I called Mary Shields while I was eating breakfast and she could get me into a tour today so I decided to strike while the proverbial iron was hot. I already knew the way for the most part but asked directions again. Turned out I had passed her sign and gone too far up the last road yesterday but today I found it easily.
Mary herself is precious, a kind of hippie grandmother, but this little lady has done some fantastic things. Back in 1973 she decided it would be fun to run the brand new Iditarod mostly because it was a chance to cover a whole lot of new territory with her sled and dogs! At the start in Anchorage some spectator shouted to her to turn around now and stop. She got her dander up and thought no darn way! So she ran the whole thing, finished in the middle of the pack just ahead of her frenemy, Lolly Medley, (the two were the first women to attempt and complete the race) Mary then turned around and mushed back over half way home until the thawing Yukon stopped her and she had to be flown the rest of the way. She has also done the Yukon Quest and a special international trek across the Bering Straits to kind of commemorate the migration of the early people from Asia to the western hemisphere.
She came out from Wisconsin to work for the Campfire Girls in the summer in the early sixties before she finished college. She decided she wanted to build a cabin and live in the woods but ended up rehabbing and old existing cabin and staying there for a while about half way down the train track to the Denali Park but then ended up in the Fairbanks area.She now has a gorgeous log cabin that is more of a neat house but made of huge birch logs a foot or so in diameter. It also has a sod roof and wild berries growing on it! I took one shot outside but felt it would be too intrusive to take pix inside. She also has a beautiful flower garden with some veggies mixed in that is her pride and joy. I am just blown away by the flowers up here. They are astounding—everywhere you go.
She still keeps four dogs and may try for a litter in the spring with one female and keep a pup or two since one of the four is getting old and she has lost three the last two years, She still takes them out camping in the winter and drives them several times a week in the winter as well. She has a heavy old style sled she uses most, notas racing sled. She is also boarding three pups, litter mates, for a friend and they are terrors but adorable.
She has twenty acres up in the hills above town, about eight miles out by my rough figures, but most of it is in woods. It is peaceful and serene. There are neighbors but not just wall to wall. I’m not sure I could do the winters—she says there is about four hours of sun in the midwinter time. That would bother me more than the cold, I think in truth.
But she is an amazing lady and full of incredible stories, very warm and caring and a confirmed ecologist or preservationist. I’m not sure what her major was in college but likely something related to that as it began to become popular when she and I were at that age—we are a bit over a year apart. Now she is not anti-racing per se but does feel too many resources are spent on it and it is far too commercial and such. In a way I have to agree even if it has totally captured my fancy for a time now.
We discussed time. She took twenty eight days to go the route in 1974. She attributes most of the speed now to the breeding programs with more speed and less lugging tractor power in the dogs and some of the technology applied. That makes sense to me.
Then when I got back to the hostel, I checked email and had a confirmation from Aliy Zirkle’s Skunks Place Kennel which I will visit Sunday. It has been mid 70s today and a bit breezy—fantastic weather. I’ll plug in a few photos here and call it a day!
The back yard at the hostel--very peaceful and pretty! Then me with Mary's working sled in front of the tent she uses for winter camping with a little stove inside. Finally Mary and one of the other ladies on the tour with Frosty on the doghouse and the three pups on the ground. Got my doggie fix again! Some kid named the pups, all males, Roly. Poly and Oley! We agreed they sound to similar and may be hard for the pups to learn to respond to. BTW Mary is wearing a summer parka the Native women make. They use pretty cottons like the Apache and other SW Indians like and bright ricrac. I am going to try to get a pattern.