Friday, February 28, 2014


Perhaps it is the utter uselessness of it all that contributes to its supreme usefulness in my mind and heart.

Dog sled drivers are gathering in Alaska for 42nd running of the Iditarod, a ten-day, one-thousand-mile race that pits individuals against ... against ... against themselves. Yes, there are $50,000 and a pickup that the winner will take home but who gives a shit? Sixty-nine participants setting out on Sunday for ... for ... for what?

This is h-u-g-e.

This is serious.

This is courage.

This is foolish.

This is great -- really, no silver-tongued-bullshit great.

A thousand miles across fierce terrain. No one is holding their hands. No one is crooning "good joooob!" No one is promising them a place in heaven. There are no short-cuts or easy ways to do it. This is going to a place within that precedes even the hallucinations that come calling. This is Beethoven's 9th. This is former sports writer Red Smith's observation that "Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Drip, drip, drip.

In this reality, those who praise the "human spirit" are like $5 hookers ... drooping, sagging, weak, effete, stupid, inadequate. Like me.

Nothing is won.

There may be parameters and rules, but nothing is won.

And yet there is something.

"Something" ... and even on my warm and wimpy perch, my heart soars like a hawk.


  1. IDITAROD FACTS: http://helpsleddogs(dot)org

    Iditarod dogs suffer horrendous cruelty every day of their lives. Mushers have drowned, shot, bludgeoned and dragged many dogs to death. For example, Iditarod musher Dave Olesen drowned a litter of newborn puppies. Another musher got rid of unwanted puppies by tying them in a bag and tossing the bag in a creek. Mushers even have a saying about not breeding dogs unless they can drown them: “Those who cannot drown should not breed.”

    Terrible things happen to dogs during the Iditarod. This includes: death, bloody diarrhea, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, kennel cough, broken bones, torn muscles and extreme stress. At least 143 dogs have died in the race, including four dogs who froze to death in the brutal cold.

    Veterinary care during the Iditarod is poor. In the 2012 race, one of Lance Mackey's male dogs ripped out all of his 16 toenails trying to get to a female who was in heat. This type of broken toenail is extremely painful. Mackey, a four-time Iditarod winner, said he was too stubborn to leave this dog at a checkpoint and veterinarians allowed Mackey to continue to race him. Imagine the agony the dog was forced to endure.

    Here's another example: Veterinarians have allowed dogs with kennel cough to race in the Iditarod even though dogs with this disease should be kept warm and given lots of rest. Strenuous exercise can cause lung damage, pneumonia and even death. To make matters worse, kennel cough is a highly contagious disease that normally lasts from 10 to 21 days.

    Iditarod dogs endure brutal training. Jeanne Olson, who has been a veterinarian in Alaska since 1988, confirmed the brutality used by mushers training dogs for the Iditarod. She talked about dogs having cracked ribs, broken jaws or skulls from mushers using two-by-fours for punishment. In an article published by the University of Alaska, Dr. Olson said, "There are mushers out there whose philosophy is...that if that dog acts up I will hit that dog to the point where it would rather die than do what it did, 'cause the next time it is gonna die.'"

    Jane Stevens, a former Iditarod dog handler, describes a dog beating in her letter published by the Whitehorse Star (Feb. 23, 2011). She wrote: "I witnessed the extremely violent beating of an Iditarod racing dog by one of the racing industry's most high-profile top 10 mushers. Be assured the beating was clearly not within an 'acceptable range' of 'discipline'. Indeed, the scene left me appalled, sick and shocked. After viewing an individual sled dog repeatedly booted with full force, the male person doing the beating jumping back and forth like a pendulum with his full body weight to gain full momentum and impact. He then alternated his beating technique with full-ranging, hard and fast, closed-fist punches like a piston to the dog as it was held by its harness splayed onto the ground. He then staggeringly lifted the dog by the harness with two arms above waist height, then slammed the dog into the ground with full force, again repeatedly, all of this repeatedly."

    During the 2007 race, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jon Saraceno wrote in his column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens. Or dragging them to their death."

    MORE FACTS: Sled Dog Action Coalition, http://helpsleddogs(dot)org

  2. It's a fact that the SDAC "Likes" PETA on their Facebook page. It's a fact that the SDAC doesn't like the Iditarod. It's a fact that the death rate (now dramatically declining) for Iditarod sled dogs is around .3%, not much different than the husky population at large for the same period of time. It's a fact that PETA killed 82% of the dogs that came into their headquarters building for care. It's a fact that in a single year, in a single location, PETA killed 459 more dogs than have died in 42 years of Iditarod racing.

    These are not the half-truths that Ms. Glickman presents as "Truth" and "Fact" on her website. This is the whole unvarnished truth of the Sled Dog Action Coalition and

    More here;

  3. I live in North Pole, AK, and watch the huge swing of the seasons come and go here. In the winter, when 40 below is common, the Northern Lights dance, and I can't help but wonder if these mushers are on a spiritual journey with their dogs as much as they are on a physical one. At night, it must feel as if they are standing still as the snowy world moves beneath their collective feet, unwinding trails of snow, and ice, mountain and valley as the bitter sharp stars and ribbons of aurora dance above.

    I bet it is.