Now, if a young man from St. Ann, Jamaica, decided that he wanted to take himself as far out of his comfort zone as he possibly could, and push himself to the absolute limit of his physical and mental endurance, what would he do? Oh, I know. He would become a dog musher, and enter the Alaskan Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, otherwise known as “The Last Great Race On Earth”.
This 975-mile race in sub-zero temperatures takes you through treacherous mountains, frozen rivers, dense forests and windswept coasts in unforgiving weather and long hours of darkness.
Starting in Willow, 50 miles north of Anchorage and ending in Nome, this year’s race commenced on March 1, 2014. The winner is expected to arrive at Nome in about nine days. It may take an additional week before the last contestant arrives at the finish. There are 69 mushers, most from Alaska, some from Norway, and others from Australia, Canada and New Zealand. And then there’s Newton Marshall, the 30 yr old former tour guide who is currently working in security in Jamaica. Well, no. Currently he’s not working. Currently, he is traversing some of the harshest conditions on earth with a handful of dogs and a sled.
The race commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that carried diptheria serum by dog sled to Nome. The mushers will travel in stages that vary between 18 miles and 85 miles. The participants will have spent the past year preparing for this event, training and fund raising for the purchase of equipment and supplies for themselves and their team of dogs.
Marshall has been mushing since 2005. While he was working at Chukka as a tour guide, the company started the Jamaica Dog Sled Team to run dry land dog carts for tourists. Which of course is just one small step away from doing dog sledding for real. In Alaska. Fighting frostbite in the mind-numbing cold. You can see how that would follow, right? Right.
This is actually not Marshall’s first run on the Iditarod. He’s done it three times before, finishing only once, in 47th place. This year he’s back with his sixteen dogs: Monica, Eric, Ghost, Ratchet, Palmer, Comet, Disco, Jumpy, Liesle, Chili Pepper, Relay, Trick, Daisy Mae, Willy and Ellie. His goal? Just to finish the race.
So what does it take to be run this trail really? You have to be fit, and not too tall or heavy, since every pound you carry makes it that much difficult for your team. You have to be prepared to face moose, caribou, wolves, buffalo and other wildlife that may be a threat along the trail. You don’t want the snow to be too icy, or too slushy, since both these conditions cause problems. You or your dogs run the risk of falling and breaking a limb, getting lost, suffering from snow blindness, frostbite, hypothermia or any number of other illnesses or injuries along the way. The dogs can get tangled or even strangled, and you or your dogs could fall through ice. There is a mandatory 24 hr stop, plus two more 8 hr stops but you must be prepared to deal with the fatigue. There’s no doubt about it; this sport and this race require mental and physical toughness in spades.
Newton Marshall is clearly up to the challenge. As he says on his website, “I want to show kids from Jamaica or anywhere in the world that if you want something you have to go get it yourself.”
You can show Marshall some love and keep up with the race from the warmth of your own home, by visiting his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MushinMonNewton and you can support him by purchasing t-shirts, books and other items, or even by sponsoring a dog, by visiting his website at http://www.mushinmonnewtonmarshall.com/
Wednesday, March 4th
I’d really like to encourage everyone to follow the race on Newton’s Facebook page as it is still in progress. Conditions on the trail appear to be unusually hazardous this year as several mushers have already had to drop out due broken bones, broken sleds and various injuries. Newton Marshall has stopped at least twice to assist his fellow mushers, helping one guy with a broken leg get to safety. He is really making us proud. He is an exceptional guy. https://www.facebook.com/MushinMonNewton