Karen Land Goes to the Dogs
The 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska is an unbelievably difficult race. More people have reached the summit of Mount Everest than have made it to the Iditarod finish line behind a dog team.
Imagine stepping on the runners with 16 dogs barking and pounding to RUN in front of you. Imagine taking that team from the crowded downtown streets of Anchorage across the treacherous Alaskan Range Mountains down the bitterly cold Yukon River to the Bering Sea and the gold rush town of Nome. Imagine running a dog team 1,150 miles; the same distance as a trip from Indianapolis, Ind. to Miami, Florida. Imagine racing day and night for 14 days straight to reach the finish and your goal.
Karen Land grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana among suburban strip malls and popular sports. As a child, the snow and ice of Alaska seemed like another planet. Her love for dogs, horses, and all animals eventually steered her along life’s twisty, unpredictable trail to a sled dog kennel in Montana. And her life went to the dogs...
Karen became intrigued with sled dog racing in 1997 while she was hiking the Appalachian Trail, a footpath from Georgia to Maine, with her dog, Kirby. While in town resupplying, Karen picked up a book about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. In her tent at night, she read the book with her faithful friend, Kirby, curled up at her side. And a dream was born.
In 1999, Karen and her dog Kirby moved to Maine where she enrolled in a graduate writing program. As part of her studies, she wrote a documentary about a rookie dog musher preparing for the 250-mile Can Am Crown Sled Dog race in northern Maine.
“I wanted to write about dogs and people who love dogs,” she says. “But it became much more than that. I fell in love with all of the dogs, the sport, the wilderness, and the lifestyle of a musher. I knew exactly what I wanted to do next.”
Karen met Dr. Terry Adkins, DVM, a musher, at the Can Am Race. He offered her an apprenticeship as a dog handler, managing and caring for his Montana kennel of 100-some Alaskan Huskies. Dr. Adkins was a veterinarian on the first Iditarod in 1973 and went on to run the race 21 times. In 2001 working out of Adkins’ kennel, Karen completed her Iditarod qualifiers in her second year of mushing. She finished the 450-mile Wyoming International Stage Stop Race, the 250-mile Can Am Crown in Maine, and Montana’s 350-mile Race to the Sky Sled Dog Race in just two months.
Karen went from an observer to a doer in just three short years; it takes most mushers at least twice that long to work up to the Iditarod.
In March 2002, Karen took on and finished the biggest, most challenging sled dog race in the world - the Iditarod. She went on to compete in the 2003 and 2004 Iditarod as well.
Karen is writing several books based on her Iditarod adventures, the mushing life, and, of course, all of the dogs she has met along the way. Karen is also a columnist for the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, the Great Falls Tribune, and the Kansas City Tribune. She also writes for magazines. Many of her columns written over the last 7 years can be found on her website, which she designed and maintains herself.
Public speaking is Karen’s other true love. She travels the country with her sled dog, Borage, talking to schools, libraries, corporations, and convention groups. Sharing her enthusiasm and love of dogs, life, the wilderness, and a challenge, Karen connects with everyone from young children to corporate executives. Her messages about leadership and team management -- knowing when to lead and when to listen and the importance of team players -- translate to the boardroom and the classroom alike.
“My dogs have taught me about leadership and teamwork,” she says. “As they say, 'You can't push a noodle.' Mushing takes leaders willing to set the pace and guide the way, and a team full of desire willing to follow. I am honored these wonderful dogs let me go along for the ride... the ride of a lifetime."