Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Iditarod 2008 Dog Sled Race - Part 1

This post is from Joe Runyan, Backcountry.com sponsored athlete.

Rachael Scdoris and I are training our teams of sled dogs and preparing sleds and gear for Iditarod 2008. Although I have known Rachael’s father for years and met Rachael when she was three months old, how it happened that Rachael, age 22, and I, age 59, are entering as two teams that will travel together is one of those chance convergences on the trail of life that deserves an explanation.

Rachael is legally blind, the result of a rare genetic circumstance that leaves her color blind and severely limited in most light conditions. On snow in bright sun, her vision is a total wash and she wears very dark glasses to avoid severe headaches. I don’t know all the exact details but I do know from being with her that things getter better in the low light of early morning and evening where she is aware of forms or points of light from a bright moon or a headlamp. For sure, she can not see a fork in the trail on snow covered tundra or discern the trail in a blowing snow storm. That’s where I serve some kind of purpose as her trail partner and “visual guide” for the 2008 Iditarod.

At any rate, after a philosophical battle with a number of sled dog race entities, including the Iditarod, she was able to persuade organizers that she could finish the trail and take more than adequately take care of the dogs, a major concern of critics who doubted her competency. On her eighteenth birthday she began entering three to four hundred mile events that would qualify her to run the Iditarod. Her only request was that she be allowed to have someone on a snowmachine travel ahead on the trail to advise her of really dicey trail situations. Other than that, she was quite prepared to take care of the dogs, drive the team she had trained, and execute all the animal husbandry chores it takes to maintain a team of sixteen sled dogs. She quickly satisfied Iditarod requirements by finishing two qualifier events and gaining recommendations from the race organizers.

After considerable wrangling, some of it very boring, and enduring some outrageous and pathetic commentaries in the Alaska press which questioned her ability to travel the Iditarod trail with a severe sight disability, Rachael received the go-ahead from the Iditarod Trail Board of Directors in 2005. Iditarod allowed her the accommodation of a “sight guide,” but specified that she had to complete the race like any other musher without any outside assistance. The “sight guide” would be another team and musher traveling with Rachael and her team. Rachael of course accepted. The deal was fair enough.

Rachael entered the 2005 Iditarod, made it over the Alaska Range---the toughest part of the trail---but scratched at about mile 600 on the 1100 mile trail with a team of sick sled dogs. Learning from this experience, she entered again with Timmy Osmar, a top Iditarod competitor, as her “sight guide” and finished the 2006 Iditarod.

I should mention that she is in awesome physical shape, works out big-time with weights and running, is a master of training sled dogs, and definitely understands the simple concept of work. She and her father, Jerry Scdoris, operate a sled dog concession at the Mt. Bachelor ski resort in Bend, Oregon, and maintain a kennel of 100 sled dogs. She is the real deal.

To track Rachel and Joe's progress, check out the Iditarod site.
Right now Rachel and Joe are in 63rd out of 83 still in the race, pretty awesome tracking system!

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