The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 31, 2007


Learning about the Iditarod from someone who was there

All second-graders in Carlisle study Alaska and the Iditarod, a sled-dog race that covers 1,049 miles from Anchorage to Nome. We each choose a musher, which are what Iditarod contestants are called, to follow online throughout the event. When my class did this last March, I picked Bill Pinkham and noticed that he was from Glenwood Springs, a town about 20 minutes from my grandparents' vacation house in Colorado. So I thought that my mom and I could interview him and write an article. We found his e-mail address through the Iditarod web site and decided to write to him. He said sure, he would come over and talk to us while we were staying in Colorado, last month.

Musher Bill Pinkham is interviewed by Carlislean Tim West. (Courtesy photo)

This year was the fifth time Bill competed in the Iditarod, and it was his best finish. He completed the race in 11 days and came in 31st place. Only the top 30 finishers win money and plaques, but he felt good about finishing, since the race is so challenging that most people couldn't do it at all!

What were the conditions like

this year?

This year was scary because of how dangerous it was out there. There was a lot of trail with no snow, so when you got to any area that included water — lakes, rivers, glaciers — you'd go straight from ground to ice. And a lot of the trail is banked, so you have your dogs running downhill. If you hit ice, your sled hits the trees. Everyone got banged up; some got really injured.

What was the hardest part

of the race?

Normally, sleep deprivation is the hardest part... You only get two or three hours of sleep every night. This year, the hardest part was the lack of control over dogs and sleds. The dogs didn't want to do what we said because they didn't like certain sections. Conditions were unusually icy in places that were usually covered with snow. But you wouldn't want it to be easy, because then everyone would do it!

Where and when do you train

for races?

I train here in Colorado. The last two years I've gone up to Alaska early to get the dogs acclimated. I have to drive 3,700 miles in five days to get there. It's a lot of work even before the race. I'm busy training, feeding and working with the dogs to keep them healthy and ready.

How do you train your dogs?

I train them with a lot of positive reinforcement. I work with puppies all year. I take them hiking. I'll bring them to a creek crossing and watch which puppies cross confidently and which hesitate. The ones that are confident might turn into good racers.

Do you have a favorite dog?

I try not to play favorites, but I do have a favorite. Don't tell my other dogs though. His name is Maverick. He's been with me for a long time and he's a leader. He watches me wherever I am. He knows what I'm thinking and feeling most of the time. He is tough and stoic. If he's injured, he doesn't whimper or let you know it. He's eight, and this will probably be his last year. He's done six Iditarods.

What was the coldest temperature during the race?

This year, I think it was minus 49 or 50, with 60 mph winds. But that's not the coldest I've competed in.

What kind of training do

the athletes do?

I weight-train by lifting buckets of food and water for the dogs, cleaning up after them and lifting them into the truck. I bike and swim a lot. I don't have to put myself on any extra kind of plan because I'm always doing physical stuff. The strongest part of your body has to be your mind. You can't give up.

Can you ever just look at the scenery while you're racing?

No, you're just focused on the ground and the trail. You need to keep calm. The dogs pick up every emotion you have. If you get angry or sad, the dogs feel it. Sometimes you have ups and downs, but you have to try to stay steady and positive. When the dogs look terrible, you still say "You look great!"

Which is your favorite checkpoint?

Takatna is everyone's favorite because the food is so good. It's about 1/3 of the way. I also like the coast and Coyak. Everyone loves White Mountain because once you arrive there, you have only 70 miles to go until you're done. You rest there eight hours and then finish the race.

Did you have pets when you were growing up?

No, but I always wanted them. I always loved dogs.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito