Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2011-19-03
Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore were interviewed on May 21, 2011 by Robert Drozda and William Schneider at Aliy and Allen's home in Two Rivers, Alaska. Katrin Simon Sakurai was the videographer. Aliy is the first woman to win the 1000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and she and Allen both regularly compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the Yukon Quest. They operate Skunk Place Kennel, where they raise and train their sled dogs. In this interview, Aliy and Allen talk about coming to Alaska and getting involved with dog mushing, what it takes to run a large kennel and be a successful long-distance racer, selecting and training dogs, using new technology, maintaining dogs' health, the mental side of dog racing, memories of specific races, trust between dog and musher, equipment used, and the joys and perils of the trail. The last section of this recording was edited from the original.
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How Aliy came to Alaska and got involved with dog mushing
How Allen came to Alaska and got involved with dog mushing
The relationship between humans and dogs
The seasonality of dog sled racing
Strategy for picking a winning dog team
Assessing your dogs on the trail
Use of technology to document and track the dogs' health and training regime
An example of how helpful good record keeping can be
The importance of keeping dogs and mushers healthy
The mental aspects of dogs and dog mushing
Allen's experience helping a team on the Iditarod whose dogs stopped running for mental reasons
Developing trust between musher and dog
New system of harness and gang line and its reliance on mental connection between musher and dog
Individual dogs slacking off when running
Demonstration of the new style of dog harness
Equipment: dog jacket
Equipment: dog booties
Functioning in cold temperatures
Equipment: cold weather clothing
Problems when temperatures are too warm
Dealing with windy conditions when you're not accostumed to it
Advantages and disadvantages of the new style of harness
Disadvantages of the new style of harness
Dealing with overflow and water on the trail
Keeping the dogs warm on the trail
Attributes looking for when breeding dogs
Retiring old sled dogs
The love of dog mushing
ROBERT DROZDA: Today is May 21st, 2011, and I'm Robert Drozda, here with Allen Moore and Aliy Zirkle in Two Rivers, Alaska. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: In Skunk Place Kennel. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yep. ROBERT DROZDA: And we're going to talk to Allen and Aliy today about their experiences with dogs and mushing, and there's a lot to cover. ALIY ZIRKLE: There is. ROBERT DROZDA: Um, I thought we would stop -- or start, sorry
ALIY ZIRKLE: That's all right. ROBERT DROZDA: -- with, you know, your own personal backgrounds and how you came to Alaska. ALIY ZIRKLE: All right. Well, you first or myself? ALLEN MOORE: Go ahead. ALIY ZIRKLE: All righty. Well, I actually -- and it's kind of funny, I was at University of Pennsylvania studying biology. And that's in downtown Philadelphia, actually, and it was my second year studying biology. And I walked into my biology lab class and there was a little paper hanging up that said, "Why are you studying biology in Philadelphia when you can be in Alaska?" And I thought, why am I studying biology in Philadelphia when I can be in Alaska? So anyway, I ended up tucking tail and heading up to -- up to here when I was, well, 20 years old. And I was only here for a -- for a little -- a short spell, but I decided this is where I should be. And so after getting my degree and a few little bells and whistles there, I ended up moving back up. So I've been up -- up North now for about a little under 20 years. And when I finally moved up here for good, I actually got a job with Fish and Wildlife Service in a tiny little town, population 35 on a good day, called Bettles. And it's about 50 miles north of the Arctic Circle. So it was a little farther north than we are now. And I was -- I had a great job. It was a summer job, though, and so folks -- when, you know, August rolled around and started freezing up there, my boss said, "Well, hey, you know, would you like to spend the winter?" And I thought, I don't know, you know, you hear all these horror stories about 50 below and cabin fever and all that. And anyway, push came to shove, and he convinced me that I should probably spend the winter up there, and I did. And I got a dog, of course. A woman in Northern Alaska, obviously, needs a Husky. And he was Skunk, he was my first dog. And anyway, that first winter I ended up dragging him around to every sled dog kennel possible asking, "Can my dog and I run with you today?" And I didn't realize you don't really do that. Everyone was very welcoming and said, "You bet, you just bring him in here." And Skunk was, like, oh, you know, don't do that, because he was a retired trap line dog, so he was just ready to sit on a couch. But anyway, I obviously harassed enough people up in that little village that they decided that I was destined to be a dog musher, and I adopted five more dogs in the winter. So I had a six -- six dog team for what turned out to be a number of years. And I stayed up in that little town just because it was phenomenal. You know, it was Alaska and the wilderness at its finest, especially in the wintertime. And those -- those six dogs probably taught me more than -- than anything because the seven of us would travel around really hundreds of miles up in the wilderness above Bettles, in the Brooks Range. And I learned probably my -- my biggest learning was how to -- how to start a fire. And I would say it's correlated to how cold it is. If it's 40 below, boy, I can start a fire fast. If it's 40 above, yeah, it's not so -- not so critical. So that was -- that was kind of how I got up here, awhile ago. And yourself? ALLEN MOORE: Awhile ago. Well, as she said, she got here about 20 years ago, so did I. Mine was a little bit different scenario, though, in that I grew up in Arkansas, as you can tell. Most people say, "Where do you get that accent from?" Well, it's from Arkansas. Anyway, it's always hot in Arkansas, so it was over a hundred degrees with humidity. So that's when I decided I wanted to -- I came up here for a visit and decided that, you know, this is where I want to be because it's a lot cooler here and a lot nicer, so that's what happened about 20 years ago. And I had two daughters that -- that came and in the wintertime saw all these sprint mushing going on, you know, on whatever the road it is down there. Studdard tracks. But anyway, so they -- and they were young, they were only, like -- well, the youngest was six or seven. And, they said, "I would like to do that." So it wasn't too big a deal just to get two dogs, because that's what she had at the time, and they go on around this three quarter of a mile track. And that's, of course, the beginning of the end right there, because she liked it so much and did very well at it. Well, she started growing a little bit, so then she gets three dogs. And now they go a little farther, and you know the scenario, all the way up to six dogs. And her name was Bridget, the youngest. And then her older sister said, "Oh, she's having a lot of fun. I'd like to do that, too." So we just went from 6 to 12, like bam, like that. And, of course, guess who gets to train them, it would be me, since I'm the only one that can drive. And it just progresses that way until then I started running sprint a little bit, just a limited class, until they got out of school. And then when I met this one, she kind of taught me to switch over to long distance, so for the last, I don't know how many years now, 10, I've been running longer distance. And that's how I got started into dog mushing. ALIY ZIRKLE: There you go. ROBERT DROZDA: Aliy, I kind of wanted to back up a little bit. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Since you, you know, went to college and went into biology, wildlife biology, I'm -- I'm just thinking that, well, domestic animals and wild animals have always been a part of you -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Oh, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: -- and who you are.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: So -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. Well, you know, dogs have always been a part of who -- who I am. Growing up, I -- my family always had dogs from as long as I can remember. And I can't imagine a home without -- without dogs. Whenever we go on a vacation or something like that, I normally have to go get my dog fix, if I'm in, you know, downtown Dallas and staying, you know, in an apartment, I'm, like, okay, I've got to go to a dog park or something to get a dog fix because it just doesn't seem -- that's the one thing about Alaska. Boy, you drive down the road and, you know, you'll see five out of -- five out of six cars are going to have a dog in the passenger seat, you know, not -- not another human being. And so I think it was destined to -- for me to be here, that's for sure. But, you know, animals and human beings and wildlife, I think they're all -- they all have a -- an interconnectedness, obviously. And so the biology -- the biology aspect that I was trained in and educated in, I think it all correlates to domestic animals, as well as human beings. And I think that helps me a lot in dog mushing, in -- in general. I mean, there's so much to the successful running of a kennel. I mean, not only are these guys, you know, physically -- Rosie -- physically have to take care of them, which you always want to physically take care of them the best you can, but emotionally and mentally, you know, you have to take care of them. And domestic -- domestic animals, obviously, they're domestic for a reason, and that's right here. I mean, that's their -- their brain and their commitment to -- to human beings. So I think we as dog mushers, we probably are using that to our advantage, you know. So actually, when I studied -- studied at Penn, I studied a lot of behavioral biology, too. So that's kind of interesting over the years to use that education the best -- the best that I can. But -- but you -- you had asked earlier, you know, a little bit about what -- what we do with these dogs these days. And just to start with, I know a lot of folks in Alaska have knowledge of what, you know, long distance dog mushing is. But a lot of folks Outside don't, so competitive distance mushing really, it's pretty funny, it has a season. It has a season almost like any other sport. And the season is probably from October, November, all the way through to March and April. So it's a pretty long season. And I always correlate it to -- to "common folk," to like the NFL or something. You know, it -- actually, we start early in the season and we start training in mid season. We're up to races, which would correlate to games and all that kind of thing. And then later on in the season, our -- our races get a little bit longer just like, say, you know, playoff games or that kind of thing. And then at the culmination of the season are the big races. There are two thousand mile races in Alaska, and one of them is the Yukon Quest, which runs either from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska, or the other way. And that's a thousand mile journey. And then kind of the big one "known" is the Iditarod, and that runs from Anchorage all the way out to Nome. So that's -- that's a thousand mile race, as well. And that is run in March. So the season really, I wouldn't -- it starts tapering down probably in March, but then April there still are some dog races because there's still snow on the ground, and so there's still definitely things to do there. And so our season, as far as our kennel goes, what we try to do with our dogs is we try to get every single dog into some kind of a race throughout the season, because we're training every single dog. There are -- there are a few older dogs who are retired who do not run races anymore, and then there's a contingent that is a little bit young, they still have to grow into their britches, and those are dogs who are under a year old, who, you know, you're not going to want to put a six or seven year old kid into a football game. You just really -- they're into it, it's still -- life is fun, happy go lucky. And so what we do is we use the retired dogs with the youngsters throughout the winter. And they go have a good time, life is good, and they --they either remember what racing was about, or they start kind of picturing what maybe racing is going to be in their future. But then that whole big chunk of dogs in between, from, say, 16 months old, year and a half, all the way up to our oldest dogs who are racing are probably 10 years old or so. And so that -- that chunk of dogs right there, they are training and they're ready to roll. And so what we do is we take that crew and throughout the season, all these different races, we -- we have different teams with different goals. We always have a team that is going to win. And Allen and I will sit down and say -- ALLEN MOORE: It wasn't always like that. ALIY ZIRKLE: That's true. ALLEN MOORE: At one point in time we would just go out, and actually, we even, you choose a dog and I'll choose a dog for this one particular race, and it was a small -- small race. And she chose one, I chose one, and went on, and then we -- we finished, like, third and fourth. ALIY ZIRKLE: Instead of first and sixth. ALLEN MOORE: So we said, you know, we would always like to have opportunity to win a race, and if we do it this way, you know, we're not -- ALIY ZIRKLE: We're not going to --
ALLEN MOORE: -- we're not ever going to win anything. So since that point, and that's been a few years ago, we always try to put one team that's going to try to win and the next team is just an up and coming, it's going to learn a lot. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. ALLEN MOORE: And not going to win, but be good for the next year when they try to win.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. And it's interesting because a lot of people will say, well, you obviously have your -- your A team picked out for the whole season. But that's not necessarily true because, just like any kind of sport, all your athletes have, you know, ups and downs throughout the season. And so we'll look out in the yard and I'll say, you know, "Cha Cha looks really good on the team, you know, I think she should really be on the team. But boy, this kid had a bellyache all last week, and I'm not really sure that he's supposed to be on the A team this -- this race." ALLEN MOORE: Even though he could be a better dog. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. So you have to look at your -- your athletes as true athletes. You can't just say, you know, like, Kobe Bryant's on it and Dirk Nowitski's on it and, you know, all these -- you have to look at them as individuals. ALLEN MOORE: Do you watch basketball?
ALIY ZIRKLE: I do.
ALLEN MOORE: Oh. ALIY ZIRKLE: Anyway, so that's our goal. And throughout the season, if we run either two -- two teams per race, or sometimes we'll run a third team. And that actually all comes back in a full circle round, because Allen's daughter Bridget, who actually lives in Nome now, she -- she'll come down and work with the kennel and she'll run some races with us. So we could potentially have three -- three teams in -- in one race, which could be up to, you know, 36, 38 dogs, which is close to who we're training. So it's pretty neat that we can then go back, keep everything documented and go back and say, okay, what races did Rosie run this year? Oh well, she was awesome in Sheep Mountain; boy, she didn't actually run Copper Basin because she had a broken toenail; and then she went on to the Yukon Quest, she finished that, and the Copper -- and the Iditarod, she had a great run there. And so we go back through the whole -- whole season and she's an all star. And every single one are all stars, because they all had a little bit of an effect on the whole racing season of Skunk Place Kennel. So that's really our goal with the dogs. That and taking -- or scratching -- or scratching their butts appropriately. Rosie, are you getting a butt scratch? ROBERT DROZDA: What are your -- some of your, like, specific methods when you're training or conditioning? What are you looking at when you're out there on the trail with your dogs? They're all, you know, individual personalties. ALIY ZIRKLE: Oh, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: So in terms of having to work together, and -- ALLEN MOORE: Well, definitely, I mean, Aliy can see -- she's really good at seeing injuries, you know, before they really happen. Like just getting -- maybe just a sprained wrist, which is probably the most common injury, you know, we get. But she can see it if it's 16 dogs up. If you see it early enough, you know, you can stop, wrap the wrist, and the dog will be fine. Whereas sometimes, you know, I'll -- I won't see it until the dog's already limping and it could be too late. So she has a really good eye for that. ALIY ZIRKLE: Thank you. ALLEN MOORE: Build me up now. ALIY ZIRKLE: You really fixed my sled a few times last year. Thank you. I appreciate that. ALLEN MOORE: We both have our positives in that, yeah, I do work on sleds a lot. And she -- she's -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Races a lot. ALLEN MOORE: -- is the doctor, the nurse, and everything for the dogs. A lot more so than I am. I'll be in there fixing sleds while she's in -- out -- out there sewing somebody up or something, you know. And we do do a lot of that, too. ALIY ZIRKLE: Our -- I guess, I mean, a lot of the thing has -- a lot of our kennel has moved over to new technology these days, and so we keep track of -- of everything on a computer. And that -- that goes from, you know, when -- date of births all the way down to heat cycles. All the way down to, you know, when -- you know, if Rosie tore -- tore her pad and it had to get a little, you know, stitches in it or something like that. Everything is documented. And I think that helps us with the individual training. Because I can remember a lot, but boy, I -- I can't remember as much as I would like to. ROBERT DROZDA: Is there a particular software or something for that, or are you guys developing it? ALIY ZIRKLE: No. We've kind of built our own. We had a -- we had a friend who -- who helped us out a lot with our -- bumping our kennel up to the new generation, so to speak, a couple of years ago. And he was very -- he was a super dog person. And so he took every single dog in and started doing a -- ALLEN MOORE: Very computer savvy.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Yes. Very computer savvy. He set everything up for us. Right. And since then we've actually had a couple people -- a couple people -- One person in particular helping us. And she's young, 22 years old, which is computer savvy; if you're not computer savvy at 22, then it's never going to happen. And she's really augmented our program even -- even more. So, okay, Tigg. Thank you. That means someone's -- that means Rod's probably coming down the driveway. Thank you. ROBERT DROZDA: Shall we take a little break until he comes down the drive and let them settle down? ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, sure.
ALIY ZIRKLE: All right.
ROBERT DROZDA: Okay. We were talking about the technology aspect.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: I'm curious, how -- how does that translate to your recordkeeping when you're on the trail and in a race, like a thousand mile race? ALIY ZIRKLE: Well, just the knowledge that you get out of knowing what the dogs have done. I'll give you a for example. Years ago before I really started keeping track of everything, or I thought I kept track of everything, but I didn't. I was running a thousand mile race, and I had put a nice, young leader up in front, because she was one of my best leaders. And I had run her in lead for about the first 400 miles or so of the race. And by about mile 450, a few -- it was the perfect storm. The sun was out, the Yukon River was there, it was 40 above, which is very uncommon for -- for dog mushing. It gets really hard on a dog when it's warm. And I -- I had rested them a short period of time and I put her back up in lead and I asked her, "Okay. Let's get back out on the trail. Ready?" And she looked at me like -- yeah, she looked at me like, I don't think I'm -- I don't think I can do it. And that's -- that doesn't happen to me. I mean, that just -- normally I'm, like, pretty intuitive about it. And I was flabbergasted that she -- that she basically said, I'm not -- no. And I've really thought about it and really thought about it while I was there on the trail and everything, and I couldn't -- anyway, I ended up dropping her because I just didn't know what was wrong with her, which means I left her at the checkpoint for the race officials and veterinarians to fly her back to the start where I had actually some dog caretakers there. And the whole rest of the race I thought, you know, what -- maybe she stubbed her toe or, you know, maybe she had a stomachache, but I couldn't find anything like that. Well, it comes back, and I -- I started really looking through paperwork, which was disjointed and here and there and on calendars and everything, and I -- it had slipped my mind that she had gone out about a month and a half before and we had done some trail breaking, which means you're -- you're out in some deep snow. And these dogs aren't as big as most people think. You know, they're 50 pounds or so. And it was a lot of effort breaking trail. And she was in lead. And she actually kind of just sprained a little bit of her -- her bicep muscle. And she had had a chunk of time off, say 15 days completely off, where she was running in a free pen, but she wasn't running with the team. Then I had brought her back in, she was pretty healthy, and since she looked so good, she was "supposed" to be my best leader. That I had just assumed that she was like the rest of the crew. And I was judging the 15 other dogs and she was supposed to be one with the team. And as it turns out, I mean, she wasn't up to par with everyone else. You know. And I was mistaken in assuming that she could do what everyone else had done. And she had -- she had missed, you know, 400 miles of training, which is a huge -- you know. And I just -- I didn't realize that until I got back and really started -- So now these days, when we -- when we run a team on a 50 mile run, you know, we look back through the computer and see, well, so and so, you know, you just really have it laid right out in front of you. And then when you're out on the race, perhaps you're not using that technology right then, but you're kind of sure a little bit more that your -- that your base and everything that goes into your athlete at the starting line, like your nutrition, have they been eating well the whole time, you know, your -- any kind of injuries, were they sore at all, gastrointestinal system for an athlete is really important, and -- and mileage. Not only the number of miles that the dog's trained, but the type of miles. Whether they're slow, hard hill training miles. Whether they're fast, sprint river miles. And then the length, the endurance miles they've done, whether they've done 50 mile runs or 60 mile runs. That kind of a thing. And so you go and you just -- that's one of the things that we really talk about before a race is, well, so and so has, you know, quite a few miles, but you know, she doesn't have the fast miles on her, so perhaps she shouldn't go into this fast race. ALLEN MOORE: Well, that's when you look at all this data that now that we can acquire through computer and study up on it, even before the race, and four thousand mile races, she's -- in case she missed something, you know, or doesn't think about this one scenario she just told you about. And she'll go over all those things, this dog has this many miles this, this dog had a shoulder injury back two months ago, you know. So it will just something to keep in your mind when you're racing these 16 then, you can... So the way of the world and involvement as far as the computer has helped us tremendously, in the past couple years anyway. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. Yeah. So we do -- we do depend on that. But then it all comes down to -- I'll push that aside -- ALLEN MOORE: Yeah. ALIY ZIRKLE: -- and it all comes down to individuals that are the heart and soul of not only the musher, but the dog, because it's amazing what not only people can do, but dogs can do when they put their mind to it. They're a hundred percent healthy, and they go for it. And so keeping them a hundred percent healthy and us a hundred percent healthy, that's probably the most important thing. I mean, and you look at any team in any sport. And actually, I was just talking to a friend of ours who's going to be a firefighter. And this is the beginning of season for firefighting in Alaska. And one of the most common reasons that these young people don't get on a crew is because they get injured. And that's completely correlated to everything. Dogs and everything. So keeping them healthy and that -- that involves not only training them conscientiously, you know, training them at -- at certain speeds that don't -- that aren't out of their realm of comfort. And training them at certain distances that aren't out of their realm of comfort, but then just making sure that their weights are appropriate, you know, and hydration is appropriate, and then when we do have little bumps and bruises, I guess that's one of the real pickles in dog mushing, you know, time off and care for a dog who is, quote," injured," because -- ALLEN MOORE: It's very hard to go into a thousand mile race and your best dog has a little injury here or there, and whether you take that dog or not. It could be your very best dog, and of course, we always say, if it has an injury -- To go on the A team, we will not take that dog, just because it usually comes back and haunts you. And it's hard to do when you get one or two really good dogs that just have really slight injuries, but in a thousand mile race, that usually comes back to haunt you if you do take the dog. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. ALLEN MOORE: So that's hard. That's really hard. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. Especially when they've had such a great season -- ALLEN MOORE: Yeah. ALIY ZIRKLE: -- and they want to go. They'll look at you and -- ALLEN MOORE: And you know how good they really are. ALIY ZIRKLE: They'll look at you and, you know, at the starting line of the Yukon Quest, and you -- you open the dog truck, and they all go nuts when you start the dog truck. And you open all the doors, and every single of the dogs is, pick me, pick me, pick me. Well, who -- who do you -- who do you choose? And then the ones you don't choose basically cry when you drive away. So it's -- it will emotionally get to you if you're a dog person, as well. ROBERT DROZDA: So initially you had mentioned about, you know, the psychology of the dog -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Oh, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: -- and getting into the dog's head and that relationship. So, you know, when you're out there, too, on the trail, you're -- you're not just looking for a physical thing. ALIY ZIRKLE: Oh, no.
ROBERT DROZDA: The dog will communicate to you in different ways. ALIY ZIRKLE: I would say you almost -- ALLEN MOORE: It's so mental.
ALIY ZIRKLE: -- look
ALLEN MOORE: It is really mental. ALIY ZIRKLE: You look into -- I would almost say that -- well, what you're hoping is that everyone in front of you is a hundred percent physically. So it's almost more important that you're in tune -- ALLEN MOORE: Best scenario. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, best case scenario. It's almost more important that you're in tune with their mental abilities and really what they're able to do because -- ALLEN MOORE: It's so easy for yourself to get down, especially when you start getting tired, this, that, and the other, and if you relay that to the dogs or you get bummed about something or you get mad about something, it goes straight to the dogs and they get the same way. ALIY ZIRKLE: Uh hum. Yeah. ALLEN MOORE: So that's -- that's the mental side of it. You really have to -- you really have to watch out for in the thousand mile races, because what affects you is going to affect the dogs, if you let them know it. ALIY ZIRKLE: Allen had an interesting thing happen, which happens in the thousand mile races periodically when you don't have the right communication with your dogs, is he came -- approached a musher who was -- how far was she in the race -- 900 -- 900 miles into a thousand mile race. And her team had stopped. And they had stopped out on the pack ice, the frozen ocean, where it was a bit windy. And they -- well, you could tell the story, they were just sitting there. They weren't tired, they weren't -- ALLEN MOORE: They were -- the dogs were definitely mental at this point. I mean, she had -- she had a fast team. They were actually sitting up. They weren't laying down or anything. The wind's blowing, and she had been there for five hours. And she's only a hundred miles from the finish line. And the dogs are all just standing, sitting up like this, like, you know, just looking around, like that, but they won't go. They wouldn't go at all. And she had been there for five hours. And then finally I -- I had to end up tieing -- tieing a line from my sled to her sled and to get them to go. Actually, and it took several scenarios of switching dogs around in her team when finally -- before the lead dogs would finally go. And then -- ALIY ZIRKLE: You should preface this with there were two other teams that passed her in this situation because -- because they -- they did not have the strong enough mental ability to be able to do what he and his team did. ALLEN MOORE: They did. Because that's a place in the race that a lot of people have trouble in the race. Whereas they've gone 900 miles to get to this ocean, they go right through this little town called Golovin, and they think they're supposed to stop. They don't, so then the dogs get mentally bummed. They said, you know, we just went through this town with people, kids, you know, they want -- they're wanting to pet the dogs, this, that, and the other, and the dogs pick up on that. And as soon as you go through the town you get this open ocean, they all just start looking around. Every time I've went through there, you know, our dogs do the same thing, not to that degree, but her dogs right outside of that town, boom, just, I'm done. And they're not tired. It's just all up here in their head. ALIY ZIRKLE: But it's got to be with -- I keep thinking, and we've -- Allen spent quite a bit of time talking about this person after he rescued her, and it's got to be more than -- you know, it's got -- it's the communication there. Because obviously, your communication with your dogs when you pulled up to her, you said in your body language and everything, we have to get this team off the ice now. We have to do it. And her everything was more like, well -- ALLEN MOORE: We can't. They won't. ALIY ZIRKLE: -- I guess we're -- I guess we're not going to make it. You know. And so I would imagine that eventually your dogs and yourself influenced her team mentally more than physically, because physically they didn't -- if physically a dog team doesn't want to go, they're not going to go. ALLEN MOORE: They're not. ALIY ZIRKLE: So... ALLEN MOORE: Tired or not. ALIY ZIRKLE: Just like a person. If a person decides to sit down, I mean... ALLEN MOORE: Because actually, once I got her dog team moving, I never -- the last thing with this -- the next 25 miles. But I wasn't pulling her. After we got going, her dogs were actually faster, she had to stand on the brake to keep from running over me after we got going. It was just initiation to get moving forward that... ROBERT DROZDA: So you don't have the advantage of being able to train like that on an open -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Correct. Right.
ALLEN MOORE: Correct. ROBERT DROZDA: So you have to allow the dogs to gain your trust in other ways, so that when they see that unfamiliar situation -- ALIY ZIRKLE: I think it all comes to that. I think, well, not only in the dog world but in the human world, too, is when you ask someone, whether it be a canine someone or a human someone, to do something for you, they have never -- they've never been let down by you in their life from when they were a two week old puppy to when they're a seven year old racing dog. They've always looked at you and said -- they've always looked at you and said, you have brought me the right way, you've always fed me, take care of me, everything, there's nothing I wouldn't do for you. And that's a dog. And it's the -- it's the, quote, "love of a dog." And so a dog musher uses that completely to be able to go -- I mean, Susan Butcher went up Mount McKinley with dogs. I mean, it's just incredible. And it all comes down to the passion of dogs, and that's probably why dog mushing is so exciting. And that's why the -- a common man would say, wow, that dog mushing is really kind of neat, because everyone, or most people have had some kind of relationship with a dog in their life where they realize that they're -- the -- the commitment of a dog, there's nothing like that. You know. And so when you've got the commitment of 16 or 12 dogs in front of you that all look back when you stop and they look back, they're like, what do you need, you know. And we're their boss and we're their mom and we're their friend and, you know, we're their coach. We're all of those things right there, and we've never -- we've never failed them before. When you get out in the middle of the pack ice and it's a blowing blizzard and you say, "Ready? Okay." And you go, and they go, all right, well, we're ready to go because you told us to. So -- and that's what you're depending on. And actually, our system of dog mushing, our actual physical gang line has evolved in the last few years to depend more on that than on the physicalness of dogs. And in that sense, what I'm talking about, is old school dog mushing is there is a -- a harness on a dog, and there is a line on the bottom where they -- that's their tug line where their -- all their energy comes from, but then they also have a line to their collar. And that kind of line keeps them in order. It's like a leash. But as anyone knows who has taught their dog to heel without a leash, that you don't necessarily need something up here yanking on their collar telling them stay in line. What you need is the communication verbally and mentally saying, "Okay, heel, everyone stay in line," and so therefore, you're -- you're reducing this physical control and you're increasing your mental and emotional control, which is a much stronger bond than any kind of physicality. And so our dog lines -- all of our dogs, whether it's 16 dogs or 12 dogs or 20 dogs or whatever we choose to run, most of the time we don't have anything besides a tug line on their -- on their pulling power. So these dogs, in essence -- it's hard to talk about it and not have a diagram, but these dogs, in essence, have -- if they want to turn around and run the other way, they can. If they want to go out and visit, you know, Sammy the dog who just walked by, they can. If they want to turn around and get on the other -- they have the ability to do all that, but, they have to be trained to -- to do what they're asked to do. And so that's kind of -- that's helped us a lot, I think. ROBERT DROZDA: So if you're cruising down the trail in that kind of situation, and no neck line, and a particular dog wants to maybe slack off, or do you have dogs that maybe just want to take it a little bit easier? ALLEN MOORE: You definitely know it really quick. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you know it? Do you let them do that or do the dogs need to do that or do you look at that as a problem? ALIY ZIRKLE: I guess it depends on the dog. ALLEN MOORE: Depends on the dog, but normally, I mean, most of our dogs are tight all the time, but then we have a few that -- that are tight and then loose a little bit and tight and loose. And I don't know, in a thousand mile race, I don't -- it hasn't -- it seems like those dogs finish more often than dogs that doesn't -- that don't do that. Or I have one, I don't think Spot, I mean, she always finished but, you know, she would be kind of just a little bit slack, not -- just a little bit. And you might say something to her and then she'll get on up there, you know, but she just wasn't putting her hundred percent into it. And that was actually the purpose for these harnesses originally, like Jeff King says, he wanted -- he wanted a harness that they didn't have to put a hundred percent into it all the time. So that it has something down the trail. And that was the whole point of these harnesses. ALIY ZIRKLE: Our dogs are really -- they're -- they're super talented and driven. And so most of the time we have to get them to take a rest. It's kind of a rare exception that -- that they choose to take a break. Usually there's a reason for that. And if there's a reason for them slacking off or wanting to stop or something, then you better pick up on that reason. ALLEN MOORE: Normally -- normally, it's like an injury coming on or something -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Or a belly ache.
ALLEN MOORE: So you'll start to watch that dog. Or a belly ache, or just like she says, then you really become attune to what's going on with this one particular dog, because it's something. Normally. ALIY ZIRKLE: And these harnesses, the whole setup without a neck line is more honest, because you will see that quite a bit more. Because it's just like a dog on a leash. If you have a dog on a leash and you're walking on a leash and you're, come on, heel; come on, heel; come on, heel, well, they don't have the option of, you know, they're always being heeled. Whereas if a dog is off leash heeling next to you, and they get behind you, you're kind of, like, "Hey, what's going on, Scooter?" You know. And they're -- so it almost helps us more to -- to realize what's -- what's in front of us, so -- ALLEN MOORE: Now -- now, we have just told you the positives of that. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, there's negatives there. ALLEN MOORE: There are -- there are a few negatives also. If we didn't have negatives, everyone would be using those harnesses. ALIY ZIRKLE: Well, there's a lot of training that goes into it. ROBERT DROZDA: Maybe we can take a little break here. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, you bet. ROBERT DROZDA: Because this is definitely a topic that I wanted to get into with the shorter harnesses and the different harness styles. I wonder if maybe you could grab a harness?
(Recording paused.) ALLEN MOORE: I mean, it's just like this, you couldn't tell the difference, you know, except the fleece. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Whenever you guys are ready to go back on. ALIY ZIRKLE: Well, I'll put this on. Which dog gets it? Not the black one. ALLEN MOORE: He would say, "I don't know what to do." ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, there are folks who run different breeds, but we've got Huskies to run. Good girl. Good girl. Well, there you go. What do you think about that? ROBERT DROZDA: So here we have -- what do you call this, the distance harness, or -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. Well, we just call them harnesses.
ALLEN MOORE: We call them half harness --
ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. ALLEN MOORE: -- is one word for it. Some people call them Jeff King harnesses, because he started using them in long distance racing. ALIY ZIRKLE: I call them Aliy Zirkle harnesses. ALLEN MOORE: People call them a lot of different things. ALIY ZIRKLE: Anyway, we were talking a little bit earlier about the fact that our dogs, they're just attached to the -- the sled. And say we had a sled back here, and this is our -- this is our -- she'll probably stay lined up. This is our -- our getup, supposedly. And she ALLEN MOORE: She -- She likes to ROBERT DROZDA: I could be the sled if you -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Okay. Anyway, so our -- our whole pulling power for -- for a dog is basically their whole front end here. And it's funny, you talk about sled dogs pulling a sled down the trail, but they're actually not. What they're doing is they're pushing, they're pushing into this -- this collar here. And it's just like the yoke of a yak or the yoke of an oxen, they're pushing into this. So they are really not -- not pulling at all. And so she has the ability to -- to turn around and go forward, go backward, all that kind of thing. And when you have -- a lot of people say, "Well, does this give you enough power to pull down the trail?" Well, the deal is that we are not -- we are not pulling the sleds of yesteryear. We are not pulling gold out of Iditarod, and we're not pulling, you know, letters and boxes and everything to -- to Wiseman, Alaska. We are actually pulling sleds that weigh, what, a hundred and -- a hundred pounds, a hundred and thirty pounds. ALLEN MOORE: About 130 pounds loaded with food and everything. I mean, the sled itself, I mean, your sled weighs 40 pounds empty. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. ALLEN MOORE: So nowadays, I mean, back in 50 years ago, an empty sled, you know -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Weighed a hundred pounds. ALLEN MOORE: It weighed a hundred pounds, probably.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. ALLEN MOORE: So there's a lot of difference in technology of yesteryear and to -- up to today. ALIY ZIRKLE: So basically, I mean, the harness is the most critical item, gear item that a dog's going to have. But then the other thing, I guess, we really wanted to talk about was the other things that dogs these days wear. Because as you can see, now, she's a pretty bad example because she's shedding right now, but -- but the dogs these days don't have these -- don't always have the big, fury coats that you see on Sergeant Preston, the big Malamute looking style coats. And, now, she'll have quite a bit thicker coat, but she won't necessarily have, you know, those guard hairs that -- that come out to here. And so a lot of times when you see us out there on the trail in 20, 30, 40 below, we will have -- we'll have these dogs in jackets, as well. And so people often are, like, "Dogs in dog jackets? Well, they're Huskies, aren't they?" They are, but they are now basically elite Lance Armstrong Huskies. And so we do everything we can to -- to keep them healthy and happy. And so we actually have these -- these jackets designed specifically for these harnesses so that if we needed them going down the trail with them on, too, then -- then, obviously, they fit pretty well. These are our cold weather jackets, and they're -- they've got this -- this is actually waterproof on the outside, and then on the inside is a fleece layer. So it's pretty good down to, you know, 50 below or so. Our other option is actually just this waterproof layer, and those are windbreakers. And we'll use those a lot of times when running on rivers or in that situation. But you can see they're pretty much cut right for the dogs, so the dogs can -- can run in them without any kind of rubbing or anything like that, but they also protect a dog's flanks. Because often times, you know, one of the most -- you know, this is a pretty sensitive area for a dog, they don't have a lot of hair, so these are -- we actually kind of helped design these jackets so they -- they fit our dogs perfectly. Now, the other thing we should talk about real quickly, because we're going to see that often times in long distance dogs is you won't see them -- they're naked. This is what we call a dog who's naked. "Why are you running your dogs naked and barefoot?" "Well, because I haven't put her booties on yet." And dog booties are critical. Now, they're not -- they're not, you know, protecting injuries, so to speak, what we're trying to do is we're trying to prevent any kind of injuries. Obviously, a dog's feet, you know, if they don't have four healthy feet, they're not going to make it five miles, much less one thousand miles. So these dog booties are very lightweight. We want them to be inconsequential when the dog has them on. So they're quite lightweight. There're the least amount of seams possible so they don't have a seam on the bottom there. And the Velcro is really lightweight. And our guys are so accustomed to having dog boots on that they really just slip right over, line up, and get -- get on. So basically, a dog boot, when you look at the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod, you'll see most dogs are walking around with dog booties on. ROBERT DROZDA: Is there some sort of requirement for carrying booties? ALIY ZIRKLE: There actually is. In every race you are required to carry two sets, so that would be a total of eight booties per dog, at all times. Now, you can count the ones that you have on your dog's feet as part of that, but honestly, you know, we -- Allen and myself, we always carry quite a few more booties than we ever need, because they don't weigh anything, you know, why not have a whole bunch of extra out there. And what you'll notice happens with these -- these boots -- you're dressed to impress now, Rosie, dressed to impress -- Is she can run, you know, 60, 70 miles in these boots, but then depending on trail conditions is really how much wear and tear you'll get out of these boots. Because if you run 60 or 70 miles on a nice, smooth, snow laden trail on the Yukon River, they're -- they're great, you know, you can take them back off, which you have to do every time you stop. It's pretty much -- I always correlate it to when -- when a dog stops running, it's like, you know, a waitress gets off work. She just had a 12 hour shift, she gets off work, she sits down and she has to take her shoes off and put her feet up; otherwise, her feet are going to swell up and she's not going to be able to work the next day. Well, it's the same thing. ALLEN MOORE: We do -- we do forget that sometimes, and it kind of bites you in the butt when you -- you know, they're laying down in the straw and they don't want to get -- you know, they don't want to move here. So with 16 dogs there, you're going to miss a bootie or two that you forget to take off. And then you -- ALIY ZIRKLE: I don't miss a bootie. ALLEN MOORE: Well, that's why I was bragging on you before there, baby. But I do miss one every now and then, and when I do go back to put their booties back on when we get ready to go, then the dog's foot is swollen up real big because -- you know, so I try not to. ROBERT DROZDA: So you must be starting when they are pups handling their paws -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Oh, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: -- putting booties on and off. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Just getting them used to that. I mean, that's so simple to go on. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, it is. And you know, oftentimes, people -- people always ask, you know, we go through the whole yard and cut toenails in one day, and they'll be, like, "You cut all of those dogs' toenails in one day?" Well, they've been -- I've been cutting their toenails for, you know, years and years and years, they don't care if I cut their toenails. They don't care if I put booties on them, they're very -- ALLEN MOORE: The first time they get booties on, of course, they look like a cat with tape on -- on their feet. They're just going like this and like this. But normally -- ALIY ZIRKLE: When they're, yeah, seven.
ALLEN MOORE: But that's -- that's later on in the winter, like December when we're going to run a 50 mile run or so for the first time and these yearlings or so, they do that. But then after that first 50 mile run, they don't do it hardly any more. Maybe the next time a little bit, but after that, they're used to it. ALIY ZIRKLE: And then the funny thing we were talking about the trail, I mean, we try to reuse these booties. These booties cost $1, almost $1 each. So when you're -- you're using, you know, a thousand booties in a race, you kind of gulp at the expense. So what we try to do is whenever we take these off, we'll be camping somewhere and we'll take them off, but the funny part is that dogs, they do not sweat anywhere else in their body, but they do sweat out of their feet. So when you take a dog boot off after 50 miles and you toss it in the snow, then it immediately'll freeze. So they're not reusable in one half -- a half an hour or six hours, or however long you're resting there. So what we actually do is we'll bring them back home and we'll hang them up and dry them out. And we'll reuse them, you know, two weeks, a month down the road. So we do have a lot -- a lot of booties laying around the house. In the wintertime we have a heck of a lot. ROBERT DROZDA: Something I wanted to ask, and it's kind of backtracking a little bit, and this is like during a race. It just amazes me, and I'm sure there's people Outside who can't understand it at all, but how -- how do you function when it's really cold, 40, 50 below zero? ALLEN MOORE: You know, it's --
ROBERT DROZDA: -- and to do all these tasks? ALLEN MOORE: It's weird, when we first start a race, actually the first day or -- day or two, we're -- we're fairly cold. But after that, you get -- you just get accustomed to the cold; for some reason or another it doesn't bother -- or it doesn't bother me after, you know, a day or two. Not that you get immune to it, but you just -- you get used to it. ROBERT DROZDA: You sort of get acclimated. ALIY ZIRKLE: I think you get completely acclimated. ALLEN MOORE: You do. Even -- I mean, like in the Quest last year, it was a fairly cold Yukon Quest last year, you know. I know at one point it was 60 below. But when we'd get to these places, we would have to -- or I'd have to ask people, "Is it cold?" And, you know, they look at you like you're silly, but you really don't know. I don't know if it's 20 below or if it's 60 below. You know, you have got a hint with the dogs how -- you know, how they're breathing, and this, that, and the other, but still you don't really know. But we do have some good cold weather gear, just innovations in cold weather technology have gone through the roof, you know. And, of course, we -- we wear this Northern Outfitters stuff, which is only one layer, and it's really cool. We've been wearing for a few years now. And I don't know if I could have made it through the Yukon Quest without that because it just -- one layer, I was totally warm. And when you run up these hills, we sweat a lot. So when it's -- you know, it's 50 or 60 below, how can you stay warm when you're -- ALIY ZIRKLE: But your one layer is -- is this thick. ALLEN MOORE: It is. It's this thick, one layer, because it's foam. And what happens is the heat distribution from your body just goes -- because it's porous, the foam goes right out to the outside of the foam, freezes and falls off. You're never wet here, ever. So it's just great for me because I sweat a lot. And I don't -- I couldn't do the race without it. So anyway, just technologies in cold weather gear have helped us tremendously. ALIY ZIRKLE: It is interesting. I think it helps us, though, that we -- we live in Interior Alaska. ALLEN MOORE: That helps also. The dry. ALIY ZIRKLE: Because, I mean, because when we -- when we start training in, you know, December and January, 20, 30 below is not uncommon. So our dogs and ourselves, by -- by February or March, are very used to running at -- 20 below is common, you know. 30 below is -- is getting a little chillier. 40, 50 below is really cold. ALLEN MOORE: But at least we're accustomed to it. I've seen -- I've seen her in a thousand mile race, I hope the bottom falls out of the temperature, you know, because -- she's saying that because she knows she can deal with it, and people that live down South, even in southern Alaska, this, that, and the other, they're used to a lot warmer temperatures. ALIY ZIRKLE: Don't ever wish for that. ALLEN MOORE: 'Cause if you wish for it, it'll probably happen. ROBERT DROZDA: And likewise, the dogs become accumulated to that. ALIY ZIRKLE: Our dogs are -- yes, and that -- that bites us in the fanny in the other direction, too. ALLEN MOORE: It does. ALIY ZIRKLE: When it's 20 or 30 above, you can only take off so many dog jackets and they're nude. ALLEN MOORE: Exactly. We start Iditarod and it's 40 above, and they're used to 40 below, then it's just the other way. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. ROBERT DROZDA: And there the mental thing probably kicks in. ALIY ZIRKLE: It does, and also your strategy has to change. Obviously, it's colder at night than it is during the day, so a lot of times we'll ride -- run on a completely a night schedule if it's that warm. And Iditarod is different that way. It is a southern race. That's probably one of the biggest differences between the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. And honestly, that's probably why the Iditarod is as big as it is, because it's warmer, and because the media has flocked to it because their cameras still work in those temperatures. And so it's been able to accommodate all that media hype and all that kind of thing, whereas the Yukon Quest, I mean, they've -- they've tried and they have had document -- documents, documentaries -- ALLEN MOORE: Memories.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, that word. -- on the Yukon Quest, but boy most of the time those guys are flying around in Super Cubs freezing their tushes off when they're up there trying to -- trying to film. I've always said that's probably one of the biggest differences, when you're on the Yukon River in the Yukon Quest up in between, you know, right outside of Circle, and it's commonly 40 below up there. And when you're on the Yukon River on the Iditarod way down south and west near Anvik or Grayling, it's commonly 20 above. There's a month difference in between there, too, but that's a -- that's a significant, significant difference. Anyway. ALLEN MOORE: Anyway, that's probably clothing and stuff in a nutshell, or -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Sure. ROBERT DROZDA: Wind is probably tougher on -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Wind is tougher on us and our dogs, and that's because of the acclimation factor. We, in Interior Alaska, we get brutal temperatures, 50 below for a 10 day stretch or something, was what the last real cold snap, what, three years ago, but wind is very, very uncommon. And -- ALLEN MOORE: And our dogs never see it either, so they have a harder time, you know, in the wind than any other -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Right.
ALLEN MOORE: -- any other. ALIY ZIRKLE: So, yeah, I would say that's more of the -- the mental hurdle. And we did see a lot of wind, you did see a lot of wind on the Yukon Quest last year. ALLEN MOORE: Oh, yeah. ALIY ZIRKLE: So that's -- that's a hurd -- wind, cold, but in the same terms, warm and wet. Those are -- those are dangerous situations, too, because that's -- wind -- wet and warm is, if you ask me, there's more possibilities for hypothermia than 40 below and dry. ALLEN MOORE: Yeah. ALIY ZIRKLE: So I don't know, as dog mushers and -- and people who work in the winter, I think we just have to be ready for -- ALLEN MOORE: There's so many variables in this sport. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. All different kinds of variables, and thus, the dogs have to be ready, too. Rosie. ROBERT DROZDA: Can we talk a little bit more about the harness? ALIY ZIRKLE: Sure.
ROBERT DROZDA: You mentioned about the disadvantages. ALLEN MOORE: Yeah, we were talking earlier about the harnesses, and this half harness that you just saw a little while ago, there are a lot of advantages which I think we've only spoke -- spoken about the advantages, where, you know, they can kind of go and move as they want, and miss a hole if they want. And nothing's pulling down on their rear end, which we used to get a lot more injuries because that especially longer -- the farther we went, the pulling down on the rear end, and I can't show you right here, but if a harness goes all the way back to the rear end -- come here, Rosie. Maybe I can show you. Come here, Rosie. Come here. Good girl. What are you doing with this? ROBERT DROZDA: You can hook up to that back.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Way back here. ALLEN MOORE: Normally -- this is where we're hooking up now. Normally, a traditional harness hooks all the way back here, so it's pulling down on -- on their rear ends. And a lot of times that -- they've made new harnesses this way, too, it goes on the side, but a lot of people still use the harnesses that pull -- pull down constantly right here. And after a few hundred miles, that gets -- that starts -- they start doing things different to try to compensate from it pulling down there. Some -- some dogs even go to the side, called crabbing, so it doesn't pull down here. And we had a dog, that's all she would do is crab. And the next year we switched over to these harnesses, and bam, she never crabbed again. Because nothing was pulling down from here. It was, like, amazing. She had pulled -- she had crabbed for two or three years. So anyway, I'm still going off on the advantages again. I guess we like these harnesses. ALIY ZIRKLE: Apparently. ALLEN MOORE: The -- some of the disadvantages is when we're going, let's say, downhill, and there's a lot of switchbacks going like this, and the line drops to the ground, the dog has to go over the line. ALIY ZIRKLE: The main line. ALLEN MOORE: The main line that goes -- that this attaches to. It goes like this, it drops, they go over the line. So what it does is it gets them hung up. The line goes underneath their stomach and you have to stop. So that's very irritating when we're going like this and down, and they have to stop a lot. So that's one of the -- one of the disadvantages. What's another disadvantage? ALIY ZIRKLE: Well, I think just the fact that you have to train your dogs to know what you mean, straight ahead, line out, and not turn around, and there's just quite more -- there's quite a bit more chaos. Like if you picture 16 dogs all not on a leash running around, and you picture 16 dogs on a leash, it's exactly the same thing. You just have to have more mental control of your dogs than -- than -- ALLEN MOORE: I did tell them a little bit about when we first start using this when they're youngsters, we have to just stand them out on the line and keep them lined out -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. ALLEN MOORE: -- because they don't know what to do. They're just going this way and that way. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. They know to pull. ALLEN MOORE: They know to pull, but they just don't know which way to pull. ALIY ZIRKLE: Which direction to pull. ROBERT DROZDA: Let's take a little break here ALIY ZIRKLE: Okay.
ROBERT DROZDA: -- and we can continue with this.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, you bet.
Tape 2 ALIY ZIRKLE: So, I mean, disadvantage -- more disadvantages. Every kind of system has a little bit of disadvantage, but mostly with this one I would have to say that it's -- it's what we were talking about, they have to run on a specific side of the line, or when they -- when they switch to the other side, they have to go under the existing line. ALLEN MOORE: Just opposite of traditional line, you can't jump over the line or you'll be tangled. You have to go under the line in order not to get tangled. And traditionally, you can, you know, jump over the line, usually you're fine. It all works -- works itself out, but these you have to go under the line. That's one. Another one is the D rings. Like these D rings right here, they have one here and they have one right here. We found out last year on the Quest in cold -- really cold weather, 50 to 60 below -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Wet. ALLEN MOORE: -- and going through overflow, which we'll talk about shortly, too, is that it gets -- those D rings, I don't know, it magnifies even the 50 below, I guess, being wet and being 50 below. Because all the hair wore off or fell off, froze off, whatever, and then that got frostbit and got infected and so on and so on. ALIY ZIRKLE: They weren't that bad. ROBERT DROZDA: Both on the chest and back here? ALLEN MOORE: I'm just saying it can get that bad. ALIY ZIRKLE: Okay. ALLEN MOORE: We took care of it before it got infected. ALIY ZIRKLE: It was a little bit -- this one was the strangest one. And we think -- you were talking about how -- I wasn't there swimming through water at 50 below, thank goodness, but you were talking about how you took those jackets off, right? ALLEN MOORE: We did. We were talking -- this is overflow, and we do experience overflow in a lot of races. ALIY ZIRKLE: Actually, maybe you should describe overflow. ALLEN MOORE: What is overflow. Well, you know, you have rivers, rivers and the -- that are frozen, and the water still flows underneath these rivers all year long; and sometimes it fluctuates up and down, just like they do at all times of the year. And when they fluctuate and rise, well, the water's got to go somewhere when you already have ice on the water. So what happens is it comes up through the ice in different places and gets on top of the water, and sometimes it could be, you know, a foot deep or a lot deeper. Normally, it's knee deep or less. Normally, but it does get deeper than that. And what happens there is you have to go through the water. And when we have those jackets on, like it was 50 below, so we definitely had the jackets on, fleece jackets on. In order not to get them wet you have to take all the jackets off and put them in a place that won't get wet. And when you go through this overflow, hopefully you can keep your sled from turning over and getting them wet anyway. So we always have to go through overflow, which is -- is always a challenge. And we ourself have to keep our feet dry also. So there's numerous ways. Actually, last year, I took some garbage bags that actually went up to my waist. And didn't know if I would use them when I put them in there, and of course, when I got to -- it was about knee deep overflow in this one particular place. It was 50 below, and I had to wade across and pull the dogs across. Well, they swam across as I was wading across. And I put those garbage bags on and that kept my legs from getting wet. So that's just one of the tricks I did last year. A lot of people did not have that advantage and they got wet, and even a few of them had to scratch because of it. So that's one thing we did. Anything else about overflow? ALIY ZIRKLE: Well, no. I guess that's it. ALLEN MOORE: Well, one of the things, probably you go through overflow -- We had to take all the booties off because as soon as you get -- everything gets wet. So as soon as you get to the other side and it's 50 below, like instantly they are froze, so they are all real hard. So we have to take all the booties off, and normally put all new booties back on, or we'll go for a little bit farther distance just to make sure there's not going to be anymore overflow. And then we'll put booties back on them. So at 50 below, it's -- that is one thing that's really hard is your fingers, to work with your fingers. And it's hard to keep your hands warm at 50 below ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. ALLEN MOORE: -- putting on booties. And sometimes you may have to, especially these girls -- well, boy, so my trick is that I'll put my hands right here and it actually warms them up. So I'll put two booties on, and put -- you know, put my hands here and warm them up, put two more booties on, put my hands back here because their -- their bellies are always really warm. ALIY ZIRKLE: I guess you talk about people staying warm at, you know, 40, 50 below, and dogs, as well, have to stay warm at 40 and 50 below. And I think any dog, well, any Alaskan Husky can stay warm if they're curled up in their little ball with their nose tucked under their tail, but when we're asking them to trot on down the trail at 40 or 50 below, there's -- there's other things that we have to protect. And most commonly I would have to say that dogs are -- you know, their whole -- their front end here is pretty protected. They'll have these guard hairs out to the side, and I've -- knock on wood -- I've never really seen any -- any issues on their head with -- with cold weather. But as you travel back a little bit farther, let's say they have a -- their -- their jacket on, so they're protected all along here. Then they're -- kind of the one area that -- that is, quote, "no protected" is if you were a boy dog, which Rose is not a boy dog, but -- so what we've -- we've come up with is actually a -- is natural, and it's dog hair. This is actually a fox tail. And what -- ALLEN MOORE: A pink one. Pink for Rosie. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. What we've come up with, actually, is we -- we attach, and it actually attaches up here a little bit farther. It attaches to this D ring, and -- ALLEN MOORE: It has a little -- normally it has a little clip there -- ALIY ZIRKLE: A little clip.
ALLEN MOORE: -- that we just clip it. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. And so what it does is it actually hangs down a little bit here. And so when they're going down the trail, it's kind of trotting down the trail with them, and it protects their -- their penis and their sheaths from -- mostly from the cold weather and the wind coming from this way. But also it protects them from the wind coming -- coming -- coming this way. Actually, it's a little bit low. What we try to do is keep it just about like that, so that then the boys can still tinkle, and it will actually freeze sometimes on the fox tail, and you can shake it off when it's frozen. So it's -- it's actually a -- I don't know, it's a technique so that you -- you don't have any kind of issues with their personal areas. Female personal areas are a lot easier to take care of. Male personal areas, their -- their penises, and --Tthere are problems with, you know, dogs who may not have hair on their -- their testicles, too, but quite honestly, I have to tell you, most of -- most of those dogs are neutered in our yard, so we -- we -- we get rid of that problem all -- all -- altogether. Actually, speaking about that and healthcare with dogs, a lot of our dogs are spayed and neutered anyway. We really don't keep that many dogs intact. And the reason behind that is simply hormones add a chaos factor that isn't necessary. And we -- our kennel, we truly try to -- to limit our breedings to the breedings that we sanction. And so it's a lot easier to -- to limit those breedings when you don't have all those hormones running around. So we usually decide by the time a dog is -- is two years old or so whether they're going to be a potential breeder. And our yard, we only breed the very, very best to the very, very best. And you can be the best dog in the world but still have -- let's see, Bullet. Bullet is one of the best dogs in the yard but she has an overbite; she has a pretty dramatic overbite, so she was spayed when she was two years old. Tadfish, he's one of the very best dogs in our yard, but he's actually quite a bit smaller. He was the runt of the litter, so he was neutered when he was quite young. So we -- not only do you -- when you're -- you're breeding to produce the best puppies you possibly can imagine, not only do you take the physical and mental elements of the male and the physical and mental elements of the female, but you also look at not only that, but you look at their pedigree, so their mom and their dad and their siblings. What have their siblings done. And so you look at their pedigree, and then you look at their resume. And you say, what have -- so their pedigree is more physical, you know, what physically has -- have they come up with for a 10 year period, looking at their family. And their resume is what -- what, you know, spiritually have they come up with. Because I think sometimes a resume and finishing the Copper Basin and finishing the Iditarod and -- and running down the Chena River and, you know, finishing the Yukon Quest in lead, a lot of that is physical, but, boy, a lot of that is mental, as well. So I think oftentimes their resume is a mental component of what the dog can do. So you look at their pedigree and you look at their resume. And their resume is in, you know, year after year have they always been on the A team. And then when they were older, did they still compete or, you know, were they ready to move to the couch already, and that kind of thing. So we're pretty particular about what breed -- ALLEN MOORE: So then what attributes are we looking for when we're breeding. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. ALLEN MOORE: That would be a good one. And probably -- I mean, we've been talking about these coats that we put on dogs, this, that, and the other, and if I had to give -- if I had to give one attribute for a dog, it would be eating. And that goes back, a dog that -- always eats. Because when it gets cold, they get tired, they don't want to eat. And if they don't eat, then if you're in 50 below weather, they're going to lose a lot of weight really fast. They will have no energy, and they will be useless. They won't -- just don't want to run. So, I mean, that's just one. I mean, another one is mental, of course. We want one that's smart and does that, but one that will eat, will keep weight, it will normally finish a race with you. ALIY ZIRKLE: Probably, yeah, when we start looking at who's -- who's the perfect dog to breed, I guess first of all and foremost -- I don't know if that's first of all and foremost, but it's important. ALLEN MOORE: Well, it's way up there.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah.
ALLEN MOORE: I don't know what's the most important.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Well, one of the -- ALLEN MOORE: That's the first thing that came in my mind, anyway. ALIY ZIRKLE: No, that's true. No. One of the most important things is timing.
ALLEN MOORE: Yeah, timing. ALIY ZIRKLE: Because when we have litter of pups, we want that litter to be born, you know, by, say, July. They -- they should be on the ground by July. so that we have a great amount of time to -- to raise them and bond with them and figure out which pup is which, and that kind of a thing. Honestly, a little bit before would even be better because then you can spend all May and June playing with puppies. But, by golly, Mother Nature has -- has her say in it, and when dogs come into season is -- is purely a personal thing with each dog. Each dog comes into season on her own cycle. And then the other thing is you really don't -- we can't have puppies too late in the season, and that's not only for us, in spending the amount of time with -- with the dogs, but really, it's just -- it's -- it's natural. It's not natural for a dog or any animal to have young ones too late in the season because of the temperatures here in Alaska. So I guess timing is a big thing, even though that's probably, you know, not the most important thing. But definitely eating. Their physical abilities. And then the -- what our -- what our dog team -- The overlying factor in our dog yard is they're friendly dogs. They're friendly dogs who want to pull. They want to be sled dogs but, by golly, if they are not a sled dog, they're going to be someone's pet dog. And so I guess that's -- that's the backup there. Because we -- we don't look at dogs as a disposable item. I mean, dogs are individuals who have a place in the world. And we always figure if we limit the number of dogs that we bring into the world, then we'll always have enough places for these dogs to go, should they not work as a sled dog for us. And that's -- that's important with us because, by golly, you have to live with yourself, you know. ALLEN MOORE: So we usually only just have one litter, maybe two, but usually only one, because the amount of dogs we have out there in the yard is all we can train, so why have more? If we can't train them, they'll just be here. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. ALLEN MOORE: So we try to limit that number ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. ALLEN MOORE: -- and food and go on and on and on. ALIY ZIRKLE: But our dogs -- so normally, most of our dogs are born and raised at SP Kennel. And their parents, their grandparents, and their great grandparents go back to dogs that we know. And if this is not the case, we have bought or brought in a couple of new dogs here and there simply for reasons of the world. I don't even know how to put that. But most of the time let's just say that our dogs are born and raised here. And that's what we really prefer. ALLEN MOORE: We like to get new blood in every now and then. Every
ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. Right.
ALLEN MOORE: -- two or three years, or something, at least a little bit. ALIY ZIRKLE: And so these dogs are raised by us, for us, with the thought that they are going to be professional long distance sled dogs. So in their future lies many, many miles of exploration across some of the greatest Alaskan wilderness ever. And so that's probably the biggest perk of being a sled dog at SP Kennel is you get to explore Alaska and smell the smells of -- I can't even imagine. ALLEN MOORE: You get the best food, you get the best healthcare, you get the best of everything. That's for sure. ALIY ZIRKLE: Right. And then when your racing is done, when you -- you as a dog or I as a musher or Allen as a musher decide, you know -- ALLEN MOORE: Is that going to happen?
ALIY ZIRKLE: No, I'm talking about the dogs. When the dog is -- say, Rose. Rose is -- she's turning seven years old. Come here, Rosie. Come here. Is he a better petter than I am? Come here. ALLEN MOORE: Rosie! ALIY ZIRKLE: Come here, puppy. Come here. Rose is -- come here. Come here. Oh, my gosh, it's like pulling teeth. Holy cow. Rose is seven years old. She will be seven years old, she's not seven yet. And she -- her daddy was actually -- was the lead dog on my winning Yukon Quest team in the year 2000. And his name was AJ; and her mommy was a dog named Ash who ran the Iditarod three, four times for me. And she was in a litter of six puppies, and they were the Spice Girls, except for Dill, they were the Spice Girls, which is Rosemary was her name, Rosemary. Nutmeg, Garlic, Chili, Spicy, and Dill. So it was a litter of six. And as seven year old dogs, right now we have -- we have three of those dogs still racing in our yard. We have Nutmeg, we have Rose, and we have Spicy. Dill is actually at another racing kennel. Chili is at a recreational kennel, and -- Chili -- and Garlic is in Connecticut, actually, at a pet home. So it goes to say that every single dog has their spot in the world. And how we determine that is just individually recognizing where their plusses and minuses are. And Rose has always been probably -- she's the Jekyll and Hyde of the litter. She's the one who's a couch potato who, and honestly, probably she will be seven, probably in a year, we have a wait list for people who would like Rose as a pet dog. Can you -- can you imagine? ALLEN MOORE: And the Jekyll and Hyde part is that she looks like this now, but when you put -- when she goes out to run, she's -- ALIY ZIRKLE: Crazy.
ALLEN MOORE: -- crazy. ALIY ZIRKLE: It's actually pretty funny. ALLEN MOORE: It is. ROBERT DROZDA: Where do you tend to run her in the team? ALIY ZIRKLE: In lead or right behind lead. She has a little -- the crazy aspect is she has got no focus. Right now she's a lovey dovey, butt rubbing dog, and when we put her in harness she's (howling noise). She's got no -- is that you? It is, isn't it? She's got no focus. And most people don't -- don't believe that when they see her, you know, couch potato as she is. But -- so you look at her as an individual and you say, by golly, she's been racing, she's been on running -- actually she ran Iditarod at the age of two, and she finished. ALLEN MOORE: She did. She finished with me the first -- her first year. ALIY ZIRKLE: And then since then, age three, four, five, six, all three years she's run the Iditarods, as well as the Yukon Quest. ALLEN MOORE: And she ran the Quest, and the Iditarod last year. ALIY ZIRKLE: Copper Basin. Sheep Mountain. She's just a -- a phenomenal dog. But next year when she goes into training, she'll be a seven year old dog, which isn't old. It's actually still prime of her life, but that's when we have to start thinking, is Rose going to be -- when she retires, is she going to be a dog who's a recreational sled dog? Is she going to be a couch potato dog? And if she's a couch potato, will she stay on our couch or will she go to someone else's couch? And those are all things you start thinking about now. So -- and we do that with every one of our dogs. And now not every single dog is a Rose. You know, we've got -- let's talk about -- let's see. Oh, speak up, Tigg. The year younger than her. So the litter younger than her is -- they don't have a theme for their litter, but it's Pud and Dingle and Kipper. And those dogs, actually, their daddy is the brother of -- of Rose, Rose's daddy. And they are a little less -- but the -- they're a littl less couch potato-y. And so we had six pups in that litter, too. Is Pud, Kipper, Dingle, Hughie, Minnie, and Tyson. And they are actually -- four out of the six of those dogs are still here, and two of them are at recreational sled dog homes. None of them have actually moved on to couch potato homes, because they're just a little bit more of a dog's dog, so to speak. So all of that factor goes into our dog mushing world, as well. Not only, like, how are we going to do on these races, how are the dogs doing right now, is Allen staying warm, is Aliy staying warm, are our sleds fixed or our dog trucks run, but, you know, where is Rose going to be in two years from now? Is she going to be on our couch or is she going to be on someone else's couch. So I would say that's a constant thing that's going on in our heads. What do you think, Rosie? I don't know where to go with that. I'm rambling. Rambling. BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Let's stop a second. ALIY ZIRKLE: Okay. ROBERT DROZDA: Okay. I want to finish off with two questions, and they're -- they're general, and you've answered them already in a number of ways, but I wanted to ask, what is it about Alaska Huskies? What is special and what is it about running dogs for you guys? ALLEN MOORE: Oh, there's a question. ALIY ZIRKLE: Uh hum.
ALLEN MOORE: Hmm.
ALIY ZIRKLE: What's your answer? ALLEN MOORE: I don't know. It's like, you know, we played sports when we were growing up, college, all this stuff, I think it's a little bit of that in that, you know, you start out the season, just like you did in high school or college, you know, and you're going for the Super Bowl or the championship or something like that, and it's, like, that's how we start out every year. We've got to get this group of kids or this group of this, and we've got to get them to a -- we've got to get them to the finals. And, however we're a part of that also, so we also train ourself, you know, we didn't go into any of that, but we train ourself. When the dogs start training, we start training, to try to get in shape to do the -- to do this. But anyway, that, and plus the biology aspect, like mine's wildlife management, it's all those factors. It's so many variables that go into that. That's a hard question. But that's -- I think that's what does it for me, is probably the sports aspect of just getting to the Super Bowl or the championship to the end, and -- and trying to get all these dogs healthy and to that point. It's hard to put it into words. ROBERT DROZDA: So that challenge -- ALLEN MOORE: The challenge --
ROBERT DROZDA: -- of pulling the team together and -- ALLEN MOORE: Correct. And there's always a goal, you know, we're going after. Unlike, you know, if we were just working at a job, you know, doing the same thing over and over, it wouldn't be quite as exciting to us as going for this goal year after year after year and trying to get all these dogs and all these entities together, and -- and have this perfect team. I guess that's the most exciting part about it. And there's so much that goes into that that, you know, I can't even mention, there's so many things. ALIY ZIRKLE: I would say that's a big part for me, the competition aspect. But then thinking back to about how I started this morning talking, and that I had six dogs and we explored some of the niftiest places in the world in Alaska, just -- you know, just the seven of us, six dogs and myself. And I would say now that -- it's funny because we go through the whole season with this high intensity of training and -- and documenting it and healthcare and publicity and marketing our kennel and all that kind of thing, and then when you get out on these races, it goes back to that because there's just some awesome places that -- ALLEN MOORE: It is. ALIY ZIRKLE: -- you can travel with just you and your dogs. And there's no one else there. And you go through these mountain passes that you swear you never saw before, and you see the Northern Lights and the moon. Actually, this year the moon probably made the whole race for me because it -- it came up -- you know, I traveled a lot at night, and it would come up during the day, and then you'd see it set and, oh, it was -- it was just -- just really, really neat as far as Mother Nature's world. And I think when you're travelling with dogs, they -- they're as sincere about it as you. They don't add that extra, you know, travelling by snow machine or by car or -- and -- and you're not hiking by yourself, you're with dogs. So probably for me, the competition -- ALLEN MOORE: You know, that's part of it. You -- ALIY ZIRKLE: -- and the wilderness travelling. ALLEN MOORE: You think about how it was 200 years ago when people -- or you think about the Leonard Seppala when he was, you know, going to Nome. You know, it wasn't any different. I mean, nothing's changed out there where we are at the time than when he was there, or whoever. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah. ALLEN MOORE: You know. So it kind of brings you back in time. So -- ROBERT DROZDA: To have a connection to the past. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Yes. ALIY ZIRKLE: That would be it. ROBERT DROZDA: Okay. Great.
ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, you bet. ROBERT DROZDA: Bill, do you have any questions? BILL SCHNEIDER: No. You guys did a great job. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. Really nice. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Thanks for having us. ALIY ZIRKLE: Yeah, you bet. ROBERT DROZDA: Okay.
Joe Redington, Sr. was interviewed in 1982 by Susan Cortte for a radio series about the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Joe Redington. Sr. was a homesteader and dog musher in Knik, Alaska. He is one of the founders of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1972, and is known as "the father of the Iditarod." In this interview, Joe talks about how the Iditarod Race has changed, improvements in dogs, dog care, and trail conditions, the importance of sponsors, and running and training for the All-Alaska Sweepstakes Race. For more about Joe Redington, Sr. see: Father of the Iditarod, The Joe Redington Story by Lew Freedman (Fairbanks, AK: Epicenter Press, 1999).
Click to section:
The first year of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
Changes in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
Running the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race
Race times and speeds of dogs
Training for the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race
SUSAN CORTTE: Joe, 10 years ago the race began, you started it all. Did you think first that it was going to be possible and that you really were going to -- it was going to come this far? Ít looks like it's pretty well tradition. JOE REDINGTON: Well, I probably didn't think it would get this big this quick, but it has, and I felt that we could continue the race. I know when we got to Nome that first year we asked the people in Nome, "Do you want to see another race?" And everybody shouted, "Yes, we want another race." And I said, "Okay. We'll give you a race bigger and better," and we've done that. SUSAN CORTTE: Joe, how has the race changed in the years? JOE REDINGTON: Well, it's speeded up to where now it's -- you know, the first couple of years it was hard on dogs and the mushers come into Nome and they were looking pretty good because they got a lot of sleep, but that's changed a lot. Now the -- the dogs come in looking great because we are bred for better dogs and we know how to take care of the dogs, we feed them better, and now the musher comes in looking like heck. SUSAN CORTTE: How about, I -- I know there's always this real struggle on the Iditarod Trail committee between, you know, trying to make the race more professional and X- ing out the rookies and mandatory cutoff and things like that. How would you like to see the race continue? JOE REDINGTON: I want it just like it is. I think it will be just -- it's -- I think it's perfect like it is because we have one mandatory layover, which gives you a little bit of a chance to catch your breath. And one thing that's made this race possible is our sponsors. Without our sponsors, most of our mushers couldn't do anything because the race is a real expensive race to run. It costs thousands of dollars, and our sponsors are behind us, and it really helps a hundred percent. SUSAN CORTTE: Now I'd like to ask you about the All Alaska Sweepstakes race. Are you going to be running it? JOE REDINGTON: I will be running in the Alaska Sweepstakes race, for sure. SUSAN CORTTE: Joe, what's the fascination for you with the All Alaska Sweepstakes race? Is it sort of a part of reliving history and stuff back in the days when dog mushing began in Alaska? JOE REDINGTON: That's right. It was one of the first great races, the dog sled races in Alaska, and it's something that there was a lot of history; and there was a lot of work put into it, and I think it's great that we're able to do it. And you know, in '75 we celebrated the Serum Run, and when I was in that, I ran the first -- took Wild Bill Shannon's place out of Nenana, and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was great that we do things like that. SUSAN CORTTE: Joe, you were saying that you think they can beat Iron Man Johnson's record. What about that? Trails are going to be not quite as good, but you said you think they can beat it? JOE REDINGTON: Oh, I think so. I think in the 10 years that we have run the Iditarod, we have improved the dogs a lot more than what they was improved in back those days, and I feel that we can. If I remember correctly, it was about 76 hours, and I think we can -- I think we can -- somebody will beat that, I'm pretty sure. SUSAN CORTTE: Any predictions on what -- what type of a team is going to win it? Like, will it be a sprint team like George Attla or Charlie Champaine? Will it be a mid-distancer like Ed Salter or will it be an Iditarod team? Or is it going to be some combination of all of those? JOE REDINGTON: Well, I -- I think it might be an Iditarod team. Those -- they will all do good, especially those top sprint teams. I mean, they'll train for and they'll do good. The only advantage we have is probably the less chance of maybe clipping a dog or hauling a dog or something like that because there's no dog drops in that, and you've got to bring all the dogs in, and -- and it's going to be something that's going to require really choosing a good team that you know is going to be dependable, and I think from the Iditarod that we know more about just what dog would be able to do that. SUSAN CORTTE: One more last question. How long have you been training for this race, thinking about it? JOE REDINGTON: For the Sweepstakes race? Oh, I've been thinking about it ever since that they told me about it. And I think it's a great idea. And I've been, you know, just picking a dog here and there that I thought might be a top dog for in that race. And I'm going to continue to do that right up until next year's race. SUSAN CORTTE: Okay. Thanks a lot, Joe. JOE REDINGTON: You bet. SUSAN CORTTE: Bye bye.