Four-time Iditarod Sled Dog Race champion Lance Mackey was all smiles an hour before the start of the 2013 race to Nome, checking his sled bag over, when asked how much wild Alaska salmon he was taking along.
“For me or the dogs?” Mackey shot back.
In fact Mackey, of Fairbanks, Alaska, was packing along about 30 pounds of smoked salmon for himself, and had shipped on ahead in the supply bags delivered to each checkpoint along the way some 600 pounds of king and chum salmon to snack his team of huskies.
Another Iditarod champion, Mitch Seavey, of Seward, Alaska, said he also was packing smoked salmon for his own consumption, plus about 300 pounds of salmon, and sheefish, for snacking his dogs on the trail.
Paul Gebhardt, a top contender in the race from Kasilof, on the Kenai Peninsula, said he was packing about 400 pounds of salmon for his dogs.
2013 Yukon Quest sled dog race champion Allen Moore, of Two Rivers, near Fairbanks, and his wife, Aliy Zirkle, who won the Yukon Quest in 2000, also sent out a load of wild salmon for snacking their teams. And the list goes on and on.
Hours before the race began March 3 at Willow, Alaska, where temperatures were in the high 20s, quite a few of the mushers fed their teams frozen salmon snacks before hitting the trail to Nome.
“Fish gives the most hydration,” said Moore. “The dogs like the fish, especially in warmer weather. They like it and it is good for them.”
“Fish is one of the most important snacks because of water content,” said Kaz Zirkle, sister of Aliy. “We cut the fish into ‘Snicker bites,’ six inches long.”
Both Zirkle and Moore had packed about 50 salmon per team.
“I’ve always made it a point of feeding a lot of fish,” said Sebastian Schnuelle, of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, who won the Yukon Quest in 2009, and has been a contender in several Iditarod races. “The dogs like it and they do well on it.”
Some mushers are fortunate enough to get the fish donated by a fish processor in their area. Seavey, for example gets about 20,000 to 30,000 pounds a year of fish from Icicle Seafoods’ processing facilities in Seward, said Dan Seavey, Mitch’s father, and himself a former Iditarod musher.
Snug Harbor Seafoods supplies Gebhardt with fish, and some fishing guides on the Kenai Peninsula also save king salmon heads for him, he said.
Given the cost of running the Iditarod, just about all the mushers are most appreciative of any donations offered, everywhere from fish processing plants to fish from individual freezers. To contact any mushers to donate fish, check their contact information at www.iditarod.com.