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Thread: Iditrod Air Force of Alaska

  1. #1
    AlaskaAV's Avatar
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    Iditrod Air Force of Alaska

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&i...rce%22&spell=1


    The link above will explain in detail about the Iditrod Air Force better than I could of course so I will just pass on personal knowledge.

    For those not familiar with the Alaska state sport, Dog Racing, you might be interested in this. There are many others on Steve's and Dana's site that know far more than I do but I will get it started. Please join in with your stories. Mush ya huskies!!!!

    Every year in Feb (or Mar) there is a dog race from Anchorage to Nome by dog team which is over 1000 miles about the distance from Denver to Chicago. Time involved is around 2 weeks, more or less. The route is across country and the trail is marked in advance by red flags tied to trees. The mushers and dogs travel over some of the most inhabitable country in Alaska in temperatures down to 40 below zero at times. Actual daylight is only a few hours so most of the travel is by night. Of course there is no street lights and especially stop lights.

    Needless to say, the dogs, and musher, need to eat and rest so every so often at no prescribed time, they will rest every day. The musher must crank up a camp stove and warm up special food for the dogs. This will vary depending on the musher. Beaver meat is the choice of most mixed with secret ingredients. Caribou of course and dry dog food donated by major sponsors. Food for the musher is not controlled but usually a high protein trail mix of personal choice but at ever check point, there is a vet that inspects each and every dog for health and can take any dog out of the team at his/her will. Most mushers will forgo their own food and sleep just to make sure his/her dogs are taken care of and get enough rest. When traveling over icy conditions, the dogs will be fitted with leather boots to keep from cutting their feet. Booties they are called.
    The term "leader of the pack" really fits in here. The lead dog is actually in charge although he lets the musher believe he/she is. Works good as long as the musher listens and watches the lead dog. Kind of like listening to the spouse, right guys? Many a musher's life has been saved by the knowledge of his lead dog and it's ability to know how to get to a help area.

    The second year the race was run, I took a vacation from Wien and locked myself up in a hotel room in downtown Anchorage and operated the news media operation. I gave live reports world wide to news and sports TV and radio stations always in english though and was told that it would be translated into local language and not to worry about it. I had a stereo reel to reel tape recorder and had a phone pickup on each trak on the tape so I could tape calls on both phones at the same time.
    All of my meals were delivered to the room by the hotel with the exception of one dinner when I invited a lady from our desk in the lobby of the hotel to have dinner with me across the street (among other things). Gee, a guy needs desert after a good dinner, right? It was fun really. At one point, we lost a great musher for a while, Col Vaughn who was like 75 years old at the time. He went missing for some 15 days. I set up a bunch of guys with aircraft to start looking for them. Most were from the Wasilla and Big Lake areas and finally he was found and once he got to a phone, he called me and gave me a real, and I mean real indepth report of what he and his dogs went through. I never let anyone listen to the entire tape other than excerpts that were not so gory for a dog owner. Finally, when I moved out of Alaska the last time and the situation was long gone, I donated the tape to the museum in Wasilla. If allowed to, it is something very interesting to listen to. Remember, better have a strong stomach though.

    Back to the races. Prior to the race, dog food, and I am talking about thousands and thousands of pounds, is staged at selected places along the route by people we call "The Iditrod Air Force" using their own aircraft, usually C-180s or 185s on skis and sometimes Super Cubs depending on the need. The Cubs were normally used to move officials around. Remember, this is all being done at 20 to 40 below zero F. There is no payment for those guys/gals. Gas I am not sure about. They also ferried in the Vets and moved them around as needed. Anything that needed done by air, one of them was always there.

    On one beautiful clear and calm day, one of our Wien pilots flying his own C-185 was transporting a film crew from Japan photographing the race. His name was "Ace" Dodson, a really great big iron Captain for us and just as good in his Cessna or any aircraft for that matter.

    A pilot witness reported it like this. Not a word from Ace.

    He was around 400 foot in level flight when he turned into a normal right turn, probably to give the camera man in the right front seat a better view of a dog team. It is suspected that when the guy in the right seat turned, he placed his right foot on the right rudder pedal and we all know what happens after that at 400 foot. Right bank with max right rudder all the way in? Needless to say, no one survived. Ace was such a supporter of the race although he never ran it, only flew with and for it. It was a big loss to loose such a great pilot in something like this.

    There are lots of pros and cons of how to run the race but as with all of life, anything can change. A couple of mushers, one a very well known female musher, ran into a moose on the trail just after the restart near Wasilla that started trampling the dog team and killing several dogs, especially the lead dog. She had to scratch that year and start over with a new lead dog for next year. Several mushers were injured along the trail to the point all they could do was crawl onto the sled and give a voice command and the lead dog did the rest. For sure, a John Deere Tractor could not do that but you don't have to feed a John Deere year around though.

    How about it Alaska pilots, anyone care to join in about the Iditrod Air Force?

  2. #2
    moneyburner's Avatar
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    There are lots of pros and cons of how to run the race but as with all of life, anything can change. A couple of mushers, one a very well known female musher, ran into a moose on the trail just after the restart near Wasilla that started trampling the dog team and killing several dogs, especially the lead dog. She had to scratch that year and start over with a new lead dog for next year.
    Yup, that was a bum deal for S.B. Worked out okay for my sister that year - she ended up winning. Yay! S.B. was pissed, I suppose. She did come back with a vengence in subsequent years, though. Hell of a dog musher. But then of course, so is my sister!

    I think the race has become a bit too commercialized lately - more like a NASCAR event than the way it was back in the day. No more camping at people's houses in the villages, etc. It's gone the way of a lot of things; waaay too many rules instead of just assuming that they will do what's right. Seems like having to have all those rules to keep the big kennels from doing things that the little guys couldn't sort of took a bit of the magic out of it.

    But surely not all. It's still one hell of a thing, if you think about it.

    There still are a bunch of people who work their tails off for that race, and I think it's great. Lot's of airplane owners donating their time and machines and countless volunteers manning phones, directing traffic, breaking trails, helping out at checkpoints, the Nome Kennel Club, the list is endless. Not to mention the sponsors. Whew! My fuzzy, road-kill beaver hat's off to those folks. Couldn't do it without 'em. I hope it'll be going on a hundred years from now. Hopefully, it won't run along a hiway or something. That would take a bit of the drama out of it.

  3. #3
    AlaskaAV's Avatar
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    Thanks for the input Moneyburner.

    Sorry I can't remember your sister's name right now. Probably because I was rooting so hard for Susan to be the first woman to win. I have always suspected that if Joe Reddington couldn't win, he was pushing for Susan too. Joe was quite a guy and really got the races started.

    It took a long time to get corporate sponsors involved as they are now. At least there is some good prize money but that hardly covers the food bills. Kind of like the AJ, Parsons and Pettys days as compared to Gordon, Earnhardt, Elliott, and the bad boy, Tony Stewart are doing now with their sponsors. Big money in NASCAR.

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    Bill Rusk's Avatar
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    There is another big race, less well known and less commercial, but no less challenging. The Yukon Quest.
    There is an Excellent book called "Yukon Alone" by John Balzar, that describes the event. A great read.

    Bill

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    AlaskaAV's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Rusk
    There is another big race, less well known and less commercial, but no less challenging. The Yukon Quest.
    There is an Excellent book called "Yukon Alone" by John Balzar, that describes the event. A great read.

    Bill
    I had always figured the Yukon Quest might be a tougher race than the Iditrod because of the posibility of lower temperatures.

    I see Fairbanks has been taken off the Iron Dog trail next year. Back to Big Lake to Nome and back to Big Lake. Two thousand miles on a snow machine in some very cold temperatures. Real test of man and machine.

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    moneyburner's Avatar
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    I would have to agree with Bill - the Quest is a much tougher race. The checkpoints are much further apart, generally, and they don't have the kind of logistic support that the iditarod has. They have to haul more stuff with them, which takes a different kind of dog. Which, in some ways might be a better deal. Not as many cameras and newsy people bugging the mushers all the time. . . I always considered the Quest as a race for dog drivers who would rather be out on a trail than be famous. Good on 'em.

    They must have some sort of "air force" as well, but I haven't heard much about it. At that time of the year, it can get too damn cold to go aviating up in that country.

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    AlaskaAV's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by moneyburner
    I would have to agree with Bill - the Quest is a much tougher race. The checkpoints are much further apart, generally, and they don't have the kind of logistic support that the iditarod has. They have to haul more stuff with them, which takes a different kind of dog. Which, in some ways might be a better deal. Not as many cameras and newsy people bugging the mushers all the time. . . I always considered the Quest as a race for dog drivers who would rather be out on a trail than be famous. Good on 'em.

    They must have some sort of "air force" as well, but I haven't heard much about it. At that time of the year, it can get too damn cold to go aviating up in that country.
    I always wondered about the air support for the Quest too.
    Any idea now days how many Iditrod mushers run the Quest?

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    moneyburner's Avatar
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    Tim Osmar ran BOTH of them a few years ago - the end of the Quest is only a few days before the start of the Idiotrod . . .

    Now there's one TOUGH character - I've known him since he was a pup. I used to work for his grandfather, back in the 70's at his fish plant in Clam Gulch. His dad, Dean is no slouch either. He won the Iditarod in '84, second time he tried it; two weeks after getting his appendix removed.

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    The Quest has a bit more road access than the Iditarod. Not as much need for flying stuff. They also have much more limiting rules on sleds (one for the whole race), Dog drops, and a lesser number of checkpoints. They take alot more with them between the checkpoints. They still must use some kind of air support.

  10. #10
    AlaskaAV's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by moneyburner
    Tim Osmar ran BOTH of them a few years ago - the end of the Quest is only a few days before the start of the Idiotrod . . .

    Now there's one TOUGH character - I've known him since he was a pup. I used to work for his grandfather, back in the 70's at his fish plant in Clam Gulch. His dad, Dean is no slouch either. He won the Iditarod in '84, second time he tried it; two weeks after getting his appendix removed.
    It is always interesting to watch the activities during the start of the race out of Anchorage. There is a videocam on a building just west of the 4th Ave Theatre pointed east.
    I remember the name Dean Osmar but never met him.

  11. #11
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    As I recall, regarding the loss of Ace Dodson, a bit of irony. Another example of Murphy's Law, if you will.

    Ace was working "partners" with a dentist/guide from out of ANC and both had 185's. Can't rightly recall but something went wrong that morning. Either the other guy was supposed to fly the Japanese film crew in HIS airplane. which had the right hand control yoke removed, and the rudder pedals stowed - or - Ace's plane (with the yoke removed and the pedals stowed) was broke and he borrowed the other guy's plane.

    Either way, it doesn't much matter other than to illustrate Ernie Gann's old saying....fate IS the hunter. Ace was one of the very best. Flawless, and I was priveledged to ride his jumpseat a couple of times. I was in UNK that morning when it happened. Some days, life just sucks.

  12. #12
    Alaska Cubs's Avatar
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    The Yukon Quest has evolved into quite a different race since I raced in it back in 1985. For the first several years, there were only six checkpoints between the start and finnish line of the 1000 mile trail. These were places where a musher could drop sick, tired or injured dogs, and pick up supplies. Also back then, there was a nice 290 mile leg of the race between Carmacks, Yukon, and Dawson City, Yukon. That leg of the race has now been broken up with a dog drop at Scroggy Creek, and two additional checkpoints added at Pelly Crossing and McCabe Creek. The "Quest", which starts tomorrow (Feb 13th), now has eight check points between the start and finnish, and an additional five dog drops along the race trail. Another difference in how the race has evolved is the number of dogs a musher can start the race with and drop out of his team along the trail. Back when I ran the race, there was a 12 dog limit and a musher could drop a maximum of three dogs. Now, a musher can start with 14 dogs and drop as many dogs as he likes, as long as he finishes with at least five. The race in the early days was set up so those mushers with smaller kennels could compete more easily, and there was more attention directed to the care of the dogs.
    Some like the direction which the race has evolved and some prefer the way it was originally set up by my good frieds Leroy Shank and Roger Williams. I kind of like the old way myself, but which ever way you look at it, the Yukon Quest makes the Iditarod look like a cake walk.

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    shedding light

    Howdy,

    I had the pleasure to work and caretake at Rainy Pass Lodge for 2 years which is a main checkpoint of the Iditarod early on in the race. I saw the other side of the race which I won't elaborate on. I wanted to clear up a couple things I read that I could shed some light on. First the daylight hours are considerably longer at race time. Which brings me to my next point. The reason the racers like to run at night, is not that there is lack of daylight but that it is much cooler for the dogs to run. That March Alaskan sun burns strong and can get very warm. The snow conditions are mushy(no pun intended) when it warms up as well. This makes for a slow sled. I really enjoyed the sights and sounds of the race. I would groom a landing strip for the myriad of aircraft popping in for 3 to 4 days. The head of the Iditarod air force was very nice to visit with. A beautiful 185 on wheel skis. The race definitely is commercialized. But it is a great event to put some hours on your bird. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. The image that sticks with me is I had slipped up to a secret spot of mine as some of the racers were leaving. I had a video cam with me and had it rolling. I could hear the sled coming as the runners of the sled were making that sound it makes sliding over snow. As the racer crested the hill and came into view, he gave me a silent wave, looked back at his leader dog and headed for Nome. One of those moments you could feel the sense of being content with the moment. Long live the "Last great Race".

    Alex

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    fabricfan's Avatar
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