In the middle of the night this weekend, while running down the wide Yukon River, a man on a snowmobile intentionally attacked two Iditarod racers and their teams of dogs. First, the man went after Aliy Zirkle – apparently coming after her several times, clipping her sled and dogs. She defended herself with a wooden trail marker and feared that he was trying to kill her. As she escaped, he turned his sled and light towards her and revved his engine – supposedly taunting her. Next, he went after the next musher on the trail – Jeff King. He came at Jeff so fast and so close, that a lead dog of Jeff’s was killed and three or more others wounded. Instantly, the man was gone, no looking back. In the midst of Jeff providing first aid to his dogs, he saw a part of the snowmobile that had been broken apart and he kept it for the police. This helped in identifying a local man who claimed he’d been out drinking and doesn’t remember the events. Somehow however, the man claims that he kept his light on Aliy to make sure she was okay. Then he went on to attack Jeff? Hmm.
I.. we… everyone – is heartbroken over the attack and the tragic loss of Jeff’s dog, Nash. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t had sled dogs, but there’s an indescribable relationship that develops between a musher and their sled dogs. You see… sled dogs aren’t “pets” per say. They are working dogs that have centuries of DNA desires to pull and please. People ask, “how do you get them to pull?” The answer is, you don’t. The question should be, “how do you get them to stop?” Pulling is what they love to do. And when a leader is developed – it’s a pure asset to not only the musher, but the team as well. So, losing Jeff’s dog – in such a horrific way – is devastating on so many levels.
All of that being said, there’s something else about the attack that makes me so angry. It’s the Aliy Zirkle aspect. In the world we live in today, there are still young girls out there that still love to experience what nature has to offer. Girls out there that love adventure and animals and life without media overload. For girls such as these, the women of the Iditarod embody the characteristics of a role model. Aliy is no exception – she is actually the rule. She is kind, competitive, and utterly fearless. When a majority of the mushers stay at the race checkpoints, Aliy is known for camping alone with her dogs outside of civilization. How many women would do that in the middle of Alaska in the winter!? Fearless. So when details began emerging about the attack on Aliy, my heart broke because of the attack on her fearlessness. I pray that this does not stop her. That it doesn’t inhibit her spirit. I pray that adventurous young girls out there don’t get discouraged by one sick individual. You see, it’s more than an attack on a couple of racers, it’s an attack on the dreams of young people who hope to accomplish an extraordinary adventure one day.
We cannot tolerate far reaching acts of violence like this – no matter the excuse. I’m sick of excuses, aren’t you? But… what to do, what to do. First, I will continue in prayer. Second, I will have faith in the justice system – *because it’s Alaska;) Third, I’m going to write to some of the Iditarod racers and thank them for being role models. Role models need to be encouraged. And fourth, I won’t stop seeking adventure for my kids! And… I’ll give my dogs an extra treat today. Get out and enjoy creation – it’s an amazing thing.