Mush You Huskies

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It’s the time of the year when dog-sledders get serious about preparing for the annual Iditarod Dogsled Race that starts the first Saturday in March in Anchorage, Alaska. Slim Randles participated in the first race, and today on the blog he’s sharing a memory of a chance encounter in 1974 when folks were gathering to start the second race.

The story is an interesting look at the iconic sport of dog-sledding, with a bit of a joke thrown in.

And, full disclosure, there was a time in my childhood when I thought driving a dog sled would be great fun. At about age ten I read The Call of the Wild by Jack London and was mesmerized by the story of Buck, the husky that was taken from the city and trained as a sled dog in the Yukon. If I couldn’t have a horse to train, maybe a dog would be the next best thing.

Ah, the dreams of childhood. 🙂

I did eventually get dogs to train, but never for pulling a sled.

For his part, Slim has raised and trained many sled dogs and he truly enjoys sharing his expertise. Here he is with a story about just such an experience. Enjoy…

Hey, I was there to help, right? Right there in the kitchenette loaned us by the Roosevelt Hotel in Anchorage. My wife, Pam, ran the headquarters for the Iditarod Dogsled Race, and it was the second year of the race, 1974, and there I sat, a genuine Alaskan long-distance dog musher who had participated in the first race the year before.

So when a nicely-dressed elderly gentleman with a thick Boston accent stopped by for coffee and questions about the race … hey, I’m there for you.

He said his name was Norman Vaughan and he had some questions, and we talked for more than an hour.

Oh, I explained to this obvious city guy all about how the dogs were hooked up, and how far we could go each day, depending on weather. He was a good student, too. When he rose to go, he said, “Slim, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of each other and become good friends.”

There was something about Norman that I genuinely admired, even if I couldn’t have said exactly what it was.

For the record, the race begins (for 50 years now) on the first Saturday in March in Anchorage, then crosses 1,100 miles of Alaska to end up on Front Street in Nome. This gives a guy a long, cold camping trip before he gets to Front Street. Many aren’t able to complete the race for various reasons, and I was one of those. Four days in my first race, I took a nasty spill and crushed an ankle. I crawled to the sled, and the team took me 20 miles to the next checkpoint, where I was ignominiously airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage by Army helicopter.

About a half hour after Norman left, we were discussing him and sipping coffee when the news guy on the radio said, “The special guest at the musher’s banquet tonight will be Colonel Norman Vaughan, who drove a dog team to the South Pole in 1928.”

Yes, there was laughter. A lot.

Back in 1828, Vaughan drove his dog team to the South Pole as a possible rescuer in case Richard Byrd’s plane was forced down. During World War II, Norman was in charge of dog-team rescue in Greenland, where they could rescue any air crews forced down on the ice cap. More than 100 fliers were rescued by his dog teams.

He and I were friends for the rest of his life, and when Norman Vaughan finally was able to finish the Iditarod Race in Nome, one of my dogs was his leader.

But back at that first meeting in 1974, after giving this polar explorer the benefit of my “vast” experience, about all I could do was grin and shrug and say, “Well, at least now he knows how to do it the right way.”


Brought to you by Sweetgrass Mornings, by Slim Randles. Now available at Walmart and Ebay

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Check out all of Slim’s award-winning books at his Goodreads Page and in better bookstores and bunkhouses throughout the free world.

All of the posts here are from his syndicated column, Home Country that is read in hundreds of newspapers across the country. I am always happy to have him share his wit and wisdom here.

Slim Randles is a veteran newspaperman, hunting guide, cowboy and dog musher. He was a feature writer and columnist for The Anchorage Daily News for 10 years and guided hunters in the Alaska Range and the Talkeetna Mountains. A resident of New Mexico now for more than 30 years, Randles is the prize-winning author of a dozen books, and is host of two podcasts and a television program.

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