I'm a recreational musher that ran my first Iditarod from Anchorage to Nome. I own 18 sled dogs in rural Alaska. And have a day job. But somehow I pulled together an Iditarod attempt and made it to Nome. Here's part of the trail with very low snow.

My Proof: http://i.imgur.com/jayo9wp.jpg

THANKS - my lunch hour is over. Might try to answer some questions later today but done for now.

Comments: 102 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

Effimero8911 karma

Do the dogs like doritios cool ranch or nacho cheese?

Nome_AK8 karma

Cool ranch, of course.

WhatWasWhatAbout8 karma

How active and involved are you while riding?

Nome_AK9 karma

And to explain the "fewer dogs" thing - you start with 16. But drop dogs if they get sore shoulders / wrists or get otherwise ill. When you drop a dog, it's flown back to Anchorage and taken care of until the race ends. You have to finish with at least 5 dogs.

Photovoltaic2 karma

Is 16 the only amount you may start with or can you start with more or less?

IE: Does everyone have 16 and everyone has to finish with >5? Is there a dog strategy or just "Keep them in tip top physical condition, more is better, but we all start with 16"

Nome_AK6 karma

16 is the cap. Most mushers start with 16. But you can start with as few as 12. One musher started with 12. She scratched at mile 150.

Yes. Everyone needs at least 5 to finish.

Nome_AK8 karma

Good question. When you start the 1,000 mile race, you're riding the break keeping the dogs at a slow pace (9 mph). But later in the race, when you're down to fewer dogs and they're slowing down, you're ski-poling or kicking along to help the team.

Ecti5 karma

What common difficulties did you encounter during the race?

Nome_AK12 karma

Sleep. And lack of it. For the first 4 days I slept two hours. When you pull into a check point, let's say for 4 hours, 2.5 of those hours are spent taking care of dogs (taking off 64 booties, oiling 64 feet, cooking dog food, putting on 16 jackets, taking off 16 jackets, putting on 64 new booties).

After day four I became more efficient and could pass out anywhere. I got by on 3 hours of sleep every 24 hours for the rest of the 11 day race.

tlavelle214 karma

Congrats on the finish. My parents were north of Montreal and got to take an intro mushing class. I remember my dad telling me how difficult going up hill could be if the dogs were slacking or if you just had a heavy load, and how he would have to run with them to help get up the hill. Seeing the picture with the lack of snow I was just wondering how difficult those portions of the race were for you?

Nome_AK2 karma

I had to run a lot next to the sled this year. Especially two parts of the trail due to low snow (Farewell Burn and Blueberry Hills).

48Michael4 karma

Another question, if you don't mind answering, can you put a total amount of cash it takes to run the race? I'm sure there are so many expenses and dust everything. Once again, congrats you crazy one! :)

Nome_AK8 karma

It's insane. $3000 entry fee. $15,000 in high quality human grade meat and kibble for training / the race. $3,500 in dog booties. And a million other small expenses that add up. I don't know the total. And for a second Iditarod it would be cheaper. But not that much cheaper. I'd ballpark this racing season costing $25 - $30k? Not counting lost wages from time off to train.

I told that figure to an European musher that came over and he was floored - he paid $75k to run the race. But he has sponsors so it works out for him.

gointoalltheworld1 karma

Why do the dog booties cost so much?

Nome_AK1 karma

Dog booties are a $1 each. Not bad considering they're kinda a specialty item, that has to be made of very durable fabric and high quality velcro. You just need a TON of them on a 1,000 mile race. Every checkpoint, and there are about 18 of them on the Iditarod, require you to reboot your entire team. That's 64 boots at each check point. And you have to have extras for open water crossings or very bad trail. Plus boots for the 3,000 miles of training getting the dogs ready race day.

ihatearcaness4 karma

Ever had an accidents during a race? Animal attacks, loss of equipment, etc.

Nome_AK5 karma

I've had plenty of close encounters with moose, but never been attacked. During the 11 day Iditarod I lost a leatherman. But I brought two, so it worked out.

I didn't lose any of the mandatory Iditarod gear (snow shoes / ax / extra dog booties / extra dog food / sleeping bag).

Nome_AK4 karma

Though one musher during the Iditarod was famously attacked by a moose. Susan Butcher. The moose killed two dogs and she had to scratch from the race. I think that was 1985.

WhatWasWhatAbout4 karma

How long have you been doing this sort of thing?

How often do you get to do it?

Nome_AK8 karma

I mush my dogs most days during the winter. After work and on the weekend.

As for a 1,000 mile race, that's harder to put together. I spent 3 months running the dogs full time to get them in shape. And the costs are immense for the Iditarod. So I don't know if I'll be able to pull that off again. We'll see.

manutdfan573 karma

What's your favorite post-race activity?

Nome_AK8 karma

SLEEP.

mitchdwx2 karma

How do you know where the trail is? Are there markings everywhere that you follow?

How did you manage sledding through the areas with no snow?

Nome_AK2 karma

It's staked out. But the stakes blow over and are knocked over. I never got lost, but I was worried several times on the trail.

1TrueKingInTheNorth2 karma

Between you, your gear and the sled, how much weight are the dogs pulling in total? Do you ever feel bad about making the dogs pull that much weight?

I just think I'd feel like a jerk having dogs pulling me and and all that gear around, especially near the end when you have fewer dogs.

Adult-male3 karma

I got to drive a sled once at a carnival and while waiting in line. I was able to watch the dogs. The dogs got angry when they weren't running. They howled in protest when the owner swapped out teams to rest.

TIL: Those dogs love to work.

Nome_AK4 karma

That's right. They love to run. When they see they're going to run they start going nuts.

Nome_AK2 karma

Pretty heavy. Not sure of the total, but over 350 pounds.

But have you ever been on skis? It takes a small amount of power to move something over snow / ice if you have a good trail. When the snow was poor, in the Blueberry Hills and the Farewell Burn, I ran next to the sled.

I didn't feel like a jerk because my dogs were wagging their tails at each checkpoint. Two were not into it and I dropped them. They're home now and fine.

48Michael2 karma

Congrats on your finish! This race has always impressed me. How close are you with the dogs? Do you have a favorite (of course don't let the others know!)? Also, do you ever get that sort of daze while sledding...kind of like near zoning out on a highway?

Nome_AK4 karma

Very close. They live with me right in front of my house. I'm closer to them than my house pets. And yes I have a clear favorite. She was one of the dogs that finished with me.

Yes, I fell asleep twice during the race while on the sled. But I didn't lose the team!

48Michael2 karma

Man, crazy! I took a trip to Alaska about 15 years ago and went to a sled dog training facility or something...those dogs were so sweet and beautiful!

Nome_AK3 karma

I agree. They're awesome. I love going home to my yard after work.

48Michael3 karma

Well on that note, what is your day job? I'm guessing they must be cool with you doing all this on the side.

Nome_AK4 karma

Government attorney. I have a cool boss.

NormalSubreddit6 karma

I had suspicions at the start, but reading this I'm almost 100% sure that you're my cousin. The basic story outline probably fits a few people, but I'd be amazed if two of them were government attorneys.

If I'm right, I'm your mom's brother's son.

Nome_AK3 karma

Just send you a private message to figure this out.

NormalSubreddit6 karma

Ha! My suspicions were correct! The whole family is super proud of you for finishing the Iditarod, that includes my wife and I.

I've told several people at work about your race planning. They ask when they see the sticker on my laptop.

Nome_AK5 karma

Small Internet! Right on cuz.

r0ckchalk2 karma

Thanks for doing this AmA! I used to live in Anchorage as a child and my parents would take me to see the start of the race downtown every year. Now I try to watch it online on the live stream cameras they have posted around the city. I have several questions, how long did it take for you to finish? And also for how many years have you been preparing to enter the race? How did you decide what to name your dogs? Can you provide any better proof? Like perhaps your username under your finisher medal?

Nome_AK3 karma

11 days. It was a two year project to qualify and run the race. I'd be happy to snap another photo of the belt buckle but it appears this is AMA winding down. If it continues, sure, I'll take a photo of it.

Nome_AK1 karma

FYI: I updated my proof pic above (http://i.imgur.com/jayo9wp.jpg)

ErrolTheHamster2 karma

what is your favourite type of biscuit?

Nome_AK9 karma

Sea biscuit.

I_want_candyy2 karma

Can we see pictures of your dogs? I bet they're adorable.

Nome_AK5 karma

Here you go.

From a couple years ago.

KenTheExAD1 karma

I used to spend a few weeks every year in Alaska (Girdwood, to be precise) around Christmas back in the late 80's and early 90's. By the end of the 90's, many of our friends there were thinking of moving away because the snow season was shortening so rapidly. As of five years ago everyone I used to know in Anchorage and Gordwood had moved away.

Question: in your personal experience, just how badly has global warming affected Alaska's winter season revenues?

Nome_AK2 karma

Not sure. But check out this google trends graph of interest in the Iditarod. Dropping considerably. Not sure what to assign that to, but we've had some real low snow years in the past decade.

KenTheExAD1 karma

Hmm. When I was a kid, the Iditarod was considered by many as the most gruelling race on the planet, more than the Marathon des Sables. People would be mushing over the frozen sea for long stretches. Is that even still possible?

Nome_AK1 karma

It's not easy, for sure. The run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk goes over sea ice. And that run is infamous for terrible storms. A couple mushers scratched there last year. This year it was fine. Clear and cold. With a little wind. But no storm.

CiD77071 karma

What does your teams diet consist of during the race? How about yourself? What's the first thing you eat after the race? What does your team get after?

Nome_AK0 karma

For the dogs: High fat kibble and high quality meat. For me - whatever is available at checkpoints, or easy meals I've vacuum sealed and sent out (lots of lasagna for me).

After the race: I wanted a beer more than anything else. The dogs got some raw steaks.

FiveDozenWhales1 karma

What's your take on the whole Demoski situation? Do you think it was intentional?

Nome_AK1 karma

I was between Cripple and Ruby when that happened. So I have no idea. I only know what I read in the paper.

GLOOTS_OF_PEACE1 karma

has a dog ever died on you? do the dogs like each other?

Nome_AK1 karma

No. Never even close. Iditarod dogs are in amazing health. They have required EKG's before the race. Required blood work. They eat super expensive diets of high quality meat.

That said: One dog died this year because a drunk guy driving a snow machine hit the dog team.

My dogs all like each other. It's a pack mentality. But if a new dog comes into the yard, it's a lot of barking.

rcrracer1 karma

Why did Lester Holt on the NBC 6:30 national news call the Iditarod course the Iditarod track? The following weekend during tournament play, NBC golf announcers also called a golf course, a golf track.

Nome_AK2 karma

I have no idea.

CanuckLoonie1 karma

I know I'm late to the party, but was wondering....

  1. How much it costs to feed, train, purchase equipment and whatever else it takes to run a Iditarod 18 dog sled team?

  2. What made you decide to get into sled dog racing?

Nome_AK1 karma

The Idtiarod is a 16 dog race. Used to be up to 20, but now it's 12-16. Almost everyone starts with 16. If you don't have a sponsor, and have a small yard like myself, the season costs a ton. For me it probably was over the $25k - $30k range. Just for the Iditarod. That does not include food for the rest of the year. Or lost wages while I was training.

And that assumes you already have an Iditarod quality sled. And all the basic gear.

I know people lease their dogs teams to people to run the Iditarod. It's a two winter project because you have to qualify. Counting the year it takes to qualify for the race, I've heard one place charges around $100,000. With no guarantee of finishing (for example: this year 14 mushers scratched).

Regarding your second question: I love dogs and I love being with them on the sled. And I have a very understanding wife.

tomsing981 karma

I hope this isn't too late...

I just finished reading Race Against Death to my daughter, about the dogsled teams that brought the diptheria medicine to Nome. Our dog is named Juno, so every time the book talked about Juneau, she got a kick out of it.

How do you think the modern race compares to the teams running in 1925? Obviously, you guys are doing it all in one shot, where they had multiple teams. What sort of advances have there been in the last 90 years?

Nome_AK3 karma

So many advances. Check out the wiki Iditarod list of winning times to see how it's gone from a 20 day trip to 8 days.

Most importantly, there's been professionalism of the dog breeding. They are bred to do this and are world class athletes. Also: Better lighter sleds. Better dog food. Better vet information on keeping sled dogs healthy for 1,000 miles. And the trail has improved - now the Iron Dog (snow machine race) runs over it a couple weeks before the race, packing the trail down.

tomsing981 karma

Wow, that's pretty amazing. Looking at the list, it seems like there are lead dogs that have won over spans of maybe 3 years. What sort of working life span do the dogs have? What's retirement like for a dog that is used to pulling a sled?

What distinguishes the top teams from the middle of the pack? Better dogs? More training? Are the teams at the limit of performance, or do you think they will ever break the 8 day mark?

Sorry, man, I could probably ask you questions about this all day. This is really cool.

Nome_AK2 karma

I had two nine year olds in my team. They finished the race. But that's probably close to the upward limit for an Iditarod dog. I also had two two-year olds. Though other people run 1 year olds and 10 year olds.

That said, old sled dogs can continue short runs for the rest of their lives, training puppies and having fun. Really old dogs become yard pets. At least in our kennel.

Good question about the top teams v the rest. Top teams generally have a larger (or far more selective) talent pool of dogs. They have handlers helping run the dogs, getting more miles on them. And though teams generally go a similar speed, top teams take far less rest. I gave my dogs the minimum rest I thought they needs to stay happy / healthy. But that was way more rest that the top teams.

Re. the 8 day barrier: I'd say if snow conditions are perfect (hard and fast) probably.

Frost9071 karma

Are you near Fairbanks? If so, would you be interested in telling a story at a live storytelling event?

Nome_AK1 karma

Sorry. Not in the Fairbanks area.

fallingwalls1 karma

If I were to visit Alaska, could you recommend a place to give this a try? Assuming there is a place for complete beginners.

Nome_AK2 karma

Oh, plenty of places that will take a tourist out riding in the sled basket. Most don't trust the tourist to drive the team though. I live in rural Alaksa. You would likely be visiting Anchorage area. I don't know mushers over there. Sorry.

maz-o1 karma

What's a musher?

Nome_AK2 karma

A person that mushers sled dogs.

friday7691 karma

what are Alaskan residents view of gold mining tv shows like bearing sea gold, and Gold rush? obviously you prolly dont watch much tv. but I get addicted to watching them.

Nome_AK1 karma

No first hand knowledge, but locals believe they're all staged and pre-scripted. Which is true for most all reality TV, I suppose.

nice_and_friendly-1 karma

when the dogs are slacking, do you use a whip or do you just put them down like a horse with a broken leg to set an example? how often do you piss on the dogs to assert your dominance? thanks in advance

Nome_AK4 karma

Jesus Christ no. All that's against race rules. I raised my voice a couple times when dogs were not staying on the trail, but that's it.

nice_and_friendly2 karma

ok, follow up question, do people cheat? if yes, how?

Nome_AK2 karma

Not that I know of. All dogs are urine tested for drugs. As are the mushers. It would be impossible to swap in a new dog, since the race is so remote and all dogs have micro chips in them. So I don't see how one could cheat nowadays.

nice_and_friendly8 karma

hide a group of cheetahs in the woods a few miles into the race and swap your dogs out for them

Nome_AK7 karma

Cheetahs can't go 1,000 miles. Sled dogs are amazing animals.

nice_and_friendly9 karma

hide a ford f350 in the woods a few miles into the race and swap your dogs out for that. pile them all in the back so you still have the micro chips

Nome_AK3 karma

But you have GPS trackers on you. So you'd have to stay at 9 to 11 mph - otherwise people would get suspicious. And stay away from the other 84 mushers on the trail.

And make sure the f350 had tracks not wheels installed.

Other than that - perfect idea!

nice_and_friendly2 karma

is everyone generally pretty close to each other? i always figured within a couple days everyone would be spread out enough to rarely see each other for most of the race

Nome_AK4 karma

You're right. You only see the people traveling on a similar schedule. Nobody else. By the end of the race the winner is 300 miles away from the back of the pack.