It was nearly ten years ago that a (now ex-)boyfriend copied down the number of an employer seeking help from the job board in the University Center. He was photography student looking for his next project and knew I was new to Missoula and in search of work to help cover the newly acquired exorbitant costs of out of state tuition. I had lost nearly all my scholarships when I transferred to the University of Montana from Delaware Valley College (now Delaware Valley University). Soon I was the one calling up the number and setting up a time to interview with a mushing kennel on the outskirts of Seeley Lake, MT.
It was at Barnum Kennels that a spark for all things mushing began. I spent the next several years working next to Kirk and his team of dogs – Alaskan huskies with a desire to mush as strong as they were. It was there that I stepped onto the back of a dogsled for the first time in my life – a subzero temperature night in the middle of the Sawtooth Range that I will never forget. When Kirk picked up his kennel and moved to Idaho, the embers of the mushing world that were implanted deep in my soul were left to smolder for a while.
Lucky for me, it wasn’t long before Twila Baker, owner of Quinault Kennels, and her stunning team of Alaskan Malamutes stumbled into my life at a near perfect moment. It was on the back of a sled being pulled by what is possibly the most photogenic dog sled team that ever existed that I knew the Iditarod was within my reach. I didn’t know how, or when, but some day the Last Great Race would be a reality for me.
Now, if you think my idea of this dream was to run in the race as a musher, you’re gravely mistaken. The idea of standing on the back of a sled for days on end with little sleep and in potentially negative sixty-something degree temps, well you don’t know me. I don’t sit still for long periods of time unless I’m road tripping, I happen to LOVE sleep (my bed and I really have a good thing going), AND if you think I’d ever consider winter camping you had better think again. I am one of those people who is constantly cold. Don’t believe me? Just ask my husband about our nightly ritual in bed where I put my frigid feet on his back to warm them up. No, the cold and I are anything but friendly.
However, when my husband’s job took us to live in Anchorage, Alaska there was no time like the present to get out on the Iditarod trail. For my birthday our first year up here I treated myself to an Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) membership. As soon as registration was open my name was in their records to be a volunteer and in 2015 I volunteered in multiple positions. In 2016, my background working with mushers and my willingness to operate in multiple positions for the ITC allowed me to be selected to go out on the trail. Unfortunately, this was right when Brian was returning from a 9 month deployment and we had long before planned a trip outside of Alaska for his welcome home. I had to turn down something I had dreamed of for so long.
Two-ish weeks before the 45th Iditarod was scheduled to start my email pinged to alert me I had a new message. It was from one of the volunteers in head of the communications department asking if I wanted to head out on the trail. Unable to keep my excitement in I immediately leapt up from my desk and barged into my boss’ office to declare I’d be some time off in the near future. Now I sit in a small airplane hanger in Galena, Alaska – propped up against a backpack that is filled to it’s limit – waiting to board an even smaller plan to my checkpoint. I can’t help but think about the mixture of thrill and fear I once felt stepping onto the back of that dog sled. It’s easy to remember that feeling as it’s the exact mixture of emotions buzzing inside me right now.