Began Preparing For The Iditarod
The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was run in 1973 in Alaska, and when she read about it in a dogmushing magazine, Butcher knew Alaska is where she wanted to be. At age twenty, Butcher found work in Alaskan canneries and as a veterinary technician. She bought three husky puppies and added to her pack whenever she had a little extra money. To learn self-reliance, she went into the Alaskan wilderness with her dogs and lived in a small cabin with no electricity or plumbing. Fifty miles from the nearest road, she brought all her supplies in with her and killed a moose or caribou to feed herself and her dogs. In the wild, dogs live in packs, with one "alpha" or leader dog. Butcher is extraordinary in care and training of her dogs and bonds with each of them, becoming in essence their alpha dog.
On the way across the wilderness to a friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner, Butcher fell into icy water while mushing her team of twelve dogs. She and the dogs survived-25-degree temperatures because Butcher found a cabin and tore up the floor to use for firewood. They arrived to dinner a day late. After three winters in the Wrangell Mountains, Butcher traveled to Knik, Alaska, to meet Joe Redington, the man who started the Iditarod. She worked for him, training his young dogs, and learned from a master. When Redington predicted Butcher would one day win the Iditarod, the men who heard him laughed. For practice, Butcher entered shorter mushing races like the Kobuk 220, the Norton Sound 250, Kusko 300, the Coldfoot Classic, the John Beargrease race, and the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. She set records in many of them.
Butcher entered her first Iditarod in March 1978, at age twenty-three. The race starts in Anchorage, and travels 1,049 miles across the Alaskan tundra, forests, sea ice, and tiny communities to finish in Nome, usually in eleven to thirty-two days. Teams stop at dozens of checkpoints, and dogs typically get more rest than mushers on the trail. Each dog requires 8,000 calories a day, and Butcher cooked rich meals of beef, beaver, liver, fish, bacon, and seal blubber for them over a campfire. After a grueling sixteen days, Butcher crossed the finish line in Nome in 19th place. She used her $600 prize money to buy another dog, Granite. Butcher finished the 1979 Iditarod in ninth place, one spot ahead of her mentor, Joe Redington. Butcher worked cannery jobs to support her dogs, and went into debt to feed and care for them, even when she was forced to sleep in her car. Butcher finished fifth in both the 1980 and 1981 Iditarods.
- Susan Butcher - A Dangerous Run-in With A Moose
- Susan Butcher - Loved Animals, Hated The City
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