Mushing for Iditarod training
Wednesday, January 28, 2004By ANDY KLEVORN
Daily News Staff Writer
McMILLAN, Mich. — January, and the long, hard miles of training that come with this winter month are nearly over.
Michigan’s four mushers who are preparing for the March 6 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska are crazy busy this month. Their “to do” lists are long during this final stretch of the training season: ready the dog truck, find more dog coats, cut up 500 pounds of meat, package 2,000 booties, and, while they’re at it, put 1,000 miles on their finely-tuned Alaskan huskies.
Al Hardman, of Ludington, with cabins in the Upper Peninsula; Ed Stielstra, a Ludington native now living in the U.P.; Jim Warren, a friend of theirs who also has a cabin in the U.P., and Hardman’s son-in-law Jim Conner of Grand Haven are all entered in the upcoming 1,100-mile race through the interior of Alaska.
Before they head to the Iditarod in late February or early March, they’re spending much of their time on McMillan-area dog sled trails, many of which run between their cabins.
Complicating the mushers’ training this winter is deep snow in the U.P. Snow they need; a new foot of snow every other day they don’t. The excessive snowfall has meant the mushers have the extra task of keeping a few hundred miles of trail open for the dog teams.
For Hardman, who is spending part of this month at his cabin in McMillan, 24 hours is not enough time in the day to accomplish all his tasks.
Here’s what Tuesday, Jan. 27, a fairly typical January training day, entailed:
12:38 a.m. Hardman arrives at McMillan cabin after nine-hour drive from Ludington. While on the road, Hardman made several phone calls, organizing logistics for this weekend’s shipment of drop bags to Iditarod checkpoints and ordering dog coats from Rae’s Harness Shop in Anchorage. Suppliers from the lower 48 states were out of coats. They’ll be “overnighted” to Hardman, which takes two days from Alaska, so that he can load them in his drop bags and send them back to Alaska.
7 a.m. Oscar, Hardman’s pet Samoyed (not on the sled team), paces, waking up everyone in the cabin.
8 a.m. A breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast is served.
Hardman then spends the next four hours readying for a 200-mile training run and packing his truck for the return trip to Ludington so it will be ready for him after a couple of days of training. He scours storage bins looking for dog blankets, brass snaps, necklines, booties and several items that need to be shipped up for the 1,100-mile Iditarod.
He has had to remind himself several times to double the number of items he gathers for his son-in-law Jim Conner who will be racing in the Iditarod this year as well. Conner will be mushing with a team of Hardman’s dogs.
12:30 p.m. Soup and sandwiches are served in the cabin, and the process of changing from work clothes to Northern Outfitters mushing gear begins.
1:30 p.m. Snowmobiles are used to tow loaded dog sleds to the dog yard, about 300 yards from the cabin. Then the process of harnessing and putting booties on the huskies begins. That’s four booties for each of 16 or 18 dogs on a training team, or at least 64 booties for each musher to put on or take off at each stop.
2:45 p.m. They’re off! The mushers have started a multi-day, 200-mile training run.
2:50 p.m. They’re stopped. The team is tangled.
After about five short stops, the team is finally under way again, headed for Jim Warren’s cabin 60 miles down the trail.
9:25 p.m. The teams arrive at Warren’s cabin ahead of schedule. The same run that took Hardman 10 hours a week ago took less than seven hours this time. This week’s run requires less trail-breaking than last week’s.
10:25 p.m. After setting out straw for the dogs to sleep on, taking booties off the dogs and feeding them, Hardman sits down to a steak dinner with his traveling companions.
12:05 a.m. Hardman and the rest of the mushers hit the sack and prepare for a 6 a.m. wake-up call to start the training all over again.