It’s been a few days since I’ve checked in…
Monday was filled with meetings and making plans to make sure that the teachers who were arriving in town for the conference would be well cared for! Monday evening kicked off the conference with an opening reception. Tuesday was filled with presentations (I did two!) that filled teachers ideas about how to integrate Iditarod into their classrooms.
Tuesday evening I got to catch up with Nathan Schroeder. He came into town with his handler Nick, and we spent a few hours talking. He has really been enjoying his time here in Anchorage. He and Nick have been running the trails around Willow. He’s falling more and more in love with the land and the area, he kept talking about how beautiful it is. He’s having a great time running and being with his dogs. He seems calm, focused, and ready to go. I have a feeling he’s in for a great race.
Wednesday was a big day for the Teacher Conference – it was Field Trip Day!
We started off at Headquarters where lots of mushers were in for their vet checks. All of the dogs have to go through an extensive pre-race battery of tests: ekgs, blood work, and physical examination. During the physical exam, the dogs have their microchips checked and then get a hands on exam that follows the acronym HAW-L – heart, attitude and appetite, weight, and lungs. All of the vets are volunteers! They do an amazing job and sign off that each dog is ready and able to hit the trail.
It was sooooooo cold at Vet Checks! With the wind chill it was about -11 I heard. It was so windy the wind was howling and shaking the trees. There was so much snow. It was really something! It’s definitely a change from the last few years. It brought back memories of standing in Nome in 2014 with the wind whipping off the Bering Sea Coast!
After a stop for lunch at the beautiful Settler’s Bay, we headed to Matthew Failor’s home and kennel. We actually beat Matt home as he was at Vet Checks first… but we were greeted by his family and Michael Baker who is running a team from his kennel. After waiting a few minutes and taking a peek at Denali, which was a clear and stunning look from Matt’s deck, the dog truck pulled up.
Matt’s dog truck is a tad different than most trucks. The dog boxes are internal. It’s like a big trailer that you open the doors and walk into. So when the truck pulled up into the yard, Matt opened the back door and then let a few dogs out. They ran around the yard and checked in with their buddies and then headed over to their house and waited to get hooked up. A few got off track and distracted by the bus load of teachers standing around watching, but they all managed to find their way home. Then the whole process started over again with a few more dogs. It was pretty amazing to see how happy and excited the dogs were.
Matt gave us a quick talk about the dogs and how they are trained and socialized. Matt and his dogs work year round. In the summer they go to a glacier near Juneau to run tours and then in the winter they come home to Willow and train and run races. Matt told me that he doesn’t mind the move to Fairbanks for the start. He’d rather do the regular route because he likes the challenge of the Gorge and the Steps, but he’s okay with the move. He does, however, feel badly for his partner, Michael Baker, who is running a team from his kennel this year. He’s disappointed because this may be Michael’s one and only chance to run the race and it’s not going to be the traditional run. But Matthew assures me they are both ready to hit the trail!
We went into the garage, and Michael showed us their sleds and gear that is getting ready to be packed up. The two of them make all their own gear: they built their sleds, make their gang lines, etc. They are each pulling a sled behind them. With the new rules, they can not carry dogs or mandatory gear behind them, but they can carry straw etc.
One of the highlights of the trip was that as we were ready to leave, Matthew hooked up a team and we got a chance to see just how excited the dogs are to get the chance to run. When the team headed out down the trail the rest of the dogs in the kennel gave a howl to send them off. It made my heart skip a beat!