“Porridge! An Evening with Iditarod Racer Karen Land and her dog!” brought more than 50 people to the Ascension Parish Library on Friday evening.
Over the past 20 years, Land has given presentations to over 1,000 schools in 26 states about sled dogs and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The Iditarod is an annual long-distance sled dog race in Alaska. The event begins in March and spans from Anchorage to Nome. Runners, also called mushers, must complete the race between eight and 15 days.
Land, who lives in Montana, brought two dogs to the presentation. The Alaskan Husky sled dogs Noggin and Chloe, a corgi springer spaniel mix, sparked the interest of children and adults alike.
Land raced the Iditarod from 2002 to 2004. Since then she has worked for other racers and started her own kennel business.
Although she didn’t win any of the races, she finished them within the time limit.
“When I started running, I didn’t care how long it took to finish,” Land said. “I just wanted to finish.”
Land completed each race in 12-13 days. Some mushers today can finish in eight days.
Land’s introduction to dog sled racing, also known as mushing, was born from a hyper dog that needed to expend a lot of energy.
Land was attending college in Indiana while working for a veterinarian’s office. Someone had asked her to adopt an energetic Catahoula leopard dog.
“I would go hiking with him to wear him out,” Land said. “It was fun and we wanted more adventure, so we spent six months hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
In one of the supply stores, Land found a book that would shape the rest of his life.
“During the trip, I would sit in my tent at night and read ‘Winterdance,'” she said. “The book made me want to be a musher.”
“Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod” was written by Gary Paulsen, who many may remember from his “Hatchet” series of young adult novels.
The Iditarod is an expensive and time-consuming race. The typical budget for a race when Land ran was $30,000. Land said that number has increased significantly.
Land’s racing dog troop consisted of 16 dogs.
Alaskan huskies are generally considered the sled dog breed. However, Land said, the dogs aren’t always Huskies, but pooches who are friendly and take directions easily.
Most of the Iditarod takes place in darkness, as the amount of sunlight in Alaska causes the days to be shorter than in the rest of the United States.
“One of the most glorious aspects of racing is night racing,” Land said. “The stars are just amazing and the Northern Lights are awe-inspiring.”
Land told the audience of a time when she and the dogs were racing the Iditarod down a frozen river. She was exhausted and fell asleep sitting on the sled while the dogs were still running. When she finally woke up, she and the dogs were in someone’s driveway.
The dogs had apparently smelled smoke, Land said, and assumed it was a checkpoint with food. Instead, it was a neighborhood.
Challenges mushers face while on the Iditarod include melting ice and snow and predators, such as moose and bison.