are moved to help out!

Anyway, on July 30, I got on a plane in El Paso and my adventure began! I'll go back and copy several posts from my trip over to this blog next. Meanwhile here is my first "selfie" from Alaska, taken July 31st in my hostess's front yard on a lovely little lake north of Wasilla and the house in which I stayed. Needless to say, I fell in love with Alaska!

I wore that purple shirt-jacket everywhere--it was just right for the moderate summer temperatures. I also soon exchanged my Hurley, NM cap for one that read "Iditarod--The Last Great Race." I wear a cap a lot to shade my nose after having a small skin cancer removed a few years ago and to try to tame my fly-away hair.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

And another oldie where my wish began to take shape

This was written hours before the historic finish of 2014 which saw Aliy miss winning by a mere two minutes after a fierce blizzard that forced Jeff King to scratch out when his dogs were literally blown off the trail and he was in danger of freezing to death in the extreme wind chill. And the germ of my idea had just poked its tender shoots up through the ice and cold!!

Which is what a musher says when they are wanting to take the trail and pass someone. Until the last stretch, the one asked has to yield. From the final checkpoint at Safety for the last twenty-two miles into Nome, it is each musher for him/herself and can get wild. There have been a few very close races including the famous win by a nose--where one musher's lead dogs stretched enough to get under the arch first. It may not be that close tonight but it could and this will definitely be one for the books from what I am reading.

Aliy is in second place, leaving the White Mountain checkpoint an hour behind four time winner veteran Jeff King who moved up the last day or two and grabbed the lead last night between Elim and White Mountain, passing Aliy. They ran within sight of each other all day yesterday. Despite some horrendous conditions, this is going to be the fastest time ever. John Baker, a native Aleut who won in 2010, set the prior record of 8 days 18 hours and some minutes. It is likely Jeff or Aliy will clock in around 8 days, 10 hours and even the rest of the first 3-5 mushers may beat the prior record. The two Seaveys are next after Aliy, two and four hours behind her. Some others who were front runners at some point have fallen well behind and stand no chance to make the first five. It is been one hell of a race, truly! I've been enthralled to watch things unfold.

Now, my little bit of personal news, or possible news-to-be. I've been an Alaska fan since about 1953 when I read my parents' copies of the two books by Bud and Constance Helmricks about their years homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness. Then I got hooked on the Iditarod reading about Libby Riddles' amazing victory in 1985, she being the first woman to win after daring a blizzard that most of the male mushers elected to sit out. Then Susan Butcher won four times in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There have been a number of other lady mushers who did well even if they did not win but made a big mark on the race and have become legendary. I want to do a book on The Women of the Iditarod and also see something of Alaska for myself. I know I have to go in the summer as I doubt I could handle the cold and sunless winter months but I'm going to try to get there this year. If I can find a kennel, stable or some other place that will hire me for room and board, I think I can swing air fare and use the free time I would have from such work to visit and interview and so on.... So wish me heaps of luck!!

I'll post a short special once the race is over--at least the first few mushers are in and then let this subject go for awhile, honest!

A first repost from the past

This post appeared on another blog of mine back last March, the day before the Iditarod's ceremonial start in Anchorage.


I've talked a little bit about mules before. We worked with them a lot as well as the horses I have spoken of in prior posts. There is a little monthly magazine called Mules and More. I began to subscribe to it about a year ago and around the end of 2013 sent them in some photos and then they asked for info on the pix and a little essay, which I wrote. I got the March issue today and lo and behold, little speckled mule Beano and me are right there on the cover!! It might not be Time, Life, or People but hey, a cover shot is a cover shot!! Like whoo-hoo!!! If you go to you can see that cover right on their home page. Inside there is a two page article with some more photos. I plan on doing a few more small features for them in the coming months but this was a neat surprise today when the mail arrived. I just had to share. Here is the photo as it looks in my collection,

Late note: I got some contributor copies of the magazine today (Sat, Mar 1) and will give away one or two--autorgraphed of course--to comments made on today's post!

And as for the race, that's the Iditarod, of course! The ceremonial start in Anchorage is tomorrow--less than twenty four hours now, and then real start is Sunday. Then they are off for a rough journey of nearly 1,000 miles across mountains, rivers, and parts of the frozen northland. It has been a mild winter in the northernmost state too--snow is scarce in places and the trail is going to be brutal with mud, raging steams, soggy slush and a really hard go for the mushers and the dogs. I am worried about them but they will race...and someone will win.

Naturally I am rooting for my gal, Aliy Zirkle. She has been second twice and got closer last year than the previous one. I am hoping this is her year but she has smaller and lighter dogs than some of the men and it may be pretty hard on them. However she has a wonderful rapport with her team and is one courageous, tough and determined lady. The pundits give her a good chance and you can bet that barring some disaster she will be in the first few if not Number 1. Go Aliy!!  And here is a shot of Aliy and her dogs last year; I lifted it and maybe should not share but anyway... This was her entry into Nome and the finish, about twenty minutes behind the winner. Consider that difference in terms of nine days and nearly 1000 miles and it was darn close!! And look at those dogs--do they look dead tired and wrung out?  This is so totally awesome!! I'd give a lot to be there and see the finish. I'd be crying I am sure.

I hope to make some new fans for this fantastic event! I support it with at least a small donation every year and talk about it every chance I get. They call it "the last great race" and I do not think that is a misnomer.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Inspiration and Perspiration

It is rather strange how this project came to be and how it has taken over my life! It all began in a subtle way decades ago. I read the books by Bud and Constance Helmericks titled We Live in Alaska and We Live in the Arctic at about age ten or twelve and was captivated. Then of course there was Jack London and Robert Service and so on. For a desert rat living in Arizona, Alaska seemed incredibly exotic and intriguing. I'd seen some snow and cold because it seems the weather was a bit harsher in those days and we spent a lot of time outdoors in some remote corners of the state but sled dogs, igloos and seal skin parkas were something to capture the imagination and stir a mix of wistful awe and reflexive shivers.

So fast forward to the middle of the first decade of the 2000s. By then I knew of the Iditarod and the women who had won it, Libby Riddles in 1985 and Susan Butcher four times starting the next year. I began to follow the race on line and met the new crop of mushers as well as some of the long-term racers and became enthralled with the incredible feat of driving a dog team 1000 miles across the wilderness at the trailing edge of winter, a winter such as no one ever saw in the southern tier of the lower forty-eight!  Then in 2012, a woman musher named Aliy Zirkle burst into prominence outside of Alaska when she came in second and followed that with two more second place finishes, closer each time to the winner. I had a new heroine.

Having been widowed for over ten years, I still found myself floundering along,
trying to reinvent my life. I'd get going on some effort and project only to stall out and more and more find myself looking back instead of ahead. I was not ready to be old and abandon belief in a future! Somehow this spring the idea of actually going to Alaska began to take shape and almost at the same time the idea for a book emerged. I've been a writer since childhood so the notion of a book was not something new and incredible. However, a non-fiction book meant breaking new ground. I could go back to my academic days as a history major doing research and writing about the past; I could recall my technical writing efforts as a civil service employee of the Army and Air Force and bring those skills to bear, too. And I'd also bring the emotions and description that I put into my poetry and women's fiction novels into the mix. Voila, a project to be the pinnacle of my writing career!

In a matter of a day or two the project took shape and I began this journey. I would write about the amazing female athletes and their incredible dogs--the women mushers who tackle the challenges of long runs with the pinnacles being the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, the "other" thousand miler. Now there is also a 1000K race in Norway too, but I had not yet heard of that. What role models and inspiration they could be to today's young women who are struggling in a complex and confusing world.

So here I am. I've just left the starting line, seeking to run my own race of sorts as I move toward the goal of seeing this book become a reality. I'd be very honored to have you along the sidelines as I cover this trail! No major endeavor can be accomplished without support and encouragement and teamwork. My family and close friends are with me here and I know I could not do this without them.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A New Adventure Begins

This quest or challenge actually was born in March. I'm a bit late getting this blog established to record it. Gradually I will be moving prior posts from my old blog to give the whole story. The journey from Alamogordo, NM to Alaska is an amazing one for me. The cause and inspiration for this journey is a very special story and the book that I will create as a result will be very special too. Please join me here and follow along on a strange and almost mythical trip --from Alamogordo to Alaska.... A desert rat finds a new realm and spirit-home in the northland! No, I will probably not move permanently but I've been there now and I will definitely be going back!

You will find me using a lot of allusions and metaphors related to the sport of sled dog racing--which is Alaska's official state sport--because that is the theme or attraction which has drawn me to this project.  Here is a selfie from my recent trip--at the Iditarod Trail Committee Headquarters in Wasilla, which to me is almost sacred ground! That purple shirt went many places with me and has a dog track or two in its flannel surface now. And my New Mexico ball cap was soon replaced by an Iditarod one!