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JM

USA
89 Posts

Posted - 08/04/2007 :  11:41:57 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

Quote: {I bet in 1976 all of Joe May’s friends thought that he was nuts to spend “just” $1500 on a sled dog race}
Ali
Most of the dog mushers of that era (pre-pipeline) had little disposable income. The race was so new and different it wasn't a very salable product to potential sponsors. Sleds were home made and equipment was basic and unsophisticated. The native drivers had the best dogs but paradoxically the least resources.The teams were mostly trapline, water/firewood haulers, or recreation. The sprint guys openly ridiculed the notion of it even being called a "race". I'd guess $2500 was the median cost. Some had a little more, some had a litttle less. I trapped most of my own dog food and owned the dogs and gear so I was in the "little less" catagory. It was a very different world. The native guys fed mostly fish, I fed beaver, and others fed everything and anything, and we all ate KFC, frozen pizza, or worse. Raine Hall was the total administive department. She worked out of a broom closet sized cubicle at the back of the old Wasilla Museum. A box on the table was receipts in and disbursments out. Shoestring was the rule for both the organization and the mushers. Not only myself.

Here's some 1976 flavor: At Skwentna a musher parked beside me was down in the snow chopping on a frozen pig. When I commented on his "unique dog food" he explained that he was a farmer and his feeding scheme was predicated on two pigs split in halves and shipped to selected checkpoints (via the one plane Iditarod airforce). Half a pig was in his sled to start, half a pig was in McGrath, a half in Ruby, and the last half was in Unalakleet. He figured the idea was so original it would give him a jump in the strategy game. His only problem, he confided, was that he hadn't had time before the the race to shoe his sled. He tipped it up for me to see bare wooden runner bottoms where the plastic should have been. Somewhere up the trail, when he had time he explained, he planned to screw the plastic on...this was in Skwentna. Herbie was parked on the other side. He introduced himself and asked if I had any wolverine fur on the sled that I might sell (he knew me to be a trapper) and declared that in addition to being a musher he was a 24/7 business man...or if I preferred. he had some really nice ivory to trade. The early races were rife with that kind of humour that could only have occured "in the beginning". Those and other memories are especially treasured now when so much of the race seems to speak to expensive technology, sneaky strategies, and drop dead seriousness. I certainly don't suggest going backward but some of the "good stuff" that made the race so much fun for some of us has sadly been lost. We struggled then in an environent in which success and survival demanded a vertical learning curve. About driving dogs long distances we knew next to nothing, and lived the adventure of all that was yet to be learned.

Some years ago a rumour was rampant that the race might be cancelled for lack of a purse. I wrote Stan Hooley and told him a group of us would race to Nome if he could guarantee us a bag of Purina and a dead fish at the finish line...to prove the point that the race, to some, meant more than just money (happily the ITC came up with a purse).
Clarence Towarak (of Unalakleet) ran the 76 race without artificial light...he drove in the dark, found firewood and made his camps in the dark, and finished in twenty days with a healthy team....six day's ahead of the red lantern team in a year when the marked and broken trail ended at Su Station. The remaining thousand miles was a hodge podge of often unbroken, mostly unmarked, and usually bottomless village connecting trails. People today wouldn't even train on trail that awful. Both Clarence and his dogs, that trip, lived exclusively on dried salmon and seal oil. The only concession to management in that outfit was that Clarence had blueberries in his seal oil and the dogs didn't. He wanted to travel in the way of his ancestors...and he did, with style. In my world, no one in the race before or since has demonstrated a comparable level of traditional trail skills. I hardly remember who wins from year to year and with but one exception can't name anyone who's ever finished second..but I'll always remember Clarence.

I had tea with Elizabeth and the Nayokpuk family in Shishmaref this spring surrounded by shelves and shelves of Herbie's trophys and prizes. The conversation never touched on what he won or lost but rather how he lived and how he cared for and about his dogs. The operative word there too was respect

What I'm trying to express here, in my convoluted way, in respionse to some implications in this discussion, is that money shouldn't ever be a measure of or an excuse for a musher's ability or inability to provide good dog care. Pots of money, an army of veterinarians, and bales of straw don't necessarily good dog care make. We both know this Ali, and you said as much, but there might be a rookie lurking here who hasn't made the distinction yet. That indeed, the "great separator" is still attention to detail, dedication, and instinct. I see Swenson not oftener than every couple years and the greeting is usually some variation of, "the fundamentals never change". True then, true now. By choice and chance I've made a successful career of avoiding wealth and prosperity. At any given time in my life I've never owned more than twenty five dogs or two pairs of shoes. I do have the first ever Seppala award on my bookcase however, as the gist of what I speak...Joe

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joe may
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Eastwinddogyard

USA
4 Posts

Posted - 08/10/2007 :  12:18:43 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Joe-

Thanks so much for the story about Clarence. Clarence or Juney was, my next door neighbor in Unalakleet for 4 years. We ran dogs with him and his two sons while we lived there. I knew Juney to be a kind and very gentle man with an enormous amount of knowledge but your story has taken me to a new level of appreciation for time that I was able to run dogs with him. I left UNK about a year ago but plan on returning this spring, with any luck the second Tuesday in March, and look forward to visiting with him.

I agree that those times we spend around amazing individuals are priceless. I was fortunate enough to run the UNK-Kaltag race with Joe Garnie and learned more about dogs and quite honestly myself in that one trip with Joe than I had learned in countless other experiences.

Thanks you for helping stop and appreciate those times.
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Lee Harvey

89 Posts

Posted - 08/10/2007 :  2:19:31 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Rhum,
Your post was excellent. One of the best I've ever read on this site.
Lee

Love not thy man less, but dogs more.
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Lee Harvey

89 Posts

Posted - 08/10/2007 :  2:23:34 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Rhum,
Although as I read further, Joe's post from 8/4 is a close second.
Lee

Love not thy man less, but dogs more.
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JM

USA
89 Posts

Posted - 08/12/2007 :  4:55:34 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Eastwinddogyard

Joe-

I agree that those times we spend around amazing individuals are priceless. I was fortunate enough to run the UNK-Kaltag race with Joe Garnie and learned more about dogs and quite honestly myself in that one trip with Joe than I had learned in countless other experiences.

Rick

Did an overnight with Joe, Mary, and the kids in Teller last spring while up on a long snow machine camping trip. Arrived cold and hungry, left warm and well fed. He has a yard full of powerful prime
dogs. If he races this season he should do well. The increasing cost of racing (entry fees, etc.) hurt the subsistance guys most of all..to the point of making it almost impossible for them to compete.
Sad. That some of what's been lost...Joe
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