SURVIVAL OF THE ROOKIE
Karen Land ran Maine's Can Am Crown 250 in March 2001 as one of her Iditarod qualifiers. She finished in 11th place. The 450-mile International Wyoming Stage Stop Race and Montana's 350-mile Race to the Sky were her other Iditarod qualifiers, all completed in 2001. Karen and her team finished 4th place in the Race to the Sky that year.
Written by Karen Land, March 2001.
Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, the word "rookie" immediately brought to mind images of fit men in their 20's wearing colorful fire proof racing suits and helmets with names like Marlboro, Firestone, and Quaker State plastered from head to toe. They were the future to the sport of Indy 500 auto racing and everything was possible for them. I always picked a rookie to win in my Catholic gradeschool's pool of Indy 500 drivers. My idealism never paid off.
Twenty years later on a dog sled in the frozen backcountry of northern Maine, I began to reconsider the implications of the word "rookie."
I quickly realized many times being a rookie has little to do with winning on your first try. Being a rookie is often more about survival, starting a race and somehow in some way finishing that race.
A veteran of a particular race has an advantage. Knowing every steep hill, sudden drop off, water crossing, or resting spot along the trail is always a plus, but the beauty and excitement of dog mushing is the unknown.
When covering hundreds of miles of wilderness, a musher never knows from year to year where there will be a raging blizzard, a stubborn moose on the trail, or a blown-over trail marker. As I mushed down the mainstreet of Fort Kent to the roaring cheers of the crowd, I knew one thing for certain. The unknown can quickly catch up with you on a dog sled.
I never believe it when a musher says he never gets scared. Doug Swingley, the four-time champion of the Iditarod, declared in an Outdoor Channel interview after the 2001 race, "I am never scared because I know I have the dogs with me."
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