It is so much fun to see the “fan mail” pour in from students around the country studying Iditarod, and using aspects of the race to learn math, science, writing, reading, etc. I have combined their questions and my answers from this year’s batch of letters to share with everyone. I have also included some beautiful art by Natalie, Mia, Madeleine, James, Kate and Lindsay.
ENJOY! … and thank you to all the students and teachers who cheered us on!!!!!
1. How many dogs do you have? I have 25 race dogs, and one “couch dog”.
2. What dogs were on your team this year? How many boys? girls?
Mr. Paws, Tricky Mini, Paunch, Molly, Zumi, Zsa Zsa, Zephyr, Yama, Yashi-No-Mi, Jesse, Pixie, Fairy, Troll and Lil Bear. (6 boys, 8 girls)
4. How many races do you normally do a year? I have run 1-4 races per year since I started racing in 2013.
5. How long were you racing before you decided to do Iditarod? Actually, I learned to race so I could do Iditarod. I said “I want to run Iditarod someday” before I ever drove dogs.
6. Do you know about Balto? Yes, I do know about Balto, and I posed with his statue in New York City.
7. Did you have an emergency (during the race)? The closest thing to an emergency was when trying to drive my sled around big puddles of overflow (do you know what that is?) on the Yukon River, I fell off my sled. I had to chase after my sled and dogs. Eventually, they tipped the sled over while going through a really big overflow puddle. Fortunately, my musher friend, Anja, was behind me with her team, and they followed my team until my team got stuck. She waited with my team until I caught up. I had to walk for a while to find them. Nobody got hurt, and my sled didn’t get broken.
8. What did you and your dogs eat (during the race)? We pack food in our drop bags for both ourselves and our dogs. Our drops bags get shipped out to checkpoints 2-3 weeks before the race.
a. The dogs mostly eat RedPaw kibble, salmon, trout, beef, ground chicken and chicken skins
b. I ate many baked goods (cookies, power bars, power balls), as well as meals that were cooked and then frozen ahead of time. Some of those meals were spaghetti, cabbage rolls, sausage soup, bacon and bean casserole. Sometimes there was also food at check points for us.
9. What type of breed are your dogs? They are all Alaskan Huskies
10. What’s it like to be in the Iditarod? It is definitely a gift to be able to be part of Iditarod… to explore 1000 miles of incredible landscape with 14 of my favorite furry friends. It is a lot of hard work, especially this year, but I am grateful to have participated in and completed the race.
11. What’s it like to ride on one of those fancy sleds? They are pretty fancy, aren’t they? It is quite convenient and simple to have everything I need packed up in my sled. Also, I like that I can sit down sometimes. Sitting down gives my legs and back a rest.
12. Do you fall a lot? During this Iditarod, I fell A LOT -- more than I’ve ever fallen in my whole mushing career. Most of the time I didn’t get hurt. It was kind of funny, and my dogs would turn around and look at me, “Mama, this would be so much easier if you just kept standing on your sled.” LOL!
13. What’s the worst injury you’ve gotten on the trail? I broke two bones in my wrist during the Copper Basin 300 in 2015, and I hurt my foot (maybe broke it) during the Kusko 300 in 2016. Fortunately, during this race I did not hurt myself.
14. How do you remember all of your dogs’ names? They all look different and have different personalities. Also, I named most of them. I only have 26 dogs, so it’s easy.
15. What is your favorite thing about racing? As you probably noticed, I’m not very competitive. I participate in races because I enjoy being out in nature with my dogs, meeting new people, interacting with other mushers/friends and exploring new places.
16. How long do you think you will be racing? Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t have plans to race 2019-2020. I plan to train the dogs and take them on short adventures within Alaska, as well as share the mushing experience with friends and the children I work with. You can check back on my FB page or www to see if I change my mind.😉
17. I was wondering how you feel during the races, like are you scared, nervous, excited? Before the race, I get excited and anxious. During the race, I usually feel pretty calm. I did get very tired during this year’s race because I spent a lot of time trying to dry out my gear, instead of sleeping. I was happy, relieved and excited to reach the finish line in Nome on March 17th!
18. Who is your lead dog? I had many dogs that could run in lead in my team this year. The dogs that ran in lead the most were Mr. Paws, Tricky Mini, Zsa Zsa and Lil Bear. Molly, Zumi, Zephyr, Pixie and Troll ran in lead some too.
19. How do you feel when you crossed the finish line? I was relieved, happy and proud.
20. Do you have any friends who are also mushers? Yes, I have quite a few friends that are mushers. One of my good friends, Anja Radano, ran the race this year. Our teams ran near each other some and camped together a couple times, which was really nice. W
21. Wondering why you decided to be a musher? I love animals, nature and exploring new places. With dog mushing, I get to enjoy all three at the same time.
22. How old were you when you started? I was about 34 the first time I was on a dog sled. I started my dog team in 2011, when I was 37.
23. What are your dogs’ names (and ages)? The dogs on my Iditarod team this year were: Mr. Paws (5 years old), Tricky Mini (5), Paunch (5), Molly (5), Zumi (8), Zsa Zsa (2), Zephyr (2), Yama (8), Yashi-No-Mi (8), Jesse (2), Pixie (3), Fairy (3), Troll (3) and Lil Bear (3); (6 boys, 8 girls)
24. Which checkpoints had food for you and what was it? The checkpoints with food that was the most memorable were:
a. Takotna – lots of pie and cheeseburgers
b. Eagle Island – grilled ham and cheese sandwich
c. Unalakleet – sourdough pancakes and bacon
25. What snacks did you bring for yourself to eat on the trail? Many friends made food and snacks for my race: ginger molasses cookies, energy cookies, energy balls, power bars, chicken salad, spaghetti, bacon and bean casserole, cabbage rolls, sausage soup, moose teriyaki sticks, salami, cheese, Pete’s Treats (truffles), Reese’s peanut butter hearts, wintergreen mints, minty gum, trail mix, ginger candy, etc.
26. What was the most fun part of the Iditarod for you? My mom, dad, sister, two uncles, aunt and one of my best friends flew up for the start of the race. That was VERY special and really fun! The next most fun part was crossing the finish line.
27. What part of the trail did you find the hardest? Why? The section between Elim and White Mountain was the hardest for us this year. It was warm. The snow was soft. The trail required climbing a lot of hills. The dogs and I were tired. We took a long nap in the middle of that section of the trail, and then we were ready to go again. We were confused about where we were on the trail (not lost), and thought we had longer to go than we did. We were pleasantly surprised our final stretch of trail to White Mountain was shorter than we realized.
28. How long did it take you to finish the race? We are proud to have finished the race. It was an exceptionally hard race this year! It took us 14 days and 5 hours.
29. How did you lose 4 dogs? During the race, we are allowed to return dogs that are tired, hurt or sick. I did not lose the dogs, but I did have to return 4 dogs. Yashi-No-Mi was tired. Jesse stubbed his toe. Zsa Zsa and Zephyr had a sore shoulder. They all got checked by a veterinarian, loaded on an airplane, and returned to Bacon’s Acres in Big Lake, Alaska (where we live).
30. Are your dogs better? They are all doing great! They are enjoying summer. Their favorite thing to do in the summer is run loose by the pond.
31. Was the Iditarod hard or not? This was my third time doing Iditarod. I finished the race in 2016, 2017 and 2019. This time was the hardest! This race took me the longest: 14+ days
32. How can you enter the race? First you have to learn how to mush. And then, you enter “qualifying races”. These are 150 – 440-mile races that allow you to practice your mushing and outdoor skills during a shorter race. You have to satisfactorily finish one at least 150-200 mile race, as well as two races that are 300 or more miles long before you can enter the Iditarod. You also have to get a written recommendation from an Iditarod musher.
33. How do you train your dogs? We train our dogs using a 4wheeler/ATV (sometimes a small truck), as well as a sled. With all these pieces of equipment, we hook the dogs to the front. We use the brakes to regulate speed. I train my dogs to run about 8.5-9 mph.
35. Was volunteering for Iditarod fun? Yes! It is fun to meet new people, and help the mushers. I worked at the Skwentna checkpoint. I cooked, cleaned, served food, as well as helped with return dogs.
36. How many hours do you actually race? This year it took me 14 days and 5 hours… can you calculate how many hours that is?
37. What do you do during breaks on the trail? During breaks on the trail we take off the dogs’ booties, feed the dogs, snack the dogs, give the dogs medicine, make the dogs a bed of straw, stretch and massage the dogs, heat water to thaw the dog meat (and our frozen meals and drinks), dry our gear, clean out and organize our sled, eat, go to the bathroom… and rest. We may check on the weather and trail conditions ahead, visit with old and new friends, see where other racers are on the GPS screen. After we wake up from a short nap, we feed the dogs again, put their booties back on, pack up our sled, put all our gear on, and then check out of the checkpoint.
38. What do you think is the most challenging or scary part of the Iditarod? This year the hardest part of the trail for us was the warm weather and soft snow during the hilly sections of the trail. The dogs and I got tired. I was not scared during the race. It was just hard and tiring.
39. How long do you train before the race? We started training for this race season in August 2018. The dogs ran about 3000 miles in training before the start of Iditarod.
40. How many times do you feed your dogs during the race? I snack and water my dogs every two hours while we are on the trail. If we are resting, I feed and water them every 5-6 hours, if we are resting.
41. What is their favorite thing to eat while racing? Different dogs have different favorite snacks. And sometimes, depending on the weather, a dog’s favorite snack will change. We offer snacks like: salmon, trout, chicken skins, ground chicken, beef, beef fat, etc
42. What do you do to keep yourself entertained while you are on the trail? I watch the dogs / watch they are running. I watch the trail / look for changing conditions. I admire the scenery. I think about what I need to do at the next checkpoint. I eat snacks and drink hydrating beverages, if the trail is smooth enough. Sometimes I sit down on the back part of my sled to let my legs and back muscles rest.
43. How long have you been sled dog racing? I ran my first sled dog race (a short one) in 2013. I ran my first Iditarod in 2016.
44. Do you have kids? I do not have any human kids of my own. I have 26 sled dogs. They are kind of like my children, as I need to take care of them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I also work as a pediatric physical therapist. I help kids get stronger so they can play, eat and participate at home and school easier.
45. Do you like snowy weather? Yes! The dogs love it too.
46. Are you hot or cold when you are in the Iditarod? This year my race was 14+ days long. During the race there were times when I was hot and cold and just right. We have really good gear to keep us warm when it’s cold; however, sometimes we get sweaty if we have to run up hills or get our sled back on the trail if we crash/get lost/get stuck in overflow. Once we get sweaty, sometimes it is hard to get warm until we have a chance to change our inner layer of clothes. Also, my boots got wet crossing creeks early in the race . I had a hard time getting them dried out. Having wet boots made it harder to keep my feet warm, and also my the skin on my feet sore.
47. Do you eat breakfast? I do. My favorite breakfast during Iditarod was served in Unalakleet: sourdough pancakes and bacon – yum!!
49. Do you have bandages if you get hurt? Yes, I carry a first-aid kit in my sled.
50. How did you get into the sport? When I first moved to Alaska, a doctor who ran Iditarod in 1979, but still had a small team in 1999 asked me to watch his dog team while he went to Hawaii with his wife. That was the first time I met sled dogs. He took me for my first dog sled ride in Anchorage, Alaska. I started my team in 2011.
51. What is your favorite dog’s name? Tricky is my best buddy. He lives indoor, rides in the truck with me, etc. My favorite racing dog is Zumi. She has run and finished every race she started with me. She likes to come in the house, go for walks, sleep in my bed, chew on bones. She also gives the best nuzzle hugs. She does not like to swim or play with toys.
52. Do you like jokes? Yes, I like funny jokes. I love to laugh!
53. Did you almost die? No. I was never in danger of dying during the race.
54. Do you have a good sled? Yes, the sled I used this year was made in Willow, Alaska. A man named Dan made it. He owns a business called Sled Dog Systems. I broke it while training this season, but Dan fixed it for me. I did not break my sled again during the race.
55. Were you forced to do the race? No, I chose to participate in Iditarod this year.
56. How cold is it? During a sled dog race, the temperatures can be a large range: -50F to +40F
57. How many dogs do you have left? I finished the race with 10 dogs. I had to return 4. During the race, mushers are allowed to return dogs that are tired, hurt or sick. I did not lose the dogs. Yashi-No-Mi was tired. Jesse stubbed his toe. Zsa Zsa and Zephyr had a sore shoulder. They all got checked by a veterinarian, loaded on an airplane, and returned to Bacon’s Acres in Big Lake, Alaska (where we live). They are all happy and healthy now. I have 26 dogs total living at Bacon’s Acres.
58. What did you eat? Many friends made food and snacks for my race: ginger molasses cookies, energy cookies, energy balls, power bars, chicken salad, spaghetti, bacon and bean casserole, cabbage rolls, sausage soup, moose teriyaki sticks, salami, cheese, Reese’s peanut butter hearts, wintergreen mints, minty gum, trail mix, ginger candy, etc. Also, some checkpoints made cheeseburgers, sourdough pancakes, bacon, soup, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, etc.
59. Where do you sleep during the race? Sometimes we sleep at a checkpoint on the floor or on a mat. A few checkpoints have cots and mattresses. If we rest on the trail, I usually put a tarp or a clean trash bag on the ground (to keep me and my gear dry), and then put a fleece blanket on top of the trash bag. I put extra hand warmers in my gloves and coat, and then curl up. We carry sleeping bags in our sled, but my clothing/gear is so warm and cozy, I don’t take it off when I’m on the trail to get in my sleeping bag. I don’t fit in my sleeping bag with my parka, boots and snow pants on.
Sometimes I curl up on the straw next to the dogs. Sometimes I nap on top of my sled. If it is really windy, I sit behind my sled to stay out of the wind. We do not take a tent with us.
60. What do you do in your free time (when you aren’t racing)? I enjoy time with my friends, family and my dogs. I like to garden. I enjoy photography. I love to watch and interact with animals. I like to go to live music and dance. I like to explore new places (locally and internationally). I love to learn!
61. What is your hometown? I have lived in Alaska for 20 years: 12 years in Anchorage and 8 years in Big Lake. Before that, I lived in Ohio most of my life. I call Bacon’s Acres in Big Lake, AK home.
62. Do you live alone? 26 dogs live on my property with me. Sometimes, I have a dog handler that helps with the dogs. Right now, there are no other humans living with me, only canines.
63. Do you have a job back home or in Alaska, if so, what is it? My home is Alaska. I am a pediatric physical therapist, which involves helping children and young adults get stronger and more independent.
64. How do you balance your job and training? It is challenging to balance my life. Sometimes I do a better job of balancing than other times. I try to assess how I feel about my life’s balance on a regular basis. Balancing work, dogs (care, training and racing), time with friends and family, giving back to the community, teaching my handlers (dog helpers), traveling for fun, self-care, other hobbies/interests, making enough money to pay my bills, cleaning/organizing/purging, etc. Oh, and sleeping and eating! It’s a lot!
In the fall/winter, I have someone who helps with my dogs. They help me train, as well as help with all the other things that need done to take care of dogs, train and race. It’s a full-time job.
For work, I have a private physical therapy practice. I visit families in their homes, as well as travel to rural school districts to service students that need physical therapy in their educational environment. Fortunately, both parts of my practice allow a fair amount of flexibility. The people I work with are very supportive of my lifestyle. Otherwise, I would not be able to live the life I do.
65. What is going through your mind while racing? Dog mushing requires you to be very present with what is happening at the moment. I spend a lot of time watching the dogs’ gait (how they are moving). I watch the trail ahead of us. I enjoy the scenery. I check my gps to see how fast we’re moving and how far we’ve gone. I drive the sled around obstacles. Sometimes I stretch because my muscles and joints get stiff from standing on the sled for hours. I sing to the dogs. If the trail is smooth and easy, sometimes I sit down and eat or drink… or change gloves… or put new handwarmers in my gloves, etc. I keep track of the time because I snack and water the dogs every 2 hours. I think about what I need to do when I arrive at the next checkpoint.
If I need a mental/emotional boost, I think about all the people in the world who are cheering us on. And I think about how proud and relieved I’ll be when I reach the finish line, especially this year. Reaching the next checkpoint is always a celebration!
66. How do you have the drive to keep going while racing? I’m a very determined person. Once I commit to something, I will do my very best to see it through. I have never scratched during a race. There are only two reasons I would consider scratching:
a. I was too broken or sick to properly care for my dogs (I have finished races after minor breaks - wrist, foot)
b. My dogs were too sick to continue, and they wouldn’t recover soon enough for me to be allowed to continue to finish the race
67. What was your biggest challenge you had to face? There were so many challenges this year! I’ll say the warm weather – it created difficult, slow trail conditions, it was warm for the dogs, the snow was soft, it rained (and our gear got wet), etc