Sunday, 6 March 2005

March 6, 2005 Cool Huh?!

Greetings from Alaska!!!!
Well guys, I have to tell you this is about the most amazing experience of my life. I don't know where to start, so perhaps at the beginning..... Living on the West Coast, and having traveled from one end of Canada to the other, numerous times, including visits to the Yukon I've seen some pretty incredible country.
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Alaskan Mountains
(Photo by Gwen Ross)

Vast is about the only way I can describe Alaska. And looking at tundra that stretches for miles, and then snow covered mountains that seem to go on forever, I had a glimpse of what Karen is going to do. AGAIN. WOW. I am completely humbled

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Mountains by Willow, Alaska
(Photo by Gwen Ross)

I caught up with Karen at the Mushers Meeting on Thursday morning at the Millennium Hotel here in Anchorage. As soon as her eyes met mine thru the crowd she finished up her conversation, rushed over and gave me a HUGE hug. Man it was so good to see her. Karen is sporting a new do. She is blond!!!! When I was first looking for her amongst the mushers and their riders, I was scanning for my dark haired Karen. It was my friend who said "isn't that Karen?" to which I replied "no, that lady has blond hair" He chuckled and said "look again!!!" New do!! but same warm smile and sparkle in the eye!!

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Mark & Karen
(Photo by Donna Finner)
Then off to the banquet where we had a wonderful dinner and where she was swamped with autograph requests but always remained smiling and gracious. Friday was the open house out at Jamie's. Man does she have a nice place out there. I can only dream. 

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Jamie West's Place - Willow, Alaska
NorthWapiti's Home Away from Home
(Photo by Gwen Ross)
As per usual Mark was entertaining us with stories of dogs and pranks and Karen was so very patient with us all. And the dogs? Charming and sweet, getting and giving lots of loving, and living up to their reputations as "tough" sleddogs!!! 

Tough Sled Dogs at the Open House
(Photos by Donna Finner & Gwen Ross)
Today (Saturday's Ceremonial Start) was quite an event. I had the opportunity to bounce back and forth between a couple dog trucks as my friend Perry Somolson is also running Iditarod again this year. So as Perry was at start position #19 and Karen at #37, I was able to assist both getting the teams to the Start. 
(Note: Most of the photos below are of the Restart
taken by Gwen and entourage, however, the handling of the
dog team is very similar to that of the Ceremonial Start)
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Getting Team Karen ready at the Restart
(Photo by Gwen Ross)
Man, was that a workout and a half!!! All through the morning I kept hearing comments from the crowds "now THAT's a good looking team!!!" or "now THOSE are sleddogs".

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Starting towards the Start line.
(Photo by Gwen Ross)
I cannot describe how it felt to be part of team Karen, and to get them to the start. The team was beautifully behaved, wonderfully dressed in their red bandanas with the maple leafs on them, and those Siberian smiles, nothing quite like them!!

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Gwen Ross (in blue Eagle Pac jacket) assisting
the team to the start line
(Photo by someone holding Gwen's camera)
As we were ready to make the trek down to the starting chute, Karen gave us explicit instructions. We were to walk about 10 feet, stop, let them get the trailer sled hitched up, and then to get them to the start. 
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She said "WALK" to the start!
(Photo by Gwen Ross)
Once at the start we were to take the leashes off the gang line, and by the 10 second countdown we were to step away, as at 10 seconds to go, the team was HER responsibility, and hers alone. It went like clockwork. Like a well oiled, superbly tuned machine.

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Moving towards the Starting Line...check out Marcus' hat!
(Photo by Gwen Ross)
And here I am, standing at the start of Iditarod 2005. I take off the leash, and must have been wearing the biggest grin possible. At the one minute mark Karen steps off her sled, and calmly walks down the line, petting each pair of dogs, a quiet loving word to each dog, moving to the front, to speak with her leaders and then back down the team again. 

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Pre-Race pep talk
(Photo by Belinda Hutchings)
When she got to where I was standing (third pair of dogs back) she stopped, with a big smile, patted me on the shoulder and said "Cool, Huh?" and continued making her way down the team talking to the dogs. "Cool Huh?" indeed!!! 

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Ceremonial Start handlers - this Diary Entry is written by
the handler Gwen, on the left side of this picture as viewed by the reader
(Photo by Belinda Hutchings)
My heart swelled with joy and pride.... the musher had even given me a little pet and a kind word!!!!! If I had a tail, I would have wagged it!!! Tomorrow is the big day. When I watch my friend and mentor, and that incredible group of dogs ride off into the wilds of Alaska.

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The team running...this picture from their
arrival at Campbell Air Field after the Restart
(Photo by Gwen Ross) 
Cool, Huh?!!!!
Gwen Ross
NorthWapiti Group Member
(Originally posted to North Wapiti Yahoo News Group - Join us if you like!)

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