I had a really nice run with my team this morning, they were strong, disciplined and just basically a delight to drive – especially considering it was June and there were 3 yearlings in the group. Such wonderful mornings In June are rare and should be treasured. However this morning I’ll admit that my mind was frequently drawn elsewhere – specifically to Alaska, where fellow veteran Iditarod musher Melanie Gould is missing.
I wouldn’t say that Melanie and are close friends, but we have one of those ‘forged in adventure’ friendships that is one of the best things about distance mushing. In 2000, Melanie and I were both rookies on Iditarod. We spent a lot of time traveling together, including one very memorable night on the trail between Kaltag and Unalakleet. Since then she has remained one of the mushers I most look forward to seeing on the trail. Her smile and spirit is infectious.
So since the news broke on the internet on Thursday evening that Melanie had been missing since Monday or Tuesday, I have been following events closely. The facts that have concerned her friends are that she has missed several work shifts without notifying anyone and did not arrange for anyone to care for her 12 dogs, likely meaning that she didn’t plan on being away from home long.
Last night Alaska State Troopers found her truck parked on a side road of the Denali Highway. It is not wrecked, broken down nor are there any signs of foul play.
My hope is that Melanie is in the bush, for some reason unable to walk out, and is patiently waiting for someone to come find her.
The whole situation does drive home a point though; one thing that most of us ‘dog musher types’ share is a sense of adventure and independence. Those two traits are not always good ones to go hand and hand. I’ll admit that more often then I should (which is never) I head off on a day of adventure without letting anyone know where I am going or what I’m doing - or I’ve just passed along sketchy plans with no formal ‘check in’ schedule. Don’t get me wrong, I am far from a thrill seeker and am careful and safety conscience in my activities, but I’m used to doing what I want when I want – usually alone.
For the most part I’ve been ‘lucky’, apart from an incident about 10 years ago when I flipped a 4 wheeler onto my hip and had to lie on the cold fall ground for about 30 minutes before I could gather up enough motivation to crawl to my team, I’ve not had any truly serious scares.
Everyone stands at the start of races and urges us to ‘be safe’, but the reality is that races are probably the safest things I do in my life - lots of folks watching out for me there – as opposed to the rest of the year when I’m usually out on my own, gosh knows where doing gosh knows what.
After the book and movie, “Into the Wild” came out about Chris McCandless and his ill fated adventures, I was critical of him and spoke of the responsibilities that those with adventurous bents should have to their loved ones.
Not only need we be responsible and careful for our sakes, but for those that love and, in some cases, depend on us.
I still believe that but I don’t always remember it. Melanie’s situation should be a good reminder to us all – and I personally will attempt to do better when it comes to letting people know where I’m going and when I’m going to be back.
That night between Kaltag and Unk many years ago, was likely a low point on that Iditarod for Melanie, but still she, for the most part, held it together and eventually went on to finish the race. I hope were ever she is right now; she is hanging on with that same strength and spirit for the people that are out there looking for her.