Sunday, November 4, 2007

Don Bowers

One of the more difficult aspects of writing a book about the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has been getting a feel for what the trail was really like. Never having run a sled dog race myself, I've relied on book excerpts and descriptions from those who've been there, but for the most part these have generally supplied only bits and snippets of the trail, an incident here, an accident there, with good descriptions of the trail and the surroundings, and slowly, piece by piece, I've built a haphazard sort of map in my mind of what the trail out there must be like.

One of the most valuable tools in this process has been the site with it's wonderful maps and descriptions, especially the in-depth leg-by-leg explanations of what to expect. I learned that these were written by a fellow named Don Bowers, a name I'd heard many times in my research, but whose story I didn't really become familiar with until I started looking into the background of the notes on the Iditarod site. Then I struck what amounts to editorial gold!

Besides being an Iditarod musher and wearing several other hats, Don Bowers was the chief pilot for Hudson Air Service in Talkeetna. He and three others were killed in a crash near Mt. McKinley in June, 2000. Descriptive tributes to Don Bowers are still online from Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News Outdoors Editor; and Lew Freedman, former Anchorage Daily News Sports Editor.

I'd heard from several people that Don Bowers was deeply interested in the history of the Iditarod race, and in fact I've referred to his historical essays on the Iditarod site many times. But in tracking the origins of those notes I found that some of the historical details had been omitted. They're still intact, however, at Don's 2000 Trail Notes. And each leg of the trail includes several photos of that section!

Already an author ("Back of the Pack,"), Don had planned to publish his Trail Notes as a book. I can't find any indication that it was ever published, but with his gift for almost prose-like descriptions paired with his marvelous photos, it would have surely been an Iditarod best-seller.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Express Teams to Seward

A friend and I toured Wasilla's Transportation Museum this week and I snapped a shot of this fascinating photo. The white writing across the bottom reads "Express dog teams from the Iditarod, at Seward, Alaska." I think there are four teams showing. Does anyone know anything about this photo?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Violet Redington

Obituary of Vi Redington in the Frontiersman newspaper, April 2, 2006.

'A dog race to Nome is impossible' seemed to be the general consensus of everyone around. But a few hardy (many would say foolhardy) souls, led and inspired by Joe Redington Sr. and supported all the way by Vi, made it happen. Though not officially known as the “mother” of the Iditarod, few would argue that Vi was the matriarch of the event - hosting, sometimes tolerating, musher after musher in her never-locked home in Knik and in various cabins, including a much-loved place in the Petersville Hills.

The photos of Vi and Joe are on display at Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla.

Mushers Archive

The link at the top of the column to the right, titled Mushers Archive, goes to my ever-growing collection of links and articles on the 1973 mushers. That is actually a separate blog where I'm compiling my collected online research on the individual mushers, and one of the nifty blog tools will then let me conveniently pull up all the the posts related to any particular musher. Contributions and suggestions are heartily welcomed. Simpy send an email to me at

Knik Hall

I really need to find some time to visit the Knik Museum and Musher's Hall of Fame in this historic building...

Along the Iditarod Trail

Olaus Murie ran dog teams throughout Alaska in his 31 years as a federal wildlife biologist. He began in 1914, the glory days of the Iditarod and long-distance mushing, and continued through the twilight of the long-haul dog teams. In his book Journeys to the Far North, one chapter describes a mushing trip through Rainy Pass in early 1922 along the Iditarod Trail:

"Why do we look back to those days as something precious? Perhaps there was something there we do not yet understand. On those long dog trails, leading through miles of scrubby spruce forest, across lowland flats, over rolling hills, every traveler I met was a friend. We would maneuver our respective dogteams past each other in the narrow trail, plant a foot on the brake, and talk….Nothing weighty, these conversations. We were complete strangers, but in a sparsely settled land each person has more value. You're glad to see each other. When you release your brake and your dogs perk up and yank the sled loose, you wave a mittened hand to your departing acquaintance with the warm feeling of a few shared moments…."

~Murie, Olaus, "By Dogs Around Denali," from Journeys to the Far North, in Alaska: Reflections on Land and Spirit, eds. Robert Hedin and Gary Holthaus. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989

From Iditarod History by Don Bowers

Musher Archives

There's a good listing of both the finishing mushers and those who scratched from the first race at the site, showing their names, hometown, how the finishers placed, gender (all males), rookie status (they were all rookies!), and how much the top finishers won.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Welcome to this working blog

For several months I've been working on a book about the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, which took place in March of 1973. This blog is an attempt to make my research and work available to those who are interested in following and/or supporting my efforts.