‘Only in Alaska’

Novice mushers hit the trail


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Zane Herron, representing Healthwise, heads out at the start of the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association’s Businessperson’s Race on Saturday, Jan. 14 at the Beach Lake Trails behind a team of dogs provided by Ron Killian. A total of 13 people signed up for this year’s race, which was won by Michelle Hill of Custom Mouse Pads.

STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

Some folks pay thousands of dollars for a trip to Alaska, where they’re often treated to a “once in a lifetime” trip aboard a dog sled driven by a professional dog musher.

And some people just move here and try mushing for themselves.

“I want to do all the Alaskan stuff I can,” said Amanda Peoples on Saturday, Jan. 14, shortly after completing her first sled dog race just seven months after arriving in the 49th state.

Though she had no mushing experience before Saturday’s Chugiak Dog Mushers Association Businessperson’s Race at the Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak, Peoples managed to complete the two-mile course in a little over 10 minutes.

“It’s all the dogs,” said Peoples, one of three mushers from Summit Family Practice medical clinic.

This year, the unique race allowed 13 amateur mushers the chance to race against the clock, and each other, with little more than bragging rights on the line. The race is a fundraiser for the CDMA, whose members provide the dogs, sleds and a bit of training for the amateurs, who represented a variety of businesses from Anchorage, Eagle River and the Mat-Su.

Mushing for the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, chamber president Pete Mulcahy said the event is one of those things that just can’t be experienced anywhere else but Alaska.

“It’s why we live here,” Mulcahy said.

Rather than a touristy ride in a sled basket, Mulcahy said the event — which went on despite temperatures dipping below minus-10 Fahrenheit — gave participants a true sense of what competitive mushing is all about.

“You’re actually in a race,” he said. “It’s real.”

Racing for Custom Mouse Pads, Michelle Hill performed more like a seasoned pro than an amateur. Thanks to a lighting-fast team provided by Chugiak musher Kris Rasey, Hill arrived at the finish line just 6 minutes, 18 seconds after heading out on the trails.

“Her dogs are phenomenal,” Hill said of Rasey’s team, which included dogs Porter, Arlo and Strider.

CDMA president Val Jokela said Hill’s time was one of the fastest she can recall in the race’s history.

“I’ve never gone that fast myself,” Jokela said. “I have distance dogs, so I have no clue how fast that is.”

Musher Michelle Allery, another Summit Family Practice team member, learned just how real the race was when she suffered a wipe-out about 100 yards from the finish line.

“Somebody called trail behind me, I went to slow down and my right foot slipped off and I fell,” Allery said.

Allery’s dogs didn’t seem to notice that she was no longer “guiding” them down the trail, sprinting across the finish line and straight to their owner.

“They knew what they were doing, I had no clue,” Allery said.

Mulcahy said the dogs are the real heroes of the race. Without their skill, he said the CDMA would never be able to put novices on sleds and send them out to race.

“It’s all the dogs,” he said. “I think that’s why they can take amateurs like us out there.”

After completing her first sled dog race, cheechako Amanda Peoples said she’s not likely to become the next Iditarod champion.

“They say some people catch the fever and some don’t,” she said.

Still, Peoples was happy to have had the chance to cross an item off her Alaska “bucket list.”

“Next up is halibut fishing,” she said.

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