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Land shares 19 years of Iditarod race experiences

It may be the middle of June, but the A.H. Brown Library had a large dog sled in the lobby last Thursday.
Karen Land, a writer and speaker, shared her stories about participating in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race alongside her dog, Noggin, last Thursday.
Land has been giving talks for 19 years with her dogs at schools and libraries about her multiple experiences mushing in the 1,049 mile Iditarod that runs from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome.
Land grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana and showed horses and dogs in 4-H. While attending college at the University of Montana, she began hiking and camping with her dogs. That interest brought her to the world of sled dog racing.
“After school I decided I wanted to take my dogs on an adventure,” Land told the audience. She felt inspired by Gary Paulsen’s books, such as “Winterdance” and his most popular novel, “Hatchet”. Paulsen himself participated in the Iditarod in 1983.
The Iditarod has become a popular topic in classrooms nationwide. Many topics can be related back to the race, including lessons in science, math, and social studies. Students can also follow a racer’s progress and calculate their pace.
Land said the dogs are raced checkpoint to checkpoint along the trail. Checkpoints give racers a chance to melt snow for water, give an injured or sick dog a chance to rest in the sled, or have a very sick dog “dropped” and taken to a vet. Students that follow the race may be worried when the musher they follow drops a dog, but Land reassured the audience drops are important.
“Dog drops aren’t necessarily bad,” Land said. “If a dog isn’t okay, it’s better the dog gets the help it needs rather than get sick.” She said that if dogs aren’t feeling well during a race, they may attribute racing to that distress.
“If they aren’t feeling well, they may remember that next time they’re on the trail. We want them to love what they are doing.”
Land received plenty of questions about Noggin during the presentation, particularly why she doesn’t look like the typical wolf-like sled dog one may expect. Noggin however has short dark hair and the build of an athlete. Land said most people are surprised to learn she is a sled dog, considering her appearance, but many dogs used in the Iditarod look similar to her in more recent races. She also said Noggin is very mellow, which makes her a great companion for her public speaking endeavors.
The days are short and dark in Alaska, so it can be very difficult to know what day it is for certain. Land finished her first Iditarod in 49th place, taking two weeks to finish the 1,049 mile stretch of snowy Alaskan trails. The first place musher finished in 8 days.
At the end of the race, participants get to enjoy a banquet. Land described the food as some of the best she’s ever eaten. She recalled finishing a race close to another musher and that they were both very eager to get to their hot meals.
“We went to the banquet wearing the same clothes we’d been wearing for 14 days!” Land said with a laugh.
– Alison Simon –