Friday, March 10, 2006

Born to run

When I read about this year's Iditarod, taking place now in Alaska, I can remember the sounds of another sled-dog race in Alaska. I traveled there in January 2001, to cover a race that a Colorado Springs musher had entered. The Copper Basin 300 is a qualifier for the Iditarod, so most of the Iditarod racing superstars were there. But none were more memorable than the dogs themselves (shown here). In the dim light of a January morning, the dogs wanted but one thing: to run. They sang and yelped, a chorus of ear-piercing notes. They pulled at their harnesses, the straps slapping against the frozen ground. They jumped and danced, their claws kicking up little snowballs from the ground. They panted, their breath a hiss in the subzero air. But when they finally were allowed to leave the starting line and skim the trail, they were silent. Then, the only sounds were their panting and the musher's commands. Their need to run and their desire to obey were palpable. The relationship between them and their owner was obvious. That's why I wasn't surprised to read that a veteran musher nearly cried when he talked about one of his dogs who died after becoming sick on the trail Tuesday. Noah Burmeister told the Anchorage Daily News that his dog Yellowknife collapsed along the trail. The dog was hospitalized, but died later. "It's the hardest part about what we do,'' race director Mark Nordman told the ADN. "These guys spend all their time training their pups for this event, and then something like this happens. It's hard on everybody. We're racing across Alaska in a dog race. It's not a people race. Without them, none us would be here.''

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