Four-time Iditarod Sled Dog Race champion Lance Mackey was all smiles when asked how much wild Alaska salmon he had packed for the 2013 race.
“For me or the dogs?” He shot back.
In fact the popular veteran musher, also a champion of the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race, packed up about 30 pounds for smoked salmon for himself and another 600 pounds of king and chum salmon for the dog team.
Another Iditarod champion, Mitch Seavey of Seward, Alaska, was also packing smoked salmon for his own consumption, plus 300 pounds of salmon and sheefish to snack 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.”
Both Zirkle and Moore had packed about 50 salmon per team, cut and ready to snack.
“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