Back to the Home Page
Archived stories and photos from my past adventures.

CLICK HERE to return to the Travel Page Menu.


A volunteer dog handler helps Cindy take her dogs from the truck.

I make friends with one of
Cindy's dogs.

As we leave Anchorage the trail crosses over a river.

Cindy relaxes in front of her truck at the re-start in Willow the next day.

Cindy about the start "for real" this time. Only 1049 miles to Nome. Her two lead dogs, Orion and Willow are raring to go!

Back at the hotel I found this map of the Iditarod race. I'm pointing to the small portion I did.

Hobo Jim is the "Ramblin' Jack" of Alaska. He sang at the banquet.


My first Idita-Rider adventure in Alaska

This badge got me in everywhere!

I've always loved dogs and recently, going to Utah every winter for the Sundance Film Festival I've made my peace with snow and cold weather. But I surprise even myself with my new-found passion for Alaska and the Iditarod sled dog race. I used to say "dog sled", but now I know better, it's a "sled dog" race. What a five days! It started with the musher luncheon on my first day, where I got to eat with Cindy Gallea from Montana, the woman I would ride with, and then later that night the Iditarod banquet was held in a huge hall. That's where the mushers learn their starting position (Cindy got 41) and Hobo Jim (Alaska's Ramblin' Jack) sang " I did…I did…I did the Iditarod trail".

The next day all the Idita-Riders got their instructions about what the safety rules are about the dogs, sitting in the sled and how to find our positions in downtown Anchorage the next day. They gave us a special patch to sew on our clothes and a special badge to wear identifying us as riders. They took us out back of the hotel and we saw a sled with its dog team up close. I got to take a 5-minute ride in it. I had brought all this cold weather gear up with me, but the next morning the sun was shining and it was warm by Alaska standards, about 35 degrees. However, just in case, I put on layers and layers, starting with silk long underwear, figuring I could always take things off. A friend has loaned me a warm down lined red parka from his Antarctica trip. When I reached 4th street in downtown Anchorage, the mushers with their sleds, trucks, dogs, handlers, friends lined both side of the street and on many of the side streets too. Being a warm winter with not much snow, tons of it were manufactured or brought in to fill up 4th Street.

It was warm for the ceremonial start on 4th Street in downtown Anchorage and I walked around without my parka.

A team heads off down 4th Street.
All that snow was brought in.

I found Cindy easily and she seemed calm amidst all the preparations and noise of hundreds of dogs barking. I watched her take the dogs out of the truck and tie them to it. She introduced me to Orion and Willow, her two lead dogs. She put on their dog booties, which are held in place with velcro. While waiting for our turn to leave, I walked up and down the street looking at all the other participants. I admired the pure bred Siberian Huskies that Karen, a musher from Canada, used as her team. They are larger and thus a bit slower, so most people no longer use them, preferring the lighter, smaller mixed-breeds, but Karen's dogs were certainly beautiful. She told me she didn't care if she came in last; she just wanted to honor the breed. Well she did come in last to Nome, and was given the honorary red lantern and she proudly finished with 15 dogs!

The street monitor advised Cindy is was time to get ready and I was put into the sled while the dogs were stretched out on a long lead in front of me, 2 on either side of a central line. I had done quite a bit of horseback riding when I was kid, so I naively thought the somehow the dogs were controlled by a sort of "dog reins". No, they are just attached to the sled and completely controlled by the voice of the musher.

After we left we quickly left town and went through beautiful trails.

Finally, it was our turn, and we went down 4th Street and waited just near to the start banner until someone gave us the sign to go. Over the crowds cheers I heard the loudspeaker announce Cindy's name and to my surprise that her Idita-Rider was June Shelley from California. And then we were off, picking up speed, the dogs could hardly contain their eagerness to go. Suddenly we had reached the end of 4th street and turned right and suddenly like a roller coaster on snow, we were flying down Cordova Hill. Hundreds of people lined the trail and cheered and clapped for Cindy, wishing her good luck. Very soon we were out of the city and going through country trails, the snow on the trees making it look like a dream world. Cindy spoke quietly to the dogs, " Good dog, Orion, good girl, Willow". She hardly needed to say "gee'" or "haw" which means right or left. It was a thrill when four times winner Rick Swenson needed to pass us on the narrow trail and Cindy slowed down the dogs and got them to hang in left while Rick passed to our right. The 12 miles passed all too soon and in about an hour we reached our destination.

Cindy gave me a set of dog booties with dog poop on them. I still have them, but I've put them outside on my balcony because the smell is still pungent.

The following day I got up early to go to Willow, which is 70 miles out of Anchorage for the real start, or the "re-start" as they call in. I still had my Idita-Rider badge and it got me in everywhere; to where the mushers were with their dogs and to the very start itself. Again, it took awhile for Cindy to go as her number 41 was still in effect. I ran down to the start after wishing her luck and took pictures as she actually left, with 1059 miles ahead of her.

All too soon I had to leave Alaska and return to Los Angeles and work at RKO. But my mind and heart were still on the trails, still with the dogs, still in Alaska. I read many books about the race. I watched the video from last year. I logged on to the official web-site every hour or so to get the latest updates, as to who was where, how long it took them to get there, how many dogs did they arrive with at that check point and how many dogs did they leave with. I wanted to be there, to wave at Cindy as she passed through, determined to make it all the way to Nome. She did, in 38th place, down to 8 dogs. You must arrive with at least 5 dogs or you do not qualify. Doug Swingley, a fellow musher from Montana came in first, for the third consecutive year.

Next year, I will go back. Only this time I intend to stay longer, fly to one of the checkpoints and be in Nome when the mushers come in, one by one.