Get Away With Fran

August 19, 2009

To the Dogs near Denali National Park in Alaska

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:25 pm

fransled

This is me playing Iditarod champion, the late champion Susan Butcher in the background, photographed in a gift shop in Fairbanks.

But last night I did get to meet a real 4-time Iditarod champion, Jeff King, who is also the oldest to ever win the 1,100-mile dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome – he won in 2006 at age 50. Visiting his Goose Lake Kennel, just outside Denali National Park, was a real highlight of my Royal Caribbean cruisetour (the excursion is priced at $49 and well worth it).

Franwdog

From our nice accommodations at the McKinley Village Lodge, a few dozen of us drove by vans to the Kings’ home/kennel. And within minutes of that I had a baby Alaskan Huskie in my hands. Sooo cute. And maybe a future sled dog champion?

The litters here are named by the Kings’ three daughters – now in their teens and 20s – and they adopted a fun approach over the years, choosing themes. For instance, there is the meat-themed litter: Ham, Bacon and Sausage. And to counterbalance that, the veggie litter: Tofu, Hummus and Sprouts. And btw, turns out sled dogs are smaller (about 50 pounds) and less furry then you think.

Jeff

Speaking of ham, King is a big one. After visitors get a briefing from staff on how sled dogs are raised and trained – including views of the training yard and a team taking off pulling a 4 x 4 – you go inside and standing in front of a racing sled, King does his shtick. He tells his visitors, for instance, how it gets 50 degrees below zero here in winter, “But it’s a dry cold.” When he laughs, King slaps his own knees for effect.

Originally from Napa, Kings says he came to Alaska for a summer job and never left, the dogs and mushing the big draws. He drives home the point that he does not consider himself an athlete, saying his dogs are the athletes.

Stories are shared of the endurance test that is the Iditarod, which last 10 days or more, during which time he doesn’t really sleep, has to tend to his own dog team (starting with 16 dogs and usually finishing with nine or 10 after sending some home), and works like crazy, all for a purse of about $65,000 only given to the winner. “You don’t do this for the money,” he explains.

Among the tidbits he shares is how all the dogs need to have EKGs to show they are healthy before the race. That’s some 1,600 dogs of the competing teams getting EKG. King does a great impression of a dog not wanting to have one.

So why does he do the race? “I love the dogs,” King says.

fransled2

OK, this is me winning the Iditarod. Yeah, right.

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