When my mother first told me that she was training to run the Iditarod, I have to admit my first thought was why??
Why run the Iditarod? Why spend so much time and so much effort, and a whole lot of money, to do this thing that to me seems kinda masochistic and downright dangerous… Iditarod competitors battle through over 1,000 miles of perilous terrain, with steep mountain climbs, treacherous drops, glaciers, threatening moose and wolves, deep snow, slick ice… and all of this under extreme sleep deprivation. Iditarod racers stand on the back of a sled all day for hours n hours and then sleep on a bed of hay outside in sub zero temperatures only to wake up and do it all again and again for up to about two weeks.
A photo of my mother from Iditarod 2013
To me this sounded like a torturous way to spend time. So why? I didn’t get it. But I wanted to understand, there must be something to this driving desire to make the trek despite the hardships.
It is only after getting to Alaska and having a chat with Bob Chlupach, my mother’s boyfriend and long time musher that I’ve begun to understand the intrigue and passion for this race. Bob’s first Iditarod race was in 1977. He came to Alaska to fish after graduating from college and first became familiar with dog sledding through sporting magazines. It peaked his interest.
Bob Chlupach (Photo courtesy of Alaskadispatch.com)
When I asked him how he came to be a musher, a subtle smile highlighted his face “First I got three dogs, then five, then fifteen… You just get the bug.”
"What do you love about it? I asked, and he paused and that smile returned with a sparkle in his eye as he explained to me, "When you’re out on that trail, all the world’s problems disappear, it’s like a brain cleansing. Every day seems extra fresh and new and you get to deal with all the dogs and their unique personalities.
Dog sled teams are usually made up of 14-16 dogs. (Photo courtesty of Iditarodtours.com)
When I’m out on the trail, I often wonder who the people were who first ran it and how close i am to stepping in the same footprints as they did so long ago. It’s hard to describe, but you almost feel a link to those people. I guess in some ways i hope that a lot of the drivers today carry that same spirit from when it first began.”
He continued, “not to sound kooky or anything… but I feel that there’s a whole spiritual world that we’re not functioning with…”
Now my interest was really peaked. Yes, this can make sense to me. I am always interested in hearing about ways that people find to connect to the mysterious world beyond our known physical reality.
"Please tell me more," I asked.
(To be continued)