“Mush! An Evening with Iditarod Racer Karen Land and Her Dog!” brought more than 50 people to the Ascension Parish Library on Friday night.
For the past 20 years, Land has given presentations to more than 1,000 schools in 26 states about sled dogs and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The Iditarod is an annual long-distance sled dog race in Alaska. The event begins in March and runs from Anchorage to Nome. Racers, also known as mushers, must complete the race between eight to 15 days.
Land, who lives in Montana, brought two dogs to the presentation. Alaskan Husky sled dog Noggin and Chloe, a corgi springer spaniel mix, sparked the interest of children and adults.
Land participated in the Iditarod races from 2002 through 2004. Since then, she has worked for other racers and started her own kennel business.
While she did not win any of the races, she completed them within the allotted time.
“When I started racing, I didn’t care how long it took to finish,” Land said. “I just wanted to finish.”
Land finished each race within 12-13 days. Some mushers today can finish within eight days.
Land’s introduction to dog sled racing, also known as mushing, came about because of a hyper dog who needed to burn a lot of energy.
Land was attending college in Indiana while she worked for a veterinarian’s office. Someone had asked her to adopt an energetic Catahoula leopard dog.
“I’d go backpacking with him to wear him out,” Land said. “It was fun, and we wanted more adventures, so we spent six months hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
While at one of the supply shops, Land found a book that would shape the rest of her life.
“On the trip, I’d sit in my tent at night and read ‘Winterdance,’” she said. “The book made me want to be a musher.”
“Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod” was written by Gary Paulsen, who many may remember his young adult novel series “Hatchet.”
The Iditarod is an expensive and time-consuming race. The typical budget for one race when Land raced was $30,000. Land said that number has increased drastically.
Land’s troop of racing dogs consisted of 16.
Alaskan huskies are usually considered the breed for sled dogs. However, Land said, the dogs are not always Huskies, but are mutts who are friendly and take directions easily.
Most of the Iditarod is completed in darkness because the amount of sunlight in Alaska makes for shorter days than the rest of the United States.
“One of the most glorious aspects of the race is the night racing,” Land said. “The stars are just incredible, and the Northern Lights are awesome.”
Land told the audience about a time when her and the dogs were racing the Iditarod on a frozen river. She was exhausted and fell asleep sitting on the sled while the dogs were still running. When she finally woke up her and the dogs were in somebody’s driveway.
The dogs had apparently smelled smoke, Land said, and assumed it was a checkpoint with food. Instead it was a neighborhood.
Challenges mushers face while on the Iditarod include melted ice and snow and predators, such as moose and bison.