SLED DOG RACING | Stories from the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge

January 18, 2019


inaugural running of the idaho sled dog challenge

One somewhat boring Saturday in 1985 I was surfing the channels on my family’s TV set in Birmingham, Alabama.  It didn’t take long to surf, there were only two stations :  ABC and CBS.  Luckily for me, ABC was airing the Wide World of Sports and they were seriously hyping the resurrection of Alaska’s Iditarod sled dog race.  I knew nothing about snow, or sled dogs, or Alaska for that matter, but I was hooked.  With all the extravagance and drama that only the WWS knew how to do I succumbed to “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!”  

Alaska seemed like an unreal place to me.  I certainly never dreamed that I would get to live there one day or witness a sled dog race in real life.  But life has a funny way of taking the long route.  In 2000 I found myself moving to Anchorage and I hiked and ran my way all over (really only a tiny little portion of) the largest state in the union.  I lived in Anchorage for a grand total of 13 years and I loved every minute of it!

During that time, I witnessed the start of the Iditarod on numerous occasions.  It’s hard to imagine back to being a kid in Alabama and thinking I would never get to see something as grand as that.  In addition to watching it, I had spent several of my favorite summer days trail running on parts of the original course that are no longer used for the current dog sled race.  My husband even hooked up with the "Iditarod Air force”  a fancy name for a bunch of folks with backcountry flying experience who can access the remote checkpoints along the race.  They haul all the straw, dog food, vets, and volunteers from the start of the race to the finish.  They also haul out the dogs that need to drop out or anything else for that matter that needs to get back to home base.  

We have lived in Idaho for the past 6 years and Dave has yet to miss an Iditarod.  He goes back every year and flies or helps out in any way possible.  He’s hooked.  In fact there are at least three Iditarod Air Force pilots who call this part of Idaho home on at least a part time basis.  One of those pilots is Jerry Wortley.  If you’ve been following our local race for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard mention of Jerry.  Jerry was the organizer and brain child of our first ever Idaho Sled Dog Race here in Idaho.  He claims that the idea came to him after watching the Monster Dog Pull in our local winter carnival and decided those dogs needed to go further!  327 miles further!  

Jerry started last summer canvasing all the local organizations, parks, forests and organizations that came together to provide an amazing community wide ever.  It stretched all the way from McCall to Cascade (thank you Cascade! - there is no way this could have been done without you:)  and the hills and mountains just behind us.  The Platt checkpoint in Donnelly turned out to be a highlight of the race for me and was staffed with the most amazing volunteers from the Donnelly and McCall snowmobile clubs. 

Cascade was host to the mandatory layover as well as being the site for the beautiful, windy, sleeting, snowing, raining, sun-shiny lake crossing.  Did I say beautiful? Gorgeous!  The amount of folks in each of these locations making this event happen still boggles the mind. Dave always comes home from the Iditarod talking about the friendships he’s made and the wide range of people he’s met and the same was true for Idaho.  Watching the dogs, who are truly the most amazing athletes, and getting to know their mushers was just icing on the cake!  

After such a wonderful experience of meeting new friends (both of the furry variety and the human kind) and pulling several days of delirious all nighters in the freezing cold (a sled dog race never stops, it turns out), I am excited to be gearing up for year two!  I hope to see many of our wonderful racers from the inaugural run back at it again.   

Since last year, central Idaho natives, Laurie Warren and son Trevor Warren from Council have been training and inspiring a new generation of mushers here locally who are sending out their kids with kick sleds strapped to their pets!  The Bruggeman’s, Brett and his son Spencer will also be back along with Rueben, the basset hound, who provided much comic relief while waiting at checkpoints last year.  

And although last year’s winner, Jessie Royer, and her pup named Jed, won’t be racing this year, they helped to create a town wide hashtag and a sense of community when we all banded together in our search for missing #SledJed. 

With a name change to better reflect the vast amount of communities involved, the 2019 Idaho Sled Dog Challenge preparations are underway and will kick off January 29th in Ponderosa State Park with a Ceremonial Start at 2pm.  Be sure to check out our race website for details and  come out and join in the fun! 


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