Any man who wandered through boyhood with a dog can easily revive the sweetest parts of his past by visiting among the great sled dogs of Alaska. An Alaskan husky is just about what every boy's dog should be: furry and lovable and stoical, trusting yet skeptical, abiding in the faith that however bad today has been, there is always tomorrow—which may be even worse.
Although it has been a state for 17 years, Alaska is still a sprawling confederation of men and moose, sustained in large part by government checks and pipeline promises and loosely bound together by such modern appliances as the microwave telephone, the Bell helicopter, the Cessna 180 and the snowmobile. In the technology of the red-hot present, the sled dog is an anachronism, but not a museum piece. Like Sam Colt's simple old six-shooter, the Alaskan dog lives beyond its time because it is a very efficient and durable item.
On a good trail a modest-powered snowmobile can get 30 miles out of two gallons of gas. On an equal weight of high protein and oil, a good seven-dog team can go 70 miles in a day hauling 350 pounds and can keep going at that pace for a fortnight. When it is pegged down for the night in arctic winter, a Cessna needs a heater hung under its cowling to keep its vital parts from sticking together. The sled dog makes it through the night at minus-40° by curling into a headless, legless ball.
In extreme cold, when the body temperature of a man drops below 95°, the controls of his system begin shutting off heat to the hands and feet, surrendering the extremities to try to save the rest. Endowed differently, the sled dog suffers relatively little from frostbite. On a long haul in the worst of times, a dog may become so dehydrated that the skin of its withers, when pinched up on its back, will stick to itself. Its feet may become raw from iceballs formed between the pads and from rough mileage over ice, but usually the dog keeps going until all of it gives out. When one piston pops on a Cessna, that is it. When a snowmobile dies 40 miles from anywhere, you cannot eat the carburetor. When one dog in a team fails, the rest carry on, nourished if need be by the carcass of their brother.
The sled dog for certain has come a long hard way in the company of man, possibly accompanying him across the land bridge from Asia back in glacial times. No one really knows how long northern men and dogs have been together because the records were poorly kept, and a lot of the good early data is probably buried under 20 feet of mud in the Bering Sea. The greyhound, a distant cousin of the husky, is depicted in reasonable facsimile in 5,000-year-old carvings in the Egyptian tomb of Amten. The husky's line can also be traced back almost 4,000 years, but because it lived among men who left only occasional scrimshaw on bone and tusk, the clues as to what its ancestors looked like and how they served man are fragmentary.
In arctic cultures, when it was sometimes necessary to put feeble and aged kinfolk out in the snow as they became a burden, the dog obviously was not cultivated simply as a lovable chum. Because their skulls have been found in middens, it is speculated that early Eskimos raised dogs to eat, and considering the marginal economy of the primitive Eskimo, they probably were eaten. Whatever their worth may have been as dinner entrees or as hunters, pack animals and sled-haulers, there is little doubt that long before there was a Darwinian theory or Mendelian Law, the dogs of the north were being selectively bred by the dure process of elimination, the weak perishing, the deadbeats disposed of and the top dogs retained as working partners in the constant business of survival.
Despite its years of isolation and the fact that three separate strains are now pedigreed, the working and racing sled dog of today is more mongrel than ever. Since the coming of European man and his grab bag of canine varieties, just about everything has gotten into the husky blood. In a single good team there may be pure Siberian and Malamute, and mongrels sporting the features and pelage of half a dozen breeds: the slant eye of the wolf combined with the snout of a German shepherd; the pale blue eye of the Siberian showing in a mongrel with the lop ears and tawny coat of a retriever—all in all a mishmash of the sort that would give a genetic fanatic the fits. The most to be said with certainty along these lines about the best Alaskan huskies today is that there is probably not much Chihuahua or dachshund in any of them.
A few years back, Darrell Reynolds, an Anchorage musher, tried mixing the blood of the dingo, the fast and very smart wild dog of Australia, into his sled team. The urge to pull and keep pulling now and forever is bred into the Alaskan husky, and any good musher can tell if a mongrel rookie on his gang line has too much lazy blood in it. On irregular terrain, where the main weight of the load may shift back and forth among the tandem pairs of dogs on the gang line, if one dog is goldbricking there will be too much slack showing too often and for too long in its individual line. When Reynolds bred a dingo bitch to a pure Siberian and put one of their offspring on his team, the half dingo (fittingly named Aussie) seemed to be pulling, but was it? Having been an officer in Alaska's correctional institutions for some time, Reynolds is no dumbhead when it comes to cunning. To find out if Aussie was giving its all, Reynolds tied a cotton string to the half dingo's harness and led the string back to his position on the sled runners. By hauling lightly on the string, Reynolds could produce slack in Aussie's tug line. After only a few days at the slavish game of sledding, the half dingo had found out how to make its effort look good traveling uphill or down dale. Reynolds tried a dog of the next generation—one-quarter dingo—and discovered he still had too much gold-bricking brains on the line.
Bill Vaudrin, a half Cree-Chippewa musher born and raised in Akron, Ohio, got several of the mongrel dingoes bred by Reynolds and lent one to a trapper in southwestern Alaska who found it to be a dandy moose dog. Using its dingo smarts, the borrowed mongrel would set out of a morning, find a moose and herd it back within easy rifle range of the trapper's door. (Since bagging moose in such a fashion is unsporting and a definite no-no in the eyes of game wardens, the names of the trapper and mongrel are being withheld until the statute of limitations runs out for them.)
Despite the explicit function bred into it, the Alaskan husky is still all dog, lusty and rambunctious. After 40 miles in sweltering subarctic weather—say, 25° above—a sled dog may sprawl out on the snow limp as a rag doll, but his libido is unaffected. Many a fine sled-dog litter has been conceived because a musher bedding down his exhausted team left slack in the picket line, allowing boys and girls to mingle. In such impromptu get-togethers there are often more boys than girls, and that is why quite a few sled dogs have scarred muzzles and tattered ears.
The sled dog is, in racing terms, a router. Distance is its bag. A thoroughbred horse prepping for a stakes race rarely works out more than 15 miles a week, easily galloping, breezing or blowing. A sled team often runs that far the day before a race simply to get to the starting line. Without a doubt, in a quarter-mile sprint against a greyhound and a thoroughbred, the sled dog would come in last. The fastest of them probably cannot hit 33 miles an hour unhampered by a sled, whereas a thoroughbred with a human on its back exceeds 40, and greyhounds do about 38.
But as the distance lengthens, the greyhound and horse come back to the husky. Since any sled race less than six miles is considered appropriate only for three-dog teams driven by kids, there are few meaningful sled-dog clockings for the runty distances that greyhounds and horses travel. However, in the annual North American Championships in Fairbanks, any dog team that cannot hit 20 miles an hour for the first four miles of the opening heat and average 16 for the whole 70 miles has little chance.
Beyond 25 miles, strictly on a power-to-weight ratio, the sled dogs are certain winners. At 50 miles, as best one can extrapolate from the few clockings available, a thoroughbred carrying a jockey about 1/10th its weight can average about 12 miles an hour. Dog teams totaling about half the weight of a horse and hauling twice as much have gone 65 miles at the same speed. The best clocking of certain record for a horse for 100 miles is 11 hours, four minutes. Two years ago a dog team mushed by Joe Redington Jr., of Knik, Alaska, covered 120 miles in 11 hours and two minutes.
Nearly 70 years ago, when placer gold was plentiful and worth sluicing at $20.67 an ounce, Nome, the Sodom of the north, staged an annual sled race called the All Alaska Sweepstakes. The course meandered from Front Street in the heart of sprawling Nome to the lesser mining town of Candle on the arctic side of the Seward Peninsula—408 miles round trip over Godforsaken terrain that brought out the best in sled teams and the worst in some of their backers. Toward the end of the 1909 race, pistol-packing patrons of the sport reportedly persuaded a musher driving imported Siberian huskies not to improve his third-place position. The following year somebody moved some of the trail markers. In the 1915 race somebody left a coat studded with porcupine quills under new snow on the trail.
Despite the hanky-panky, the All Alaska Sweepstakes had two worthy effects. For one, it gave the people of bibulous Nome something other than alcohol to think about in the winter. (Even today, when race fever has the town, a sure way to empty a Nome bar is to yell through the door, "Dog team on Front Street.") The Sweepstakes also improved the breed. The Siberian huskies in the 1909 race were the first in Alaska, and whether their third place was enforced or not, they were so impressive that three more teams were imported for the next go-around.
From the loose old Nome days until recently, sled-dog competition was confined largely to shorter stints. The world championship staged annually in Anchorage consists of three 25-mile heats on consecutive days; the annual North American in Fairbanks has two 20-milers and a 30-miler. Three years ago, as a result of general enthusiasm and an all-out effort by a select few, a marathon event was born equal to the heroic proportions of the state. The race, a 1,150-mile gut-buster that starts in Anchorage and finishes in Nome, is worthy of the best Alaskans, men, women and dogs, but it is oddly named. From a promotional point of view it might have been called the New Alaska Sweepstakes or possibly the Yukon Marathon, since 140 miles of the course runs on the frozen back of the big river. It is called instead the Iditarod Trail Race, although probably not one in five Alaskans knows what Iditarod is or ever was.
Iditarod today is an obsolete dot on the map, situated on a winding tributary of a winding tributary of the winding Yukon. In the early 1900s Iditarod boomed briefly as a gold town and died without a whimper, barely known. Its name lingers only because it was once a central point on the long dog-sled trail that in winter connected icebound Nome with the ice-free port of Seward in southern Alaska. The Iditarod race was conceived and named for an abandoned trail through a dead town because nine years ago Dorothy Page, secretary of the Aurora Dog Mushers in the almost dead town of Knik, thought there should be a special sled race in 1967, the centennial of the Alaska Purchase. As a test of man and dog, the Iditarod race of 1967 was the usual modern "sprint" affair: two 25-mile heats run a short way over the historic trail. But the purse offered, $25,000, was more than twice that of the world championship and attracted twice as many competitors. The Iditarod race might have ended as a costly, one-shot affair except that the management of it passed to a transplanted Oklahoman named Joe Redington Sr., who in his years has more than adequately proved that anything he gets into is apt to get out of hand.
Redington, now known as the father of the Iditarod race, was born and bred a gypsy. Tagging after a father who off and on was a farmer, cattleman, roustabout, hunting guide and basketmaker, Redington spent some of his boyhood in the seamy parts of big cities and more of it in little towns like Kingfisher, Okla., Kintnersville, Pa. and Spearman, Texas. During World War II, when almost everybody settled down to his assigned task, Redington was as much a gypsy as ever. He started in the horse artillery, then got into a motorized unit, later became a flying sergeant and after that a paratrooper. From that lofty pinnacle he sidestepped into airborne artillery and finally saw action on le Shima at ground zero in a heavy tank battalion.
During his boyhood Redington had many plain dogs, most of them named Pal. After the war, when he headed for Alaska with the usual dreams of an outsider, he had six sheepdogs with him, but as soon as he crossed the Canadian border he started collecting hand-me-down huskies, notably a bitch named Dodger that straightaway dropped 11 pups. To help make his way at first in Alaska, Redington winked slightly at the provisions of the G.I. Bill, which allowed $100 a month to any homesteading ex-serviceman who owned livestock and attended a husbandry course. Although 46 dogs were his total stock, Redington dutifully went to husbandry class and ended up leading it in one test. When asked to bring in milk from one of his dairy cows for evaluation, Redington turned in a sample from a bitch that had recently littered. Since the nutrient solids in canine milk exceed what any prize cow puts out, Redington won the protein and butterfat competitions going away.
In the 1950s, of all Redington's odd jobs, the one of most pertinence today was a search for a section of the old Iditarod Trail, which the military wanted to reactivate. Disregarding 50-year-old maps and often dog-sledding less than a mile a day through second growth, Redington and an Army crew were able to retrace more than 100 miles of the old trail by blazes still showing after half a century. Redington kept a daily log on every dog he owned and mushed. By 1961, when he eased up on his bookkeeping because it was crowding his living space, the total number of dogs was more than 2,400. "I just naturally like dogs," he said.
It was Redington who insisted that the 1967 Iditarod race should have a whopping $25,000 purse, befitting the centennial. To assure it, he offered a sliver of his homestead to raise $10,000 and mortgaged the balance to get $15,000 more—and would have been foreclosed if the state had not bailed him out. Although he was almost bagged on the first go, Redington kept campaigning for an endurance race on the old Iditarod Trail. In the early 1970s, at get-togethers, he proposed a round-trip race over the section of trail between the dying town of Knik and the totally dead town of Iditarod—distance, 800 miles; purse, $50,000. Many mushing enthusiasts demurred, logically because such an epic event should begin in a big city like Anchorage, not in Knik, and because Iditarod at the far end was an unheard-of, nowhere place, not likely to ring a bell, and certainly not a bell on anybody's cash register. "All right, we won't stop at Iditarod," Redington replied to doubters. "You have all heard of Nome, and you know where Nome is. We will go all the way to Nome." And so it was that the 1,150-mile ordeal from Anchorage to Nome originated and has survived, although nobody connected with the business end of it has ever been too sure where the next dollar was coming from. Colonel Marvin (Muktuk) Marston, who in the crisis years of World War II mushed more than a thousand miles organizing Alaska's first home guard, kicked in $10,000 for the first race. Bruce Kendall, a hotel proprietor and part-time politician, signed a note for $30,000. A mushing schoolteacher, Dan Seavey from the Kenai, turned back half of the $6,000 he won for third place in the 1973 Iditarod race to keep the affair going. El Paso Alaska, a natural-gas company, put $15,000 into the second race. More than $15,000 was raised by bingo and a lottery based on the time of the first finisher. Atlantic Richfield, one of the companies with a stake in the Alaska pipeline, spent more than $70,000 for the third race.
The Iditarod Trail Race became an instant classic because of the public spirit of titans and plain folks, and it will survive only for that reason. There is no other major sporting event staged anywhere in a setting more spectacular than that of the Iditarod, nor any so perfectly designed not to break even at the turnstiles. Any concessionaire thinking to turn a few bucks parking cars or selling hot dogs along the Iditarod Trail should forget it. A cafe in Knik, which serves as the first checkpoint 60 miles from the starting line in Anchorage, does a good business from spectators as the teams pass through, but once the mushers leave Knik, they virtually leave the human race. Susitna Station, the next checkpoint 38 miles from Knik, has a standing population of 20, and so does Skwentna, the third checkpoint 45 miles farther along. At the Finger Lake checkpoint 193 miles from Anchorage the population is two: Gene Leonard and his wife June. Forty miles farther, where the trail passes into the first steep rises of the Alaska Range at Puntilla Lake, the population jumps to three because Allan and Ann Budzynski now have a kid. Three hundred and six miles from Anchorage at Rohn Road-house, beyond the windy horrors of Hell Gate in the middle of the Alaska Range, there is usually nobody (and no longer a roadhouse).
Counting the 581 people in the big town of Galena on the Yukon and the 271 in McGrath on the Kuskokwim River and every Athabascan Indian in the river towns of Ruby, Nulato, Koyukuk and Kaltag, and counting also Tex Gates, who is the total population of Bear Creek, and adding to that number every sober and` half-sober citizen in the supposedly dry town of Unalakleet, and every Eskimo, half Eskimo and half-frozen European in Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Golovin and the other towns lying on the barren grounds westward to the Bering Sea—all told there are not quite 4,000 people living along the resurrected Iditarod Trail between greater Anchorage and distant Nome.
Although it does not pass within 100 miles of most Alaskans, the race ties the state together emotionally and in fact. Some of the mushers who compete in the Iditarod, like some of their dogs, are pure-blood—Eskimo, Athabascan or European. Others are one-half this and a quarter that. The teams come from over by the Canadian border and the Kenai and the Eskimo lands of the north and far west, from half a dozen small towns outside Anchorage, from the Susitna drainage, and from a dozen Athabascan towns on the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Koyukuk and Tanana rivers. The first race in 1973 was won by Richard Wilmarth, a white miner from Red Devil, who had not mushed for 10 years. The second race was won by Carl Huntington, a three-quarters Athabascan originally from the Koyukuk; the third by Emmitt Peters, a‚Öû ths Athabascan from Ruby on the Yukon. The musher who has compiled the best record over three years—a fifth, a third and a fourth—is Herbie Nayokpuk, an Eskimo from Shishmaref on the Chukchi Sea.
The best performer, man or beast, in the three marathons to date is a 9-year-old mongrel named Nugget, a small winsome bitch that is some part husky and God knows what else. Nugget was the lead dog of the winning team in 1974, racing admirably for Huntington except for one three-mile scamper off the trail after a moose. Last year, leading the team mushed by her proper owner, Peters, this wonder bitch of the far north was again first over the line, averaging 79 miles a day for 14½ days. Peters had started out with Nugget and 11 other dogs, five of which were her offspring from two litters. He dropped four tired dogs in the first 350 miles and another with a cut foot at Solomon on the Seward Peninsula. Somewhere in the last 200 miles Nugget became pregnant again. Despite her motherly condition and a tumor on one breast, she was strong across the finish line, still leading her five offspring and a plodding wheel dog named Pete. You most assuredly do not get that kind of gritty, family togetherness in highfalutin horse racing.
From long day to long day on the trail, a musher does not know what trouble may assail him. Sometimes it is the obvious: foul weather with winds over 40 knots that drive the snow horizontally, wiping out the trail and pushing the chill factor down to minus-120°. It can be pneumonia in the musher's lungs or diarrhea in his dogs. Fatigue often turns the ordeal into wry comedy. Ken Chase, a musher from Anvik, remembers the weary fumbling of Rayme Redington, second eldest son of the founder, in the middle of the 1974 race. "When he camped near me," Chase says, "Rayme was trying to put pine tar on his dogs' feet, but he was so groggy he was getting it all over the dogs and more of it on himself. If I had thrown a bag of feathers at him, he would have looked like a turkey." In 1975, as musher Darrell Reynolds moved through the night, in the light of his lamp the gaunt spruce crowding the trail began to look like beautiful women, so much so that he gave a few a cordial pat on the bumps, as gallant Italians are wont to do to the fair sex. The record for frustrated slumber en route belongs without question to Alan Perry, an Anchorage musher who literally ran behind his dogs more than a third of the way. While riding the runners over one 40-mile stretch between Farewell and Salmon River, Perry fell asleep six times, on each occasion tipping his sled over and awakening in deep powder.
A musher's bugaboo on a given day may be the work of God or an illusion of his own tired mind. On other days it may come in very real form, as a wolf, or much more likely as a moose or a human idiot on a snow machine. Two lead dogs owned by Sandy Hamilton of Allakaket on the Koyukuk never made it to the start of the 1975 race because a rogue wolf snatched them off the picket line back home. In 1974, on the night of his 27th day out of Anchorage, Tim White of Minnesota (the only musher from the lower 48 states to compete in the Iditarod) was a cinch to finish 20th, the last money place, until a snowmobiler boiling along the shelf ice of the Bering Sea just 18 miles from Nome struck him from behind, cutting up his legs and injuring his wheel dog. The race committee voted to award White 20th place although he was carried the last 18 miles.
In the Firecracker 400 or the Stink-bomb 200 or any stock-car classic, when Richard Petty and David Pearson have been dicing along barely a rumpled car-body apart, have they ever gotten the yellow flag because a stray cow was on the track? Never. In the Iditarod race the moose is forever blundering onstage. Tired of wandering belly-deep in snow, moose often get on the sled trail and punch holes through the crust deep enough to trip a dog. In the 1975 race, within 14 miles of the starting line two moose leapt right over dog teams, creating a furor and a nasty tangle. Two days later and 120 miles farther along, the four leading teams were held up more than half an hour because a truculent moose would not let them pass.
Since it is the sort of prolonged misery that requires a plastic imagination, after only three years the Iditarod race is already rich in lore. An exorbitant part of the saga now circulating in and outside Alaska involves a lead dog named Fat Albert, a bushy-tailed, luxuriously coated Siberian-Malamute that has done for the Iditarod pretty much what Babe Ruth did for Ruppert's stadium in the Bronx. The world loves imperfect heroes. It matters not whether the Babe ever pointed to center field and sent the next pitch that way. The vision of him taking a swat, then mini-stepping around the bases on skittle legs with some of his stomach hanging over his belt is memory enough. Like the Babe, Fat Albert is a Rabelaisian figure with a lot of clout.
Fat Albert's march to fame began before the first race when his owner, Rod Perry (brother of the Perry who holds the Iditarod record for falling off a sled), was working his team on a small course in Anchorage. On a day when Fat Albert was riding on the front of the sled because of a hurt paw, a veteran musher, Orville Lake, who serves as a radio commentator at many mushy events, pointed at the couchant dog and asked, "What is that?"
"That is Fat Albert, my lead dog," Perry replied.
"Well, where you have him at the moment," Lake said, "he looks more like an overweight hood ornament." Titillated by his name, newscasters gave Perry's lead dog a big play, one of them urging listeners to ship plastic fireplugs up the Iditarod Trail because Fat Albert was too sophisticated to use rural facilities. The National Observer, an astute journal that records the joyful happenings of the world without neglecting the horrors, adopted Fat Albert. To touch the hearts of readers across the U.S., the newspaper needed only to tell it as it was. In the 1973 and 1974 races, Fat Albert was a smart leader, a great trailbreaker and plugger who could not be headed by the worst winds, but he was also a ham and a boulevardier, a lover of people and city lights. In this bed of truth the legends about him sprouted and keep growing. As they now are told, Fat Albert rode most of the way to Nome in both races and was put in lead harness only 10 or 15 miles outside of each town; at the first scent of habitation or loom of light in the night sky, he would charge forward at 15 miles an hour. In truth, Fat Albert footed it all the way in 1974. He did ride about 100 miles early in the first race after he was bitten by a teammate in a fight over a bitch named Ieta.
At the Last Chance Bar on the Yukon, when a drunk tried to steal Perry's sled to chase a rival who had stolen his girl, Fat Albert did not—as the story usually goes—drive the thief away. Nor was he palsy with the filcher while he was dumping Perry's gear off the sled, as others claim. Fat Albert maintained a neutral stance throughout the contretemps at the Last Chance Bar. Furthermore, in the 1974 race when Perry fell asleep on the runners, Fat Albert did not turn the team around and lead them back 30 miles to the bright lights of the town of White Mountain. He was only 15 miles out when he turned around and headed back to town.
Because of newscasts, the lore of Fat Albert preceded him along the trail. When Perry was five miles out of Golovin on Norton Sound, he could have sworn he heard the constant, distant crying of seabirds. It turned out to be all the children of Golovin waiting for their favorite Iditarod dog on high ground above the ice, whistling and chanting, "Fat Albert. Fat Albert." At Kaltag on the Yukon two years ago Fat Albert was allowed to sleep in a cabin with Perry so the children would not pester him. When Perry awoke once in the night, there were a dozen adults hovering around Fat Albert. When he next awoke, a number of the adults were doing a dance in the dog's honor.
The children of Kaltag asked Perry to have Fat Albert kill a mean dog named Cinders owned by Tom Mercer, a musher from Talkeetna. Perry told the kids it was against the rules of the race, but that once across the finish line, Fat Albert would certainly let Cinders have it. As it turned out, it was Fat Albert who almost got it in Nome. As the tale now runs in its richest form, when Perry was within 100 yards of the finish line at 3:30 in the morning, a taxicab coming out of a side street broadsided Fat Albert, the impact throwing the driver from his machine and leaving Fat Albert on his back with four feet straight up in the air. Actually the collision occurred about 250 yards from the finish, and Fat Albert was not broadsided by the cab. He was hit head on in such a clean fashion that both he and his co-leader, Shorty, and the pair of dogs behind them disappeared under the taxi as if sucked up by a large vacuum cleaner.
No matter at what hour a sled team arrives, Nome usually has officials out to greet it. Probably because he was traveling without a light, Perry had been missed in the wee hours by the spotters several miles out of town. Since none of his team seemed more than shaken up by the collision, after giving the cab driver the what-for, Perry mushed on across the finish line and started to bed down in the middle of Front Street. His only greeter in the next 20 minutes was a drunk who came wandering along and wanted to know if Fat Albert and his cohorts were sled dogs. "No," Perry replied. "They are a new kind of giraffe."
In the 1974 Iditarod race 15 dogs died. Two were shot by a musher to ensure getting the rest of the team through a bad ground storm. Two died of causes that could have taken them at any time. The other deaths can be written off—but not excused—as a consequence involving God and man: four days of the worst weather in the Alaska Range and an inadequate number of stations where mushers could drop off doubtful and ailing dogs. In the 1975 race 39 mushers and 508 dogs took off for Nome. Twenty-five mushers and 188 dogs went all the way. A large number of the non-finishers quit as team units, but a bush pilot, Larry Thompson, picked up 120 dogs dropped at 18 checkpoints on the trail, flying them homeward or to stops where commercial liners could carry them on. In 1975 every musher was required to make at least one 24-hour layover, and there were 10 veterinarians posted on the trail to counsel mushers and to hold any dog they thought unfit. Five dogs died, one freakishly, the other four certainly as a consequence of the tough conditions—considerable improvement over the preceding year but not enough to satisfy some strident dog lovers.
As long as any husky dies at it, there will be some who want the mushing game abolished. Such well-meant tenderness, of course, only hurts sled dogs in the long run. Historically they are dogs of purpose. Abolish their rough trade and they all sit on the edge of oblivion. At a civic meeting a few years back a lady told Joe Redington Sr. that she was going to have all racing stopped. In his usual easy way, Redington said, "Madam, you just condemned about 1,000 of a beautiful kind of dog to death."
The husky, like any other decent dog or man, needs protection today from the self-appointed pure in heart who storm around the world making it a better place for everybody to live in—their way. All a husky really needs to prosper in its customary style is the fellowship of men and women, and other dogs game enough to travel with it through the miseries of an Alaskan winter.
They bounded away from Anchorage (left), and after weeks of tough sledding, the winners were Emmitt Peters and lead dog Nugget.
Out on the trail, a snooze in the snowbank.