Getting Mushy in Seward, Alaska while preparing for IdidaRide
This is a both a heartwarming story, and one of adventure while doing IdidaRide in Seward, Alaska.
I’ve never believed in love at first sight.
Lust at first sight, absolutely. But love? Nope. Love takes time to grow, to get to know your partner, blah blah blah.
Two weeks ago I was proven wrong.
It was a week into my Alaskan vacation and my Royal Caribbean cruise had just come to an end in Seward, AK. My husband and our two friends had decided to take some extra time in Alaska to soak up the beauty and the experiences that it can offer. That morning, after a very hot tea followed by a very hot hot chocolate, we packed ourselves into a waiting van to head into the wilderness for our next adventure. I cradled the hot mug against my frozen fingers, willing the heat to seep into the rest of my body. My torso was wedged between my husband and our friend Michelle, which meant nice warmth from both sides. Being from Phoenix where the temperature was 102 degrees that day, the 55 degree Seward weather was a shock to my dangerously thin blood. I loved it, but my fingers and toes did not.
The ride was a short one, only 15 minutes, before we piled out of the overstuffed van onto the forest floor. I stretched my limbs, carefully protecting my cup of warmth, then looked around.
That was when I first saw him.
His hair was a golden blonde, thick and unkempt with some darker wisps around his ears. He was slender but muscular and I could sense a barely-bridled energy within him. Standing still was not something he did voluntarily. My breath caught in my throat when he turned and looked at me.
Ours eyes met, both sets brown and thoughtful. Without realizing it, I began moving towards him. I couldn’t have told you where my husband was at that moment, I’d already left him behind. The eye contact continued until I was standing in front of him, where a hint of a smile played on his lips. I had no control as my hand reached out towards him. Without hesitation, he leaned into it. I lowered my face to his – yes, lowered, tall he was not – and closed my eyes, waiting for contact. That’s when I felt the wetness of his tongue across my cheek. I scrunched my eyes closed, knowing more was to come. Sure enough, the tongue continued to bathe me. Nose, eyes, neck, nothing on my face was left untouched. As I pulled away, his paw reached out and touched my hand. I held it and he leaned across his fence to give me more kisses.
That’s when the baby talk began. His name was Ruby and I told him what a handsome boy he was, how smart and sweet. He lapped it up, leaning in to press his wet nose against my glove. I stroked his thick blonde fur and as I leaned in again for more kisses, I felt him pull away. Opening my eyes, I watched as I was forgotten in an instant. Ruby hopped two paces to his left, to a stranger standing next to me. Then he began to kiss them and lean his face into their hand and hold his paw over their gloves. Our love was over before it had begun.
The betrayal was slight. I am a dog mom who has three four-legged children waiting back in Phoenix for me. I know that doggy love is given freely to those who are open to receiving it, so I knew my time with Ruby was over. However, as if sensing my abandonment, up walked my husband and our friends, all of whom had been the recipients of doggy love, too. The human alpha female of our pack, a slight blonde woman named Meredith, called us all over so she could talk about the variety of dogs running around the large enclosures.
These were all sled dogs of the Iditarod. Hard working, fleet-footed mutts who pulled sleds 1,000 miles through the Alaskan wilderness to compete in one of the most grueling races on the planet. They were the superstars of mushers, and they all belonged to Mitch Seavey, the superstar musher. Seavey has competed in 24 Iditarods, winning three of them. In 2017 Seavey beat the Iditarod speed record and became the oldest musher ever to win at the age of 56. During the summer months he opens his kennels to the curious tourists who flock to it, wanting to feel the rush of a dog sled team pulling them through the rugged Alaskan terrain. He calls this summer adventure IdidaRide.
The dogs are mutts, all of them. Turns out the full-bred Alaskan Huskies can be lazy and refuse to run for people, but the mutts will never fail them. They each eat six pounds of fresh meat every day during the race, learn to poop and pee while running and can pull twice as much weight as horses, pound for pound. Seavey’s dogs are the musher’s family and are treated the way every human would want to be, with love and respect. For the first two years of their lives they are allowed to be puppies, to play and mature. Their sled training happens after that period when they’re fully grown. In the winter they pull sleds, in the summer it is wagons.
Before hopping on our wagon but after being dumped by my boy Ruby, Meredith gave us a Q&A session where we got to know all about the dogs and the Iditarod. She should know, she’s a race finisher. Once we (mostly me) had exhausted her with our questions, we were led to one of the large metal wagons where seven of us climbed aboard. One by one the dogs were brought to the long harness line and attached to it by their vests, two dogs side-by-side until twelve were standing in front of us. As soon as they were hooked up, some of the dogs started to freak out. It wasn’t from fear or pain or anything negative. No, these mutts wanted to RUN! They couldn’t contain themselves, baying and barking, jumping straight up and rearing on their hind legs. Thirteen dogs with the energy of fifty. The fourteenth and final dog was led to the beginning of the line where she was tethered to the very front. This was Chilkat, the lead dog, an Iditarod champion. Meredith jumped on the back of the wagon where she would be steering and braking and shouting out her commands.
With a single word from Meredith, we were off! The powerful back legs of the dogs pushed with all their might and the wagon rocketed forward. Out the gate, around the trees to a well-worn path, they ran and pulled and barked and gave it their all. It was heaven! The trees rushed past as the dogs found their pace. At forks in the road Meredith would yell “GEE” and Chilkat would lead her pack to the right. Next turn it was “HAW” and they would veer left. They didn’t slow down for five minutes, until Meredith finally commanded them to. The team of fourteen panted and paced in place, their tongues lolling out the sides of their mouths. It was only about a minute later that they started to jump and bark and bounce, begging to continue to run. So we did. I laughed and took endless videos of their doggy butts in front of me, the wagon careening through the Alaskan forest.
Ten minutes later we were back at the kennels. Dogs were unharnessed and led back to their large enclosures where food and water were waiting. We petted them and gave belly rubs, telling them what good doggies they were. At a side building Meredith brought us to a stall where a slight black dog was nursing her two-week-old puppies. I snuggled the new babies against me, sucking in their puppy smell and breath. Next to me my husband did the same, being as dog crazy as I am.
Too quickly the pups were given back to their mom so we could finish the final leg of our adventure – the wardrobe. We’d already seen how these beasts could run, now we got to see how they dressed. Well, more like how they are dressed when racing. A pulling harness goes on first, then jackets to help in extreme temperature, followed by the booties. These cute booties not only look fashionable – because I’m sure the dogs care – but serve a greater purpose of protecting the foot pads over snow, ice and rocks. After the fashion show I played on one of the actual Iditarod sleds until we were led back to the van. Climbing in, the lingering scent of the dogs and puppy breath filled the van. I soaked it in, longing for my three mutts back home. As the van pulled away from IdidaRide, we all grinned and talked and replayed the amazing wagon ride and wishing it could have lasted longer.
Seward, Alaska IdidaRide Information:
RATES/PACKAGES: Although our group opted for the simple Wilderness Sled Ride tour for $74 a person ($37/children), IdidaRide also offers two more extensive tours. For those serious wanna-be mushers who don’t consider riding in a sled with wheels to be a true dog sled adventure, IdidaRide has something for them, even in the summer. The Glacier Dog Sled Tours ($529 per adult, $499 for kids) starts with a mere ten-minute helicopter ride from the town of Girdwood, which is about 30 minutes outside of Anchorage, the die-hard mushers will be deposited on an Alaskan glacier with year ‘round snow. There they’ll be able to get the feel of the real sleds as the dogs slide and glide the small sleighs over the white stuff. A true Iditarod rush!
OTHER IDIDARIDE OFFERINGS: If Anchorage is too far and the simple Wilderness tour isn’t quite enough, there’s a third option. IdidaRide will pick you up in Seward and give you a whole day’s worth of fun. The Real Alaska Tour ($139 per adult/$79 children) starts with a history of Seward, which has an interesting past for such a small town. Fifteen minutes from town is the Exit Glacier trailhead, with its towering face of glacial ice in the distance. It’s a short walk to the glacier and is full of potential wildlife sightings as well as a lot of moose poop. A lot of moose poop. Trust me on this. You’ll also be able to see one of the most hilariously-worded signs on the trailhead warning about bear attacks. Post-hike is a lunch followed by what is the tour de grace – the dog-pulled wagon adventure!
My friends and I had all spent the previous week hiking, kayaking and soaking up the Alaskan beauty, but it was the kisses and barks of some mutts that we knew would be the highlight of our trip. The next time you find yourself adventuring to Alaska, summer or winter, I highly recommend you give your inner-musher the thrill of a lifetime and let IdidaRide lead you there!