This summer, we had the opportunity to visit Alaska. It was a trip that Allison, my wife, and I wanted to take for a long time. Though we visited only a few towns and villages along the Inside Passage, we quickly understood how a person could become enamored by the vastness, wildness and beauty of this 49th state. The culture of the original inhabitants of the land embraces an attitude of living in harmony with nature and today many are committed to preserving their heritage as it relates to the great outdoors.
Of all the experiences we enjoyed, one stands out because it reminded me of what MHHF represents – a link from our past to our future.
While visiting Juneau we took an excursion to Musher’s Camp. Here, sled dogs are bred, raised and trained as work dogs, the way Native Alaskans did for hundreds of years. Just like Missourians before the invention of the truck and tractor used horses, mules and oxen to transport people and goods over distances, teams of Alaskan Malamutes and later Siberian Huskies were a reliable means of “horsepower.” They were working dogs and, as such, responded to their “work” with enthusiasm and were considered members of their human family.
In the late 1960’s the dogs “lost their job” to various types of snowmobiles. These brought certain efficiencies but there were disadvantages as well. If one of the dogs became ill or lame, others in the team could continue. In the event of an unexpected storm, the dogs and musher could bed down, stay warm and then continue later. (The smart musher would know to pack a little extra food for everyone in preparation for such an event.) When weather goes bad and a snow machine breaks down, the operator is completely dependent on radio and rescue.
In 1973, Joe Redington, Sr. felt it was important to “preserve the culture of sled dogs and their use in Alaska” and established the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. People train with teams of dogs throughout the year to participate. The goal seems to be every bit as much to finish as to win.
From Iditarod.com: The race pits man and animal against nature, against wild Alaska at her best and as each mile is covered, it is a tribute to Alaska’s history and the role the sled dog’ played. The Iditarod is a tie to that colorful past.