“Mushers like to travel at night when it’s colder and the trail is firm,” says the video host, reporting from a checkpoint on the Iditarod https://iditarod.com/.
Possibly because I have not traveled, in the sense of taking a trip, for a long while, this past week I signed up to follow the Iditarod. Sugar season is in limbo: we are set up, ready to go, but the sugarbush is frozen up tight. But today may be my last chance to contemplate The Last Great Race, since tomorrow promises a major thaw, the starting gun for Nebraska Knoll’s – and all of Vermont’s – Great Maple Race.
The Iditarod began yesterday. Forty-eight dog sled teams are now traveling an 850-mile route from Anchorage across the Alaska Range and back. Due to the pandemic, for the first time in forty-nine years the race does not end in Nome on the Bering Sea where my brother and his family lives.
How do Iditarod and sugar season align other than on the calendar? Both are the focal point of the year for participants. Both are similar but never the same from year to year, starting with the weather. Says veteran Aliy Zirkle, “If you set out with a plan, after the first quarter-mile you toss it out. You make one decision then follow that until you need to make the next decision. And so on.”
“You just can’t explain what it’s like to people who haven’t run this race,” says DeeDee Jonrowe. “There’s comaraderie among all of us mushers.” (And among the volunteers, too.)
The mushers survive on power naps. Sleep deprivation is a given.
That’s sugaring, and, I think, the most grueling aspect.
It’s a year-round lifestyle; you have to love dogs, training them and caring for them.
For us, it’s a love of the land and dedication to improving infrastructure.
Everyone has their own way of doing things.
The dogs are meant to run, it’s what they do and can’t help doing. They are the heartbeat of the Iditarod.
The maple trees are the heartbeat of sugaring. They are meant to run with sap, it’s what they do.
Sled dogs and maples, do I know you? No, and scarcely.
Go and run.
There is a beginning, a middle, and an end.
We sugarmakers and mushers, we travel with you.