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Published: Wednesday, 3/30/2005

Sylvania: Races inspire contrasting feelings

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Former Iditarod musher Dewey Halverson and Chinook entertain students at Sylvania Franciscan Academy. Former Iditarod musher Dewey Halverson and Chinook entertain students at Sylvania Franciscan Academy.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

Meeting a stranger on the trail is the reason Dewey Halverson gives for having endured the hardships of mushing in nine Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Races.

Mr. Halverson had the rapt attention of students at the Sylvania Franciscan Academy, as he related his experiences taking a dog team and sled the 1,100 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, a town of 3,500 at the edge of the frozen Bering Sea.

The miles include treacherous terrain and mushers can encounter blinding snow storms, he told the youngsters.

For all its difficulty however, Mr. Halverson compared it with the week or two before the race begins, which he said is very hectic.

"Friends and family come in; you're meeting with sponsors; you have to get supplies out on the trail,'' he said.

Prior to the start, all of the dogs are barking, jumping, and straining to begin, but soon a musher is alone where "the only thing you hear is the whisper of the runners on the snow.

"That's when you meet the stranger on the trail," he told the youngsters, "and it's you.''

He said the quiet and solitude of the race, particularly when contrasted with the excitement and tension leading up to the start, allows for introspection and an intense way to experience your surroundings.

Modern life, he said, is filled with distractions like television and video games, and a generally hurried atmosphere.

He told the students that they might not be able to get on the Iditarod trail, but they can turn off their television sets and sometimes sit quietly, perhaps with a book.

He raced at times spanning from 1977 to 1996.

This year's race from March 6 to March 16 was won by Norway's Robert Sorlie, who traversed one of the slushiest trails ever, in frequent above-freezing temperatures. Colder weather is easier on the dogs, who generally run best in a range from 20 degrees below zero to 20 degrees above.

Mr. Sorlie overcame insomnia and a dwindling dog team to win his second Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in one of the closest races in years. He started the race with the required 16 dogs and ended with eight, which traveled an average 4.65 mph. The other half became sick, tired or sore and were taken care of at checkpoints.

He won $72,066.67 and a pickup truck for his victory in the 33rd Iditarod.

Mr. Halverson, who has not won a race, said he decided to take his experiences on the talk circuit in part to supplement his income.

Although prize money has increased in recent years, competing in the Iditarod was often a losing financial proposition even for those who finished high in the standings. Keeping and training dogs, and himself, was costly.

"I didn't want to wake up one day like some people I know and be 65 with 100 dogs in the backyard and no money.''

He enjoys addressing audiences, particularly young people, he said.

Although he also works as a hunting and fishing guide near his home in Homer, Ohio, which is in the northern end of Licking County northeast of Columbus, he said he rarely had time to fish when he was competing in the sled races.

At one time, Mr. Halverson had 140 dogs, and simply tending to them is time-consuming, let alone training them and then putting together a team for the race.

While Mr. Halverson spoke to the students, a group of fourth-graders petted the resting Chinook, his 16-year-old Alaskan husky companion who has competed in the Iditarod.

The fourth-graders are students in the class of Patty Slupecki and for the second year, used the internet to track the progress of the Iditarod.

Ms. Slupecki said she has used the race for the last two years as a means of teaching economics, geography, cultures in Alaska, map reading, and other subjects.

She said the youngsters look forward to the lessons, to following the progress of the race each year and "are already asking me if we can do it again next year.''

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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