We picked up a car at Fairbanks airport this morning and drove 120 miles south to Denali. It was absolutely freezing when we arrived. It was lunchtime but we weren't able to check in until 3pm. Across the road from the lodge was a strip of gift shops, restaurants and tour places. We went over and wandered through the shops that were open. The official close of the summer season is Friday but some places had already closed, including the ice cream shop. w***! The shops all had the same sorts of Alaskan souvenirs but I did buy a ring & earrings made from Larimar which they called Glacier stone as it is pale blue.
After a late lunch, we checked in. There was a tour desk at reception so we booked our Denali park tour for Thursday and also booked a Husky Homestead tour for that evening.
A mini bus picked us up from the lodge and we drove for about 20min to the ranch owned by 4 time Iditarod champion, Jeff King. The Iditarod is the most well known of the dog sled races. It covers 1100miles across Alaska. Jeff has been in the race 26 times and won it 4 times. He has just signed up for next year.
When we arrived, we got off the bus and were greeted by staff members all holding puppies. We were allowed to cuddle the puppies for about 20mins. Some were 6 weeks old and some a little older. They were absolutely adorable!!!!
Once we handed them back, Jeff spoke to us briefly before handing us over to another employee who told us all about the dogs. They are all Alaskan huskies. He uses these dogs rather than Siberian huskies because they are better performance dogs. There are currently 36 dogs at the ranch. They were all tied up at their kennels in front of us. They were so excited and noisy.
Jeff has 3 daughters and when they were young it was their job to name the puppies. There were lots of Disney characters when they were really young. Sometimes it was a small litter but often there were 10 or 11 puppies. They found it hard to think of names so they decided to have a category and all the names went with that. There is the cheese litter, the foreign currency litter, the misdemeanour litter, the designer litter etc. Jeff and his staff still use this method to name the puppies.
After seeing a demonstration of the dogs being harnessed up send running in front of a quad bike, we went inside where Jeff told us all about the Iditarod. The race starts on the first Saturday in March in Anchorage and finishes in Nome. The winners are currently taking about 9days to complete the course.
Months before the start date, Jeff flies out dog food to each rest stop. He uses a formula of 1:1 where the dogs run for 6hrs and rest for 6hrs. During the rest break, he works for 4.5hrs feeding the dogs, caring for them and rubbing their feet. He gets 90 mins sleep at most. He said lack of sleep is the biggest challenge. The cold was also a factor. Someone came in wearing the suit he wears and you could not see the person at all. It blows up like a Michelin man. He said it is the best suit you can buy but he still feels the cold. Most times he will take his quick naps lying on his sled rather than going inside as it is easier to get up again when you are freezing,
We saw his sled which he redesigned a few years ago. It used to have all the load up front and the musher right at the back. Now he stands in the middle of the load for a better weight balance.
He starts every race with 16 dogs but generally finishes with 9 or 10. He said dogs will sprain an ankle, not be keeping up with the rest of the team or he has even had a female go on heat. There is a vet at each check point who checks the dogs and will arrange to put them on a plane home.
It was a really interesting tour. Great to hear about the race but awesome to hold the puppies!