February 24, 2004


There must be something about Dawson City. Three mushers from the Yukon Quest scratched there within the past day.

And my buddy Rod was one of them. That makes 10 mushers down, 22 left in the "toughest race in the world.''

Dawson City is about halfway along the 1,000-mile route. He'd gotten past most of the worst of it, but decided to call things off apparently during part of his required 36-hour layover in that town.

I know he has to be disappointed. He had 10 dogs left, much like the other mushers. But he was so far behind at that point, he probably thought he'd be a burden to the race. He wouldn't have been, of course, but that would be the way Rod would think.

Dawson is a perfect place for Rod to bow out. Its a place full of adventure and dashed hopes.

Town history shows that gold, discovered in 1896 on nearby creeks, caused the great Klondike Gold Rush which turned the summer fish camp at the junction of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers into the "Paris of the North."

In 1898, Dawson was the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg (40,000 people) with telephone service, running water and steam heat. Elaborate hotels, theatres and dance halls were erected, with Andrew Carnegie donating $25,000 towards the building of a library in 1903. During 1899 the stampede for gold came to an end, and 8,000 people left Dawson that summer. By 1902, the population was down to less than 5,000. The population is about half of that now.

I don't want to dip too deep in the metaphor bucket for a sip of wisdom, but Rod's a lot like those prospectors. He's a guy who was born in England and became a Californian. He moved to Alaska and took up mountain climbing. (Rod's the guy in the plaid shirt lookin up at the summit.)

That later evolved into a love for cross country skiing and for a sport called skijoring, which involves having your husky dog pull you on a leash while you flail behind on a pair of skis.

Rod got the skis first, the dog second, the the wife third, a dog for her fourth, then another dog for himself, then a second dog for her. A couple years went by and he eventually had enough dogs for a team. Then she needed a dog team. And so on, until he became a bonafide self-taught musher. He didn't have any prior skills. He had a yard full of dogs and good friends to point out the rights and wrongs.

He didn't let getting lost for six days get to him. In fact, he told the governor after his rescue that it was "a great state to get lost in." He picked himself up, got back on the sled runners and kept at it.

Just like he will this time. There's no way that you can take a team of dogs 500 miles through the toughest terrain in North America during the middle of February in minus-50 temperatures and return home alive and be able to call it a failure.

Here's to you, Rod. I'm proud of you, bud.

Posted by Jeff at February 24, 2004 12:48 AM | TrackBack