This is a continuation of the interview with Emily Schwing on May 1, 2015 by Karen Brewster at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In this second part of a two part interview, Emily talks about what it is like to be a reporter on the Iditraod and Yukon Quest trails and what it has meant to her in her life. She discusses filing her radio and written stories from remote locations, interviewing mushers, and the most challenging and best parts of the job. She also talks about the special experiences she has had in the villages and making great friends because of these dog sled races.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Dog Mushing in Alaska Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: May 1, 2015
Narrator(s): Emily Schwing
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Filing of her radio stories
What to look for in dog mushing and how to ask questions to mushers
Filing multiple stories a day and to multiple places
Internet and cell phone access issues in rural communities
Approaching mushers for interviews and knowing how to read people
Most challenging aspects of covering long-distance sled dog races
Best part of covering long-distance sled dog races
Similarities and differences between covering the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Races
Not getting involved in trail drama or helping mushers
Reporting on Brent Sass' accident on the 2014 Yukon Quest
Special experiences in villages
Dealing with the harsh conditions on the trail and being an outdoors person
Future of reporting on sled dog races
Importance of this experience in her life
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. We should be back now. You were talking about pushing the send button. So that was one of my questions, was how do you file your stories?
And the technology and if that's changed in your tenure?
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, it has. So -- KAREN BREWSTER: Using --
EMILY SCHWING: I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I -- John McWhorter who used to work at KUAC and he told me a story about how he used to unscrew the -- like the mouthpiece of a phone.
And then with two alligator clips he'd take -- he'd put it on like his tape player and play this tape into the phone and they'd be here in Fairbanks recording off the phone what he had recorded and --
Like I’m amazed. He used to do it from this phone booth in Eagle.
There's this -- there's like a pay phone phone booth in downtown Eagle. And like he used to do it from there.
And it doesn’t work like that anymore. It's -- it's -- everything's filed digitally over the Internet. Which is a total nightmare.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, those rural Internet connections are not always very good.
EMILY SCHWING: Well, and it's interesting. It's like so weird.
Like some places are great, you know, and then other places are just a disaster. And I think it's more having to do with personalities than it is having to do with actual infrastructure.
KAREN BREWSTER: Sometimes it's the infrastructure.
EMILY SCHWING: Sometimes it is the infrastructure. You know, like --
KAREN BREWSTER: So you record digitally on a DAT recorder?
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, I have -- no, I have a digital audio recorder. I use a Marantz PMD-661 and just a shotgun microphone.
I get in a lot of trouble with photographers for my shotgun mic, but I have sent them photos of people from NPR also using shotgun mics.
And I'm like see I am doing it right. So, I'm doing it right.
KAREN BREWSTER: So then that's an MP3 that you can then send?
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, I record everything in Wav and then I -- when I mix down the final audio file it goes as MP3. Although, if I file nationally for NPR or --
I file for a lot of people, I'm not just working for KUAC and APRN.
I also work for NPR Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I filed for the BBC, Public Radio International, American Public Media.
I write for Mushing Magazine. I mean there's a lot of -- KAREN BREWSTER: There's blog stuff.
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, there's tons of places that this all goes. So Koahnic Broadcasting is another. Yeah, so like there's a lot of --
KAREN BREWSTER: But, so you have a laptop with you and you --
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, I take my lap -- I use a -- KAREN BREWSTER: Audio -- you edit it and do all that on --
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah. I'm a Mac user so I use Mac Pro. I edit everything on Adobe Audition. And I write all my stories in, you know, just -- I write all my scripts just word processing.
And it's a cool process. I don’t think people realize what goes into the process of filing a story. So like, you know, like you walk up to a musher, you ask him how's it going?
I mean you ask him more than that like it's .
I hate it when people ask "how was your run?" It's the worst question or "how did you feel?" You know, those are the two worst questions to ask a musher.
Usually, you know, I’m really paying attention. Like I follow along, I look at race strategy,
I look at run/rest schedules and I watch. I do a lot of watching. I look at dog teams as they come in. There's a lot of things you can spot from just the way dogs are running and looking for limps and shoulder injuries and wrist stuff.
And tweaked backs and all kinds of things that you wouldn’t realize that I look at.
Or how dogs are eating, what they're eating, who's feeding beaver versus fish. I mean there's all these little things.
KAREN BREWSTER: That's stuff that mushers look at. You wouldn’t think that the reporter would know about that.
EMILY SCHWING: Oh, no, you pay attention to that. If you're feeding fish and it's 50 below, your dogs, like, you know, probably could be using some beaver, too.
Or just something a little fattier.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you've just learned all that along the way?
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, this is all like little details. Or, you know, you also watch -- like one year Lance Mackey came in to Pelly -- no, Pelly Crossing or Car -- Carmacks.
A couple of years ago, he came into Carmacks and he knew he wasn’t going to win the race -- the Yukon Quest, but he was going to give Allen Moore and Hugh Neff a run for their money.
And so he pulled his dog team in in third place and he threw booties down in front of his dogs like he was just going to snack them and go.
And then he came inside, and he like ate dinner and then he went to bed.
And like meanwhile, Hugh and -- Hugh Neff and Allen Moore thought he was going to get ready to go. So they all like rush outside and bootie up their dogs and take off, 'cause they didn’t want Lance Mackey --
They didn’t want to have to chase down Lance Mackey, and they didn’t want Lance too close to them.
But Lance had no plans to stay. So there's some game playing.
And then there are some people who try to do stuff like that and they fail miserably. Like Hugh Neff often tries to sleep in his sled and acts like he's just taking a half hour nap and it's pretty predictable.
It doesn’t work.
So, yeah, there're all kinds of things that you watch.
And then you, you know, make mental notes or, you know, I'm always writing on my hands or, you know, just writing everywhere.
And then I sit down and I start -- You know, I've written so many stories that never make it to air, you know. Just coming up with ideas I keep lists.
I use my iPhone a lot. I use that for all my photos. It's really hard to man a camera and all of my recording equipment, you know. Like, I feel like inspector gadget. Like I need another arm or something.
So I have opted to just use my iPhone for my photos. But the nice thing about that is you can kind of go into the note taking app and just keep a list of story ideas or the questions you want to ask people.
Because like I'm sleep deprived so I can’t, you know, I can’t keep track of all of that. I'm just -- I am just as fuzzy as everybody else, so --
And then, you know, I'll sit down after I've gotten all my tape. I usually try to get a lot of extra tape, because I often don’t know if I'm going to get stuck somewhere.
And so I try to have two or three stories sort of in the works, because then I've got a lot of options to work with.
But that makes it sound like I know what I'm doing. There are times when I have no tape and no story idea, and you're just like I hope it comes together. I'm really hoping.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because you're filing a story a day, right?
EMILY SCHWING: More than that. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really.
EMILY SCHWING: At least two, yeah. Sometimes three or four. Or I'm doing like a two-way interview with somebody or, you know, I'm definitely filing a feature story in the morning and then something for noon as an update.
And then something for the evening as like a clean-up story/update.
A lot of times I'll file for National Public Radio’s newscast, which is, you know, those are easy to do, but it still takes time. And you need to have your ducks in a row to do it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Are they -- they sometimes sort of shorter edited versions?
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, they're like 45 seconds just for newscast. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EMILY SCHWING: So they're super short. The edits are really fun. It's really fun to talk to the editors in Washington, DC. And they're like you're doing what, where.
Like they have no concept and so that's -- that's what makes it fun, is getting to describe all of that to people.
And then, you know, so I sit down, I write the script, and I can’t -- I realized, you know, I cut all my tape myself. I do all my audio editing.
And then usually I'll listen to my story four times before I ever file it. It's like a rule of mine just to make sure it's ready to go.
The coolest part about this is -- is snow is a wonderful sound absorber, so it's great in the winter because pretty much the entire state is my, like, studio, you know. It's great.
You just go outside and you voice your tracks and it sounds wonderful so --
Every once in a while it gets frustrating 'cause like a snowmachine will go by and you're like, are you kidding me. Or someone will walk up to you and want to talk and you're like I'm recording, you know.
There're all kinds of little tricks that you learn.
I’ve -- I’ve recorded a lot of stories in strange places. I've done it in cars. I've done it in -- I've like dugout snowdrifts. I’ve, you know, all kinds of places to record so --
And there's all kinds of little tricks.
KAREN BREWSTER: A checkpoint is probably not the quietest place?
EMILY SCHWING: No, but sometimes you want that sound, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. EMILY SCHWING: So --
KAREN BREWSTER: No, but when you're recording -- EMILY SCHWING: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- your own track?
EMILY SCHWING: Oh, yeah, yeah, no you don’t want to do that so, yeah. Outside snow.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so then you -- the send is you're sending a MP3 or Wav?
EMILY SCHWING: You either FTP it or email it. And that's where the nightmare begins.
It never ends.
Yeah, sometimes you have to cut it into -- like you have to cut the story into small pieces and then it'll get to where it needs to go. And then someone will put it back together, like, just with the audio editing.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because it's too many -- it's too big?
EMILY SCHWING: It's too big. The file's too big.
Email seems to be a lot easier than the FTP in places.
I have -- I have offered up my first -- my first born child for Internet access.
I mean, I'm serious. Like, it's like there are times like in Galena this year they moved the checkpoint from the, like the main hall where they usually have it, which is right next door to the radio station.
They moved it all the way across town to this, like a building that the school owns. And like the -- there's a culinary school in Galena.
But the culinary school wouldn’t let us use their Internet, which is strange and very frustrating.
So I had to drive all the way back across to the radio station to use reliable Internet at two thirty in the morning or three thirty in the morning, and then I had another story I had to file, so --
And like bumming that ride. You know, it's 50 below and you could walk, but it's like four miles and it's going to take a long time to get there and, you know, you're constantly on a deadline.
So, yeah, I mean you -- you fight tooth and nail for your Internet access.
Photographers, I will say, are the worst because they send huge files.
And so what's nice is that, you know, everybody sort of has this understanding like, hey I’m filing this thing. Did you get yours in already? When's your deadline? Can I do mine now?
And that's really great. Not everybody's that understanding.
There are some people who just aren’t willing to cooperate, but you learn pretty quickly that you need to be willing to cooperate or you're going to get left somewhere in the cold. Literally.
And we're not going to feel bad for you.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then also you're using cell phone? You don’t have to use the public pay phones, anymore?
EMILY SCHWING: No. So I have a phone card that I've had since I was in college. And so I use that.
And, you know, there're little tricks. Like -- I probably shouldn’t admit this, so hopefully nobody watches all the way through this, but if you know where the phone in the school is, like in the principal’s office, you can usually dial out.
Otherwise, everything is a long distance call in the villages so you --
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I am surprised you don’t just have an iPhone that you use or a SAT phone.
EMILY SCHWING: Well, so that's the thing. So GCI and AT&T are in this big fight and Verizon. They're all in this fight right now.
So my phone -- this is where it's changed.
Like you asked me earlier like how have things changed since I've been there.
In Canada, I never had phone access until this year and everywhere -- my iPhone worked everywhere.
I have AT&T, so my bill was like crazy. It was like $350 bill at the end of it 'cause it was Canada.
But I had my phone, you know, so I could use my phone as a hot spot, which I've never been able to do before.
So that, you know, that kind of covered me. But once I got onto the Alaska side, there's no phone. There's no tower in Eagle and there's no tower in Circle, Central.
You don’t have access until you get down to Fox. And then you go, you know, down the Steese Highway to Fox and then you go from Fox, you go back up Chena Hot Springs Road and there's no phone access there.
So it's really weird to not be able to use your phone on the Alaska side of the trail, because I'm from here, you know. So that's strange.
But that -- that has changed where there's phone access in Canada where there otherwise wasn’t.
On the Iditarod, my phone won’t work in certain villages, because they're GCI villages.
Which is so frustrating, because then, you know -- and I am like bumming phone calls from people.
Like, hey, can I use your cell phone or hey, are you turning that into hot spot, can I --
Yeah, and I feel -- I don’t like to do that 'cause it costs people money and I don’t have a great way of reimbursing them through how I'm reimbursed so --
Yeah, so then I'm kind of beholden to the Internet. Manley’s Internet was terrible. You had to go up to -- schools all have Internet.
So the Internet in schools is great, if they let you use it.
In Manley, they were like sure use it. We don’t care. You know, do whatever you need to do. They even like changed the access, so they allow for social media.
So you can use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and Tumbler, all of which I use during the races.
I have fun with it, especially with Instagram and Tumbler, like, I just have a fun doing that.
But like in Ruby, the school there was really tight with their Internet. So it was really difficult.
And then, there is a little trick, like if you wait until about midnight. Midnight to four a.m. are the best times to file.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because nobody else is on.
EMILY SCHWING: Right and all the band width is free then. Otherwise, it's like peak hours and they're charged more.
So, yeah, so usually I'm working overnight, which is the other reason I don’t sleep very much.
KAREN BREWSTER: You had talked before about approaching the mushers and asking them, you know, when they come into the checkpoint.
How do the mushers feel about being approached by a reporter after they've just done a, you know, eight hour run and they're cold and tired, too. And they've got stuff, you know, you said like Aliy she' got to feed her dogs.
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: How do they respond? EMILY SCHWING: Well, so I don’t usually -- KAREN BREWSTER: Or how do you gauge that?
EMILY SCHWING: I don’t do an interview when they first arrive. I've learned my lesson on that. Like you're not going to get anything good.
Yeah, it was 50 below. Yeah, I'm tired. Yeah, I want a burger or you know my dog has a shoulder injury or something, you know. You're not going to get -- none of that is interesting to me, you know.
So I usually get the audio of them arriving and let the other reporters ask questions. And maybe I'll ask a follower or whatever, cause usually there's a scrum.
I also -- like it sounds terrible and maybe a little arrogant, but I don’t like to share. You know, like I don’t want to tell the same story that the Alaska Dispatch and like the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner are telling.
Like I want my own story, you know and that's what I am there for.
And so I just don’t like to share.
And so -- so I will wait.
The Quest is a little bit more difficult because you need to ask permission for access to the dog yard and someone has to escort you.
But the mushers know me well enough that usually they're like oh, yeah, you can let her come and talk to me while I'm taking care of my dogs.
On the Iditarod, it's kind of a free for all. You can go talk to anybody, any time and you just ask. Like hey, do you have a few minutes? Can I follow you around?
I had this really cool experience in Manley this year with Martin Buser where, you know, he was -- he loves to sing to his dogs.
So he was singing and whistling to his dogs and I got like ten minutes of it.
And it sounded so good, you know, just Martin Buser whistling. Just clear whistling. It was so cold that it was just traveling through the air and it was beautiful. It was just really great sound.
And I was the only one there for it, you know. And then he talked to me, you know.
And I think you really just have to think about it, like, if you were in the position of, like, I just ran between four and eight hours or I just ran 200 miles or 90 miles or, you know, even 50 miles with a dog team and it's 50 below,
would I want somebody sticking a microphone in my face asking me all kinds of questions?
Or I would I want to go put my dogs to bed and like kind of deal with my stuff and get my head in order, and then maybe talk to them.
And so it's just -- I think it's kind of just being respectful, you know, of what they need to do. You let them get their chores done, and then they got time for you.
And usually the best time to talk to a musher is when they're eating 'cause they've kind of gotten everything out of the way. The dogs are sleeping.
It's before they're going to sleep or after they've already taken a nap.
And so, yeah, you just have -- you learn those kinds of things. Like how to time it right.
KAREN BREWSTER: It does sound a little intimidating.
EMILY SCHWING: Oh, it is. It totally is. Like somebody has a really bad run and, like you know, like, there are certain mushers who, like, he's in a bad mood and I'm going to get him later.
I'm not going to talk to that guy.
You know, like, I've been yelled at quite a bit, but that's what I was saying earlier, you can’t take it personally. Like these people don’t sleep and they're freezing cold.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I'd say that's something that you've learned. You've learned -- EMILY SCHWING: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- how to read people a little bit.
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean I think that that is -- but any reporter needs to know how to read people, you know, otherwise, they're just going to --
I think it's one of the most important things of being a reporter whether you're covering mushing or anything. Like, you have to know how to read people.
Because if people don’t want to talk to you or they're uncomfortable with the questions that you're asking them, they're not going to want to talk to you again.
And you're just not going to get a good story. So that's -- that's a skill you have to have.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So what would you say has been the most challenging thing for you covering these dog races?
EMILY SCHWING: Um -- that's a good question. I mean, I think the before and after are really challenging.
Like, before you go, and especially I've done these races back to back and so you're gone for six weeks.
And that's really hard to -- to -- it's fun to be on the races, but you're like I've gotta do this for six weeks, you know.
And, like, you leave the people that you love. And you leave your dog and you leave your house. And it's the middle of winter and if you own a house here like things can go wrong, which I learned.
And you kind of, like, you go into this weird time warp.
You know, and you come back and you're like it's March.
And springtime, you know, which is a great way to spend the winter. I mean, it's how I've survived, you know, five of the eight winters I've spent in Fairbanks is, you know, you leave and you're traveling.
And you're still in the winter, but it doesn’t feel like it 'cause you kind of forget about how difficult a winter here can be.
But I also think that coming back is very hard, because all of a sudden it's over. You know, and you just went through this like big challenging hard exhausting thing that I think that the most challenging part of it is just the emotion of it, 'cause it is so draining emotionally.
And you can’t share that with anybody besides the people you were just on the race with.
And you find that you miss people.
I've also found that, like, I really, you know, there are certain people that I'm, like, I really need a hug from you, you know.
Or like, you know, like, we just went through this thing together, you know, or -- and, like, and then they're not there all of a sudden. You just spent three weeks with them. That’s a weird thing.
So, yeah, I find that I get a little lonely at the end of it. And a little bit, like, it's exhausting.
I think that, yeah, the -- the most challenging part of it I think is the emotional side of it.
Which I didn’t expect. Which I don’t think -- and I think that, you know, a lot of reporters will tell you in covering things is very -- you hear it sometimes, like --
Like, I've heard a lot of reporters on the radio recently just covering certain events that have happened where you're like that reporter is shaken right now. And I cover mushing, so it's silly for me to say that, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: But there are -- there is drama in mushing.
EMILY SCHWING: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, I think the hardest year was my first year. Not because I didn’t know what I was doing, but, like, it was honestly the hardest Yukon Quest in the race’s history.
And last year was the hardest Iditarod in the race’s history. I mean anybody, you know, whether it's a race marshal or well -- a very experienced musher will tell you that.
And yeah, that's really hard to watch.
KAREN BREWSTER: And they were hard for what reasons?
EMILY SCHWING: Well, the Quest that year --
KAREN BREWSTER: Was it particularly cold that year or -- ?
EMILY SCHWING: Yes. The cold really does it. And the Quest that year was just a lot of drama and attrition. Day after day. It was just, like, one thing after the other.
Like, you know, rescues on American Summit, falling through overflow, frostbite, dead dogs. Like everywhere you looked, you know, and, like, you know, just --
I sat in the Eagle checkpoint and watched Hans Gatt cry, because he thought he was going to die of hypothermia.
And it was my first Yukon Quest, and I'd never seen, like, that kind of raw vulnerability in an Austrian man nonetheless, twice my age.
So I was just, like, I don’t know this guy and he's sitting in front of me crying and then there's a race judge named Reinhardt Zimmel and he was sitting next to me. And he's like this huge German man, you know, huge Bavarian man.
And like both of them are sobbing and then I look over here and Al Hallman, the race -- the head vet on that race, he's also crying.
And I'm, like, I'm surrounded by these three really tough guys who've been in mushing for life and they're so emotional over this. Like how could I not be, you know.
And, yeah, I mean maybe it wouldn’t be so emotional if we were all sleeping and eating correctly, but we're not so that adds to it, too.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well, so what’s the best part of it? What's kept you going back?
EMILY SCHWING: Honestly, the best part of it is the -- the -- Okay, I'll tell you the best part about it. Like my favorite story ever on the Iditarod. My first year.
I flew into Kaltag and I got off the airplane and I was holding my shotgun microphone and this woman drove up on her snowmachine.
She's probably like in her fifties. And she's Native. And she said, "Are you Emily Schwing?"
And I was, like, "Yes." I was, like, "Who are you?"
And she said, "Well, I am Hazel Olson. And I am so glad you are covering the Iditarod this year 'cause I have listened to all of the Yukon Quests that you've covered.
And I love hearing you on the radio and we listen to all the time.
And I was wondering if you wanted a snowmachine ride into town?"
And I was just like I’m in Kaltag in the middle of the Yukon River valley in a village I've never been to and I just met a woman I had no idea even existed until this moment.
And she grew up here and she's so much to teach me. And she is happy to see me and she doesn’t even know me.
You know, and like -- it was amazing. And I actually stayed -- Hazel Olson is the one that taught me to make Indian fry bread this year.
And, like, I mean, that's what I love about it. It's just, like, I get to go places and meet people and see things and hear stories that no one else in the world gets to see or tell or hear or do.
It's those little things. Like riding on a snowmachine with Robert Sorlie. I mean, that's crazy.
Or, like, Aliy Zirkle this year -- asked me -- she's, like, what are you doing this summer? Do you want to go hike the Valley of 10,000 Smokes with me? And I was, like, what, you know.
And, like, Brent Sass sent me an email and said I'm so glad you're the one who broke the story about me being disqualified, because you were the right reporter to do it.
And, you know, like sitting at a table with Richie Diehl and John Baker and, like, a couple other Alaska Native mushers as like a blonde-haired, blue-eyed female in Nulato last year. And just listening to them tell stories.
Or in Iditarod. On my first Iditarod, Sonny Lindner and DeeDee Jonrowe and Paul Gebhardt and I'm like all these old school mushers sitting at a table at two o’clock in the morning eatin' candy in the old cabin in Iditarod.
And I was just like in the corner, you know. I'm, like -- I'm not recording any of this. Like those things are the things that unfortunately no one gets to hear about, but for me it's just like, yeah, that's pretty cool.
It's super, super awesome. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Pretty cool. We've talked about it a little bit, the similarities and differences between covering the Quest and the Iditarod. EMILY SCHWING: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: We talked about sort of the road/non-road, but are there other things?
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah. So the Quest is a way more challenging race.
KAREN BREWSTER: For the mushers or for the reporting? Or both?
EMILY SCHWING: For the mushers. It's just a -- it's just grittier. It's more raw.
I mean, like, the longest run on the Yukon Quest between checkpoints is 200 miles. The longest run -- this year was different because of the re-route.
So there were some challenges because, like, a lot of, like, the old school Iditarod mushers who do it every year and have for thirty -- I think their race strategies were a little bit off.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because of the northern route?
EMILY SCHWING: Well, they re-routed it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, northern meaning Fairbanks.
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And so -- but there were like three runs. So usually the longest run is between Kaltag and Unalakleet, and it's like 85 miles.
And this year there were like three 90 mile runs or 80 mile runs in like the -- the first third of the race.
And so I think that caught a lot of people off guard. But, you know, mushing's not easy. So to say, like, the Iditarod is easier also comes with a grain of salt, because this sport is insane.
It's -- it's day after day it's just the hardest thing that I've ever seen people do.
So, and I've seen people do a lot of things. Like I've skied hundred mile races. I've paced hundred mile foot races for friends.
You know, I've been part of like the whole ultra-marathoning scene just on the edges.
And like I've seen -- I've seen it in people, but I think mushing still takes the cake on the most difficult thing.
KAREN BREWSTER: But in terms of coverage as a reporter, how does it differ between -- EMILY SCHWING: Oh. KAREN BREWSTER: -- the two races?
EMILY SCHWING: Oh, man, it's -- it's easier on the Quest, because it's a smaller field. So I'm covering 20 mushers and not 70, you know.
The mushers are more local. They know me in Fairbanks, you know.
More Fairbanks mushers run the Quest than the Iditarod.
Travel's easier 'cause you can go by car.
The people -- I've known them a little bit longer so I think that that's part of why I think it's a little easier than the Iditarod, although I'm starting to really get to know people on the Iditarod.
The Iditarod is hard. I think it's lonelier on the Iditarod, because you don’t see the same people. Like, you know, I'm good friends with a couple guys who are part of the video crew for the Iditarod Trail Committee.
Actually, I'm kind of friends with their -- They're really fun to hang out with, but, you know, they get spread out, and so you'll see them in Manley this year, but then some of them I didn’t see 'til Unalakleet, which was like five days later.
So you are a lot more alone on the Iditarod. And you're reminded of it, you know, like people aren’t really looking out for you.
You know, you're looking out for you. So there is an element of loneliness there.
But at the same time, like, there are also people that are going through the same thing so you end up finding yourself talking to other reporters or other people on the race.
KAREN BREWSTER: Are there more reporters on the Iditarod than on the Quest?
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, there are. There are, but it doesn’t seem like it, because everybody spreads out and kind of is on their own schedule.
You know, there's a couple TV crews that travel with -- KTVA and KTUU.
Which blows my mind to think they have like camera guys and producers and like a couple reporters, you know. There's like eight people. Like a social media guy.
It's just like a team of eight people out there for like one station. And than for us, it's me. You know, like, I'm a one-man band out there.
And so I think maybe that's why I feel a little bit more like, oh, it's kind of lonely, but it also makes it easier to travel as one human than eight.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, eight can’t get on Robert Sorlie’s snowmachine.
EMILY SCHWING: Eight cannot get on Robert Sorlie’s snowmachine. You are right about that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Definitely not. Well, one of things we sort of talked about the emotions and as you say the drama -- the trail drama.
And I know that mushers aren’t allowed to get assistance. So I don’t know, this is kind of a weird question, but do you ever feel like you want to step in and help?
EMILY SCHWING: No. KAREN BREWSTER: Or are there times -- ?
EMILY SCHWING: Uh-uh. Just little stuff. No, I never want to help 'cause I don’t want to have anything to do with it, you know, like, like, I'm there just to -- I’m there to observe and tell people what I see.
And I'm very aware of that. There have been a couple times where, like, this year Ed Hopkins’ dog team, which was an amazing dog team, one of the best teams I've ever seen on the Quest,
came into a hospitality stop and they were just like raring to go and they were running all over and they were like jumping on me.
And so then, you know, like, you grab the dogs and just, you're like calm down. That’s not helping. That's just -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EMILY SCHWING: That's just, you know, like making sure the dogs are going to be okay.
Michelle Phillips a couple of years ago on the Iditarod lost, like, the little square piece for, like, an iPod charger. She lost hers and she asked me if I had one.
And I have extras of everything. I'm like Mary Poppins, you know, I could probably some day pull a lamp out of my bag.
And so I had one, so I just gave it to her. And that kind of stuff that's not -- that's like you're just gifting. She -- Oh, you know what --
KAREN BREWSTER: That's not drama on the trail.
EMILY SCHWING: I think she's supposed to -- they're supposed to buy it from you, too. And so she gave me like five bucks or something for it.
And then this year Travis Beals -- someone stole his alarm clock in Galena. The poor guy -- I felt so bad for him. Like, he was so angry that someone literally stole his alarm clock and so he didn’t wake up on time and he was like all discombobulated.
And so he asked me, he's like, "Do you have a watch that I can buy off of you? And I -- I no longer wear a watch.
And so I said no. But he was, like, do you know anybody that does? So I went around and asked for him, you know. Like, hey, Travis is looking for a watch, can you help him out?
And I think finally they, like, kind of figured it out for him.
So -- but I don’t think that's assistance. That's just being a nice person.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was thinking just some of the drama. I mean Brent Sass’ accident where he fell off his sled, you know. EMILY SCHWING: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That, that must affect everybody.
EMILY SCHWING: That was very difficult, because -- what was difficult about that isn’t that Brent is a friend. It's that Brent’s friends are friends.
You know, so it's like his handlers and like Brent’s best friend is Mike Ellis, another musher, and Mike Ellis’ wife, Sue, is a very close friend of mine and so --
KAREN BREWSTER: Because of all this? EMILY SCHWING: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: You've gotten to know them through this, yeah.
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah. And so in that particular instance when Brent had his head injury, it was difficult for me to watch my friends struggle with it.
More so than it was difficult for me to both cover and see Brent injured.
Because there is -- you do go into reporter mode where you're like, okay, like I'm going to deal with the emotional side of this later, but I have a story to tell.
And I need to make sure that I'm very respectful and tasteful about the story I'm telling.
And I actually, in that instance, I got really upset with a reporter, who I won’t say where they were from or who they were, but he was very much in the Yukon Quest’s face about, like, when do we get to talk to Brent.
Why are you hiding him back there in this little cabin in Braeburn?
And I was, like, if he has a serious head injury and they're going to Life Flight him from Braeburn to Whitehorse, which is, like, not that big of a deal. Like you need to back off. Like this is bigger than just getting this story.
And, yeah, like, for me it's really important that, you know --
Earlier you asked me if there are things because these people are my friends, like, do I opt to not tell stories.
And I guess it's not right to say do I opt to not tell stories, but it's more accurate to say I'm very careful to do it in a respectful tasteful way, because I think a lot about how if it were me.
You know, even if I am a reporter, if it were me how would I want that to come out.
And that's really important to me. I mean that's more important to me just as a human being than as a journalist, you know.
So there are things I won’t do in the news, even if I'm supposed to because I'm a journalist. Like it just -- it's icky to me and I don’t like it, so -- I'm not -- I wasn’t raised that way so --
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, as you say, in that case that being respectful of somebody who's injured. EMILY SCHWING: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And when the time's right, the time will be right.
EMILY SCHWING: Right. Yeah, eventually they'll talk to you, you know. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So any other stories or experiences that --
EMILY SCHWING: There're -- I have -- there're so many stories, you know. Like --
Yeah, I mean, just like the people. I think the biggest thing is, like, all the different people that I've met. That I know.
So many people in Eagle. I mean, I know the whole village, you know, like eventually you get to know the whole village.
The same with in Kaltag, Unalakleet is a special place. Koyuk is great.
It’s -- it’s funny, you know, there are some villages that you're like, oh, this village is struggling, And then there are other places. You can always tell by the condition of the school, what's going on in a village.
White Mountain has the most beautiful school in the state as far as I'm concerned. It's gorgeous and it's clean and it's comfortable and the principal there is -- is -- he's a total character, but he's the sweetest man.
So, yeah, just -- I mean just little things like that where I'll be, you know, thinking about something or reminded of something and I'm like, oh, yeah, like you know -- I mean --
And food that you eat. You know, like in Unalakleet I've eaten everything from like muktuk to -- the only Native food I haven’t eaten is seal oil.
And I was bummed out this year, because apparently they had some in Unalakleet and I missed it, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's good.
Well, the other thing I was thinking about is the preparation. And when, you know, you first came to Alaska and then now you're out on the trail and the cold and the dark in remote not always easy conditions -- EMILY SCHWING: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Was that easy or hard for you to do?
EMILY SCHWING: No, it wasn’t difficult, because I’m -- like I said earlier, like, I usually I'm one of those people that asks for forgiveness not for permission.
I don’t say "no" often.
And people are always, like, you know, you moved a lot or you go a lot of places or you do all these things, like why?
And I just like to say I get bored easy. Which, yeah I just, you know, why not?
KAREN BREWSTER: And it's, well -- you being out in the wilderness and the cold and all that isn’t a problem for you?
EMILY SCHWING: No, I mean I've always been, like, an outdoor person. And just in my personal life I spend a lot of time outside in the winter. You have to here.
My cutoff is 30 below. Sometimes I violate that rule. All the time.
And then when I first moved here, you know -- just in the eight years that I've lived in Fairbanks I've become really savvy about being outside in the cold.
And it's a lot of layering and it's a lot of down and it's a lot of hand warmers and toe warmers and extra batteries.
And I spend a lot of time cross-country skiing, super long crazy distances that other people would think I was insane for doing up in the White Mountains, north of town.
And, you know, all over town there's trails and stuff. I trail run in the summer. So, no, I mean it's just become kind of a way of life for me to be out there.
With that said, like I don’t -- I don’t feel like I have anything to prove, you know.
And I would never put myself in a situation that was dangerous. Last year in January, we went on a ski trip which we probably shouldn’t have and it was 50 below and our cars froze.
And I was glad to have the experience, but I never need to -- I know what to do to solve that problem, but I never need to do it again 'cause I don’t have anything to prove, so --
KAREN BREWSTER: And so will you be back next year for the Quest and Iditarod, do you think?
EMILY SCHWING: That is the question of the day or the year.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, let me re-phrase it. Do you hope to continue to be able to cover the race? Or you feel like you're done with that?
EMILY SCHWING: That's a really interesting question. I wish I could answer it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it sounds like you've enjoyed it.
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, I've both hated and enjoyed it to be really honest. There are times when I'm just like, I don’t want to do this. It's so hard.
And then, you know, you go and you're like, I got my life lessons out of it, you know.
It was -- I knew Brent Sass was going to win the race this year in the Yukon Quest. I knew.
And I decided that if I were going to say goodbye to the Yukon Quest, I would be very happy to say goodbye to that race in a year when I saw Brent Sass finish.
Sorry, it's really emotional.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, he's been trying for a long time.
EMILY SCHWING: To think about -- like, what it was like to see Brent cross the finish line was just like -- like I'm -- I mean, look at me.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, he's tried for a long time.
EMILY SCHWING: It is overwhelming to see. Brent's really an emotional guy, so it's very overwhelming to see someone realize a dream.
So, that was very meaningful. And I'm okay with saying goodbye to the race on a high note like that.
With the Iditarod, I've covered every possible route. I've covered the southern route, the northern route, and the re-routed northern route.
So I’ve been to all the villages I wanted to be in. I’ve, you know, met a lot of people.
And I've made some very special friendships and made a real point to make sure that the people that are important to me know that they're important to me. So I’m okay with it, if I don’t cover another race.
But if I have the opportunity, I think I'd be okay with that, too.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. EMILY SCHWING: So, it's a hard question for me to answer if I'm going to do it again.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it sounds like it's been a very meaningful experience and opportunity for you in your life.
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, I think -- Yeah. I think, like, when I'm 80 and I think about it, I will be, yeah. I mean this is -- this is life experience that no one else has. You know, I mean this is -- like I have a very big family. I have lots of cousins.
And it's interesting because -- and I have lots of aunts and uncles and, like, any time one of them introduces me to somebody I don’t know if I go to visit, they're always, like, and she does this thing, you know.
Or she's been to this place. And so, yeah, I think -- I'm very thankful for it.
It's important for me to remember that because I think you can get a little bit resentful of, like, I did all this work.
You know, it was just for three weeks. It was really hard. It took a lot out of me. It's kind of a slog.
You do get exhausted. Like, you can -- you can really get buried in the -- in sort of like the less likeable parts of it, but at the same time, you know, I just relayed to you the story of Hazel Olson picking me up on her snowmachine or crying with Lance Mackey or hanging in Unalakleet with Aliy Zirkle when she didn’t want to be talking to anybody and she chose me.
You know, like, other people that -- like my friend, Joel Switzer, is such a close friend and I never would have met him if it weren’t for the Yukon Quest.
And, yeah, I mean, that's the stuff that I need to remember to dwell on. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and you are amongst an elite group of reporters who've had that opportunity to cover it. It's not something everybody gets to do.
EMILY SCHWING: Yeah, no, it's super. I'm so lucky. I mean, I knew when I decided to be a reporter in Alaska that I wasn’t going to, you know, sit around and cover the borough assembly.
I’m a reporter in Alaska. I'm going to cover Alaska’s cool stuff, you know.
That's the magic of being a reporter in Alaska is -- a lot of people come up here for a year to pad a resume, because they got to cover whales and, you know, a sled dog team.
Some of us come up here and really try to make it a career for a while.
I don’t know -- I don’t know if my reporting days in Alaska -- you know, I don’t work for KUAC anymore.
And I don’t know what my future holds as a reporter in Alaska.
I don’t know if I'm going to keep being a reporter, which is a scary thought 'cause this is pretty much the only thing I've done since I was 19 years old, so --
Yeah, we'll see what happens. We'll see.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it does sound like, as you say, you've made the most of being a reporter in Alaska.
EMILY SCHWING: Well, thank you for that. I hope I have. I really do. I hope have.
I've enjoyed it. I really have. So, yeah, I don’t have any regrets.
KAREN BREWSTER: Good.
EMILY SCHWING: There're stories I haven’t told. Maybe I regret that, but there are always stories that you haven’t told.
There's too many stories. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. EMILY SCHWING: So.
KAREN BREWSTER: I'd say, everybody has one, so there's always more out there. EMILY SCHWING: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I appreciate you telling us your story. Or telling me your story.
EMILY SCHWING: Thanks for having me. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well, I appreciate it. Thanks for your time. EMILY SCHWING: Yeah.