Saturday, March 4 was special to me, because for one day each year, I get to let the years fly behind me and become someone else. Back on this special Saturday in 1973, you see, I was Number 37. I had the Number 37 bib pinned on my parka that early morning at the baseball diamond in Anchorage, and I was just one of many dog mushers starting the very first Iditarod Dogsled Race to Nome.
I also get to be someone else on this special Saturday, too. The guys called me Seven-Dog Slim, because that was how many I had in front of that sled, and I had to borrow a house pet and bail another out of the pound to get seven of them. Seven dogs, you see, was the minimum number you had to have to compete.
And, since the other guys had more dog food than I did, they had more dogs, as well. Most of the teams were in the 10 to 14-dog vicinity. This made me the equivalent of the driver of a VW Bug in the Indy 500. Later, they upped the minimum to nine dogs, so I guess I’ll always be the only idiot to start out on the Idiot Road with seven dogs.
But I was “IN” the Iditarod … the race Joe Redington, Sr. worked so many years to establish. I was among a few of the homesteader types who lived in the woods and actually used a dog team for transportation. Our cabin was more than 12 miles from where we parked the car, you see. So the dogs were not only part of our happy little Alaska Bush family, but hauled in the groceries … and dog food.
So how did I do? Well, I crushed an ankle several hundred miles into the 1,000-mile race and got airlifted back to the hospital.
So Saturday, March 4th I wore the gold-colored parka I wore 44 years ago, and once again I can be Seven-Dog Slim for a day.
Here’s to the mushers on the trail. Packed trails and fast dogs, my brothers and sisters. It’s a very long way to Nome.
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