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March 01, 2012
Steves ready for Iditarod start Saturday
EDMONDS, Washington (STPNS) -- Neither snow, nor cold, nor moose attack will keep Jan Steves from making her appointed rounds – the “rounds” being the 1,000-plus mile long 2012 Iditarod Alaska race.
After years of preparations, Jan Steves is close to realizing her dream. The Iditarod, a race from from Anchorage to Nome, starts this Saturday and Steves is ready to go.
But it hasn’t been an easy journey. Even recently Steves has had to battle weather and wild animals in her training and logistics for the race.
Believe it or not, too much snow is not good for the sleds. Fresh snow is a lot more work for the dogs and throws off the training schedules. And they’ve gotten a lot of snow recently.
“Our training was going great until we got the heavy snowfall,” Steves said. “It took us three days to get dug out.”
“We had just worked up to 42 mile runs. Then each and every run was breaking trail, which resulted in shortening our runs to 16 to 26 mile runs.
“When we weren’t dealing with breaking trail, we were dealing with temperature to minus 34 degrees. That too kept our runs shorter. I was really feeling the pressure on not having long training miles in. But it is what it is.”
Steves said they eventually “settled in at minus 34 degrees for about two months.
Her heating fuel doubled, and the diesel fuel bill for the truck doubled. They had to set an alarm to wake up twice a night to go start the truck so it would start in the morning. The generator for house power had to be brought inside, then taken outside every day multiple times to run.
And the dog food bill was doubled also. They need the extra calories when the weather turns cold.
“It’s weird that I’m feeling as good as I’m feeling,” Steves said. “The snow is really an issue, the dog houses are completely buried.”
One more thing to add to the logistics checklist: Hire local school kids to shovel out the dog houses (sometimes every day).
“There’s so much snow it’s awful,” Steves said.
Then there are the wild animal problems.
If fresh snow is harder for the dogs, sleds and humans to get through, it only makes sense that the local moose are going to find it difficult also.
They all try and use existing trails. And that can mean trouble. Moose are smart and they definitely don’t like sleds or dogs.
“Between the two of us (Steves and her training partner Bob Chlupach) we have had three moose attacks,” Steves said. “The first one was just out from our kennel. It resulted in a 2-year-old moose calf between our two teams. I didn’t know that it had already stomped Bob’s team who was in front of me.
“We sort of ‘ping-ponged’ it between our two teams down the trail. Thankfully, he finally got off the trail and left my team alone.”
The next week, Steves and Chlupach were returning from a run and Steves’ team had just gone up a knoll.
“When my sled popped up I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she said. “There was a huge bull moose standing in front of my leaders (lead dogs) who were just five feet from it.
“I just froze, not knowing what to do. I knew that it was going to be ugly.
“He had a look in his eyes and his head was down and in an instant that guy was a stomping and a flailing right through my team and continued right past me.”
Steves said she realized that she needed to get out of there as the moose will usually turn around and stomp on through again. Miraculously, her dogs were not hurt and they were not tangled up.
“We moved down the trail a bit and I stopped the team,” she said. “I knew that Chlupach was in danger, he was following shortly behind me.
“When he came to the knoll, the bull moose was standing there staring at him. He, too, knew that it was not going to be good. Then the moose charged him and stomped right on through the dogs and sent Bob flying off his sled into the snow.”
“He got up and on his sled and drove his team away. I found myself screaming at him ‘Are you all right?’ and all he did was scream back ‘GET GOING!’”
“Duh – he had the moose behind him. We took off down the trail and got the heck out of there.”
Steves said that as a result of the moose experiences, they truck the dogs a two-hours drive away each day to train where there are fewer moose.
But that will all be over soon, hopefully.
The race starts Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in Anchorage, with the restart in Willow at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Weather forecast for Anchorage Saturday is a high of 21 degrees and a low of 7 degrees.
Perfect weather to follow your dream.
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