Tag Archives: Iditarod

This Disconnected Reality: Putin, Oscar and the Last Great Race on Earth

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I’ve had three things on my mind today, and each deserves a separate post.

The more I think about them, the more I realize they’re quite interconnected, at least in my own mind. See if you see what I’m seeing.

Return of the Cold War: Russia invades Ukraine

Putin is a bully, and the world needs to stop allowing him to prance around bare-chested with a fishing pole in his hands while millions of Slavic people suffer the whims of the ultra rich, those corrupt and bankrupt souls of the post Communist era. Ukraine is more important than most people think. Obama is showing off just how weak our foreign policy is these days, and as someone so eloquently wrote today, Putin is playing chess, while Obama is playing checkers. America cannot possibly intervene, at least militarily, in all of the world’s conflicts, but it can stay consistent in its messaging and follow-through on its threats. For those of you who say let Putin have Crimea, you might as well just toss in the rest of Ukraine too. It’s a toe-hold on one of the world’s most important regions. For those of you who ask why we should care, I say it’s much harder to catch a strongman who is killing people slowly through neglect or starvation when he already owns everything in sight. It’s much easier to stop a strongman when he is aggressively peeing on the fences around his own home than when he’s killed the neighbors and claimed their lands for himself.

Continue reading This Disconnected Reality: Putin, Oscar and the Last Great Race on Earth

Alaska at 18 Months

For some reason a baby’s life isn’t measured in years until it’s more than 24 months old. A mother will say, “Oh, thank you, she’s 15 months.” Or, “He started walking at 13 months.” Prompting me to to try to do the math in my head. Okay, 13 months is easy, but I seem to have trouble with anything over 15, often relying on my fingers to count backward from 24 or forward from 12. 

Like Mothers Day, I never really understood the concept behind the practice. In the case of Mothers Day, I always thought I should be celebrating my mom, but in this holiday happy America, I’m going out to buy cards and flowers for grandma, mom, wife and mother-in-law. But I digress. By way of monthing babies, I never really understood why a 12-month-old cannot simply be a yearling until it no longer is. 

After spending a year-and-a-half in Alaska, I think I at least understand the latter, never the former. 

And so we’ve reached the 18-month point in the infancy of our Alaska adventure. I can say with conviction that I have not just come to Anchorage, the other Alaska. Sure, I live within its boundaries, but I’ve traveled to the wet and windblown Aleutians, the frigid Arctic, the rolling interior and the ruggedly beautiful Southeast. 

Words are useless descriptions for the parts that make up Alaska. Grandiose isn’t a big enough word for never ending lands and waters of the 49th state. 

I missed the glory years of uncle Ted and the pork barrel political system that established the simple, yet effective infrastructure of this state. But I’ve now seen two sessions of the Alaska State Legislature, and two special sessions, if you can call them that without smiling. 

I’ve met the celebrities, unfortunately. And I’ve met the unsung heros, the teams of Alaskan huskies that travel not just the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail but the thousands of miles of the Alaska almost no one sees. 

I stare out at Denali every clear day, and on cloudy days, I know The High One is always there, wreathed in clouds of its own making. 

A year and a half is not enough time to have experienced all of this. No, not the time but the measurement. That’s why they say a baby is 18 months. Because it’s not just a year, it’s 18 of something. It’s 18 months of changing diapers, 18 months of sleepless nights and midnight feedings. You don’t measure that in the tiny space of a year. You give it some weight. 

It’s the same with living in Alaska. You don’t live here for a year and a half, you live here for 18 months over two winters, one of which broke all the snow records. You don’t spend a year in Alaska like you spend a year in Italy. It’s not the Grand Tour, except it is, grander than any stay in Rome or Venice, its works of arts just as grand and much, much older. 

You move anywhere in the Lower 48, and you have the same road signs, the same television schedule, the same triple A baseball teams. For every hour you drive, you’ll find a McDonald’s an Arby’s and a Wendy’s. In Alaska, you drive 15 minutes in any direction, and you have a new vista that will take your breath away. It’s a proliferate landscape hardly full, but full enough of diffuse people.

The last place I lived where I counted the hard years was Hawaii. It was not measured in months but the total time we spent there. 

Alaska at 18 months is as much a mystery to me today as it was when I could only imagine it. When I dreamed of fishing its rivers and seas, of flying its mountain flanks and traversing its trails. 

It’s a dysfunctional family you can’t give up on, which is the only reason I can possibly give to the fact that the legislators still have jobs. A dream of gold replaced by oil by hard wishers and the romantically hopeful. 

A resource-rich wasteland with magical views and two seasons. 

You don’t measure Alaska in miles or in years spent, until you’ve been here 30 years and traveled more miles in a month than the average American travels in 10 years. 

Bring on the terrible twos. 

The Burled Arch and the End of the Trail

It all started in Willow on the first Sunday in March. More than a thousand dogs pulling 67 humans on sleds left to traverse an iconic landscape of mountains, frozen rivers and seas.

Along they way they stopped in small towns and camped along the trail. They fed their dogs and slept and fell asleep at the wheel or daydreamed about things more real than not along the long and windy journey.

They battled for position, they coaxed sick and disheartened teams into glory-making runs. They played mind games on themselves and on other mushers.

They commemorate a way of life long gone by. It is snow machines that make the trails for the dogs now, the dogs that once carried the serum and the miners, the supplies and eventually the racers across the vast openness untouched by sound or machine.

I watched from the sidelines. Sometimes the nosebleeds. But I watched this race up close, close enough to see the frost-covered faces, the tears and the touches of insanity that come with sleep deprivation and communing so long with non-speaking companions.

Along the way you start to feel their suffering in sympathy or simply the weariness of covering a race that sleeps in shifts, never all at once.

When you can’t be with them at the checkpoints, you envision them out on a cold river or facing a blowing fury along the coast. You check on their progress every 15 minutes when you have Internet fast enough to allow you to do so.

As the population of Nome grows, the bars fill with patrons eager to celebrate an ending not written yet, and as the heroes of the race pad along in booties, the excitement builds like the growing daylight in March.

Safety becomes a byword for close, as almost no one can comprehend how long it will take a musher to get from that checkpoint to Nome.

Nome begins to gather. People in seal skins and beaver furs line Front Street. Children bundled up like bouncy balls bobble around the icy streets.

Then the siren sounds, and the waiting begins in earnest.

Some Iditarod volunteer banters in the background as people begin to crane their necks down the street.

Eventually Nome’s finest turn their flashing lights on, and you know that behind them there is a team of dogs that has just pulled a sled and its human up the ramp from the sea ice and onto Front Street.

The dogs seem to know they’ve reached the end of the trail. They look for the spot that some of them have seen in years past. It’s the place where they know they will not have to run anymore, at least until the inborn urge rises again.

The musher hangs on for dear life. From a thousand miles of wilderness with voiceless companions to a street lined with a thousand people. It can be overwhelming.

Then there is the Burled Arch and the meaty hand of Mark Nordman. Your wife and child or your sister, brothers, fathers, mothers and tears and joy and laughter await.

From nothing to everything in the length of a city street.

It is the end of the trail.