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Monday, February 22, 2010

Time for the Iron Dog!

Alaska is a unique place. We have a lot of things here that are not common in the lower 48. We all know that winter is on it's way out when we start having events like the Iron Dog. There is a great deal of interest in the race because of one of it's participants, Todd Palin, husband to Sarah Palin. Here is a little history on the event from the Iron Dog Website:

The first Iron Dog event started in 1984, in Big Lake following the Northern Route of the Historic Iditarod Trail to Nome. The event began as the “Iron Dog Iditarod”, but the name was quickly changed the next year to the “Gold Rush Classic”, in 1990 the race was recognized as the “Iron Dog Gold Rush Classic” for a decade until Tesoro Corporation became a title sponsor, thus recognizing today’s event as the Tesoro Iron Dog.

Today’s Iron Dog course length 1971 miles, starting in Big Lake to Nome and finishing in Fairbanks, making it the World’s longest snowmobile race. Participants must traverse in some of Alaska’s the most remote and rugged terrain while confronting some the harshest winter conditions. Survival skills are essential, making it the World’s toughest snowmobile race. All teams in race classes are a team of two persons and two snowmobiles for safety...
(To see the whole story, follow this link.

The Iron Dog is Alaska's Nascar. The race starts on Big Lake which is very appropriately named because of it's size. This lake covers roughly 13 square miles. Go to Mapquest or GoogleEarth and check out Big Lake, Alaska and you'll see what I mean. The actual race starting line is on the lake near an island that is home to the Islander Lodge. In the summer, you can only get to this lodge by boat but in the winter you can drive to it. Ever seen Ice Road Truckers? What they have is a plowed road system out on Big lake, and that is how you get to the start of the Iron Dog.

Driving on one of the ice roads out to the starting point

The Islander Lodge

There is something of an Alaskan "fair" feeling to this event. People are walking around, running it to others they know and catching up. There are a few vendors and many, many people ride out on their own snowmachines.

Planes with skis also use the lake and were taking off

The Army National Guard is a huge supporter and a strong presence. Here is one of the vehicles they bring out every year

They line up along the chute, which is plowed and has fencing on each side.

The racers are in pairs for safety because this is an extremely dangerous sport. Flying across frozen lakes, rivers, and tundra at speeds of 50, 60, 70+ is dangerous in itself, not to mention the temperatures in the interior can reach -40 degree below zero or more. Going 70 mph in -40 degree weather is punishing on the skin and the body. Racers put duct tape on the exposed skin on their faces to protect it.

They wear very warm gear, have to have a knowledge of arctic survival and have to be able to make repairs to their machines out on the trail. And it can really hurt if you're going 70 mph and hit something and get thrown from your sled. This happened last year to one team only 2 minutes into the race. One team member hit something that was buried in the snow, it stopped his snowmachine cold, and he went flying. The race was done for that team. Even Todd Palin has fallen victim to this. One year he was thrown from his snowmachine and finished the race with a broken arm. Rest is a luxury but there are a few times during the race that mandatory layovers take place. Todd and his partner Scott Davis are pros, though. Todd first won the Iron Dog in 1995. Here is footage of the finish of that race with the interviewer talking to Sarah about how she feels about his racing:

Todd last won this race in 2008, when he was injured. Here is video of that finish:

(Click here to read an article written last year in Men's Journal Magazine about the snowmaching, famous "First Dude")

If you'd like to follow the race, each team has a GPS unit on their snowmachine and you can track their progress by following this link.

I'd like to share some personal photos from last year's Iron Dog. I had the opportunity to speak briefly to Sarah before the race and had my picture taken with her. You can read more about that experience here and look at some of the photos that go along with the story

Sarah arrived to see Todd off and took a few photos with some of the spectators

I even had a chance to speak to Sarah and have my picture taken with Sarah and Trig

Todd Palin and his race partner Scott Davis greeting fans

Last year Todd had all the kid's names painted on his snowmachine, as well as Sarah "The Gov"

And, let the ceremony begin! The Army National Guard presents the colors, the National Anthem is played, and we say the Pledge of Allegience.

Sarah gives Todd and hug and kiss and says goodbye

Sarah wishes all the racers luck and then she and Piper get ready to drop the flag to start the race

Piper got to drop the flag for the start of the race. Sarah's dad Chuck Heath is just to the right of the security guard

After a few other racers, Scott Davis (left) and Todd Palin pulled up to the starting line

And then they got the signal to head down the chute

They are on the trail now. Please keep them in your prayers for a safe return!

UPDATE: To view photos of the Iron Dog start today, check out this link to KMBQ 99.7 Valley Radio

- To see more posts from this author, please check out Finding Myself In Alaska

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