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Break On Through

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Northwest Passage, the ArcticThe dream of a Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic to the riches of Asia has driven explorers and visionary adventurers for centuries. With climate change in the air, Natasha Singer braves the frigid 900-mile journey to find out if the old, mythic dream is becoming an epic new reality.


The weather reports from the top of the world last summer were not good. Miles of sea ice went missing in the Arctic Ocean. Biologists warned that polar bears would soon have no place to live. The 170-square-mile Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, at the northern end of Ellesmere Island, broke apart for the first time in thousands of years. And 950 miles south of the North Pole, off northwestern Greenland, the U.S. Coast Guard's newest and largest icebreaker, the Healy, was having trouble finding any ice to break at all.

It was August in this lonely corner of the Arctic Ocean, and the iceboat's chief, Captain Daniel K. Oliver, picked up his binoculars and took in the view from the Healy's bridge. There was not much to report in the way of upcoming hazards. We were surrounded by deep blue sea.  more...


 



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Grand Haven man to compete in Iditarod

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photo: localFrom Grand Haven to Disney World is a long haul, to say the least -- just more than 1,200 miles. Covering that distance in the comfort of a car, at speeds sometimes exceeding 70 miles per hour, takes nearly 24 hours.

Consider covering that same distance perched on the back of a dog sled, enduring temperatures plunging to 30 degrees below zero, at an average speed of 7 miles per hour.

It would take a month, right?

Well, not quite, but close.

Grand Haven's Jim Conner hopes to cover that distance in a little under two weeks. He's gearing up to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, dubbed "The Last Great Race," a test of endurance that s takes competitors from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The race covers some 1,200 miles and takes anywhere from 10 to 30 days to complete.  more...

 



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Northern Michigan ski resorts doing well despite weak economy

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Abundant snowfall over the past few weeks, coupled with the introduction of a slew of new activities along with skiing, are helping northwest Michigan's ski resorts weather the impact of a weak economy.

"There's more snow here than there is in Vail or Beaver Creek (Colorado)," Brian Shapiro, a deli owner from Carmel, Ind. told the Traverse City Record-Eagle for a recent story.

Shapiro and his family had originally planned on skiing in the Rocky Mountains. But they delayed that trip and drove up to northern Michigan to stay at their summer home in Omena.  more...

 



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Mushing: A Brief History of the Sport

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Leonard Seppala mushing to the finish line

Sled dogs have coexisted and cooperated in partnership with humans for many thousands of years in the northern regions of North America and Siberia. Archeological evidence puts the earliest date at over 4,000 years ago. Some anthropologists suggest that human habitation and survival in the Arctic would not have been possible without sled dogs. In the Southwest, of what is now the United States, the first Spanish explorers encountered Indians who used dogs as draft animals pulling travois. They remarked that these dogs were an integral part of the Indians' culture. In fact, in many North American Indian cultures, the relationship with dogs was central to their style of life, and the introduction of horses occurred in parallel without replacing or diminishing the cultural importance of dogs as respected associates and partners.  more...

 



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History of the Iditarod

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Vern Halter crossing the frozen tundra

You don't have to tell anyone that the Iditarod is the Last Great Race on Earth. Just like anybody who knows anything about the outdoors knows Cabela's is the World's Foremost Outfitter.

It's a natural fit, the Iditarod and Cabela's. After all, Nebraska is not that far from Alaska. Well, in miles, maybe, but not in spirit. Both Nebraska, the home of Cabela's, and Alaska, home of the Iditarod, were molded and continue to be shaped by a hard-working, individualistic, survive-against-the-odds pioneering attitude. Perhaps that's why Cabela's feels such a kinship with Alaska - and the Iditarod in particular.

Cabela's sponsors three-time champion Jeff King, who works with us to assure our clothing and gear designs can withstand the non-stop punishment of the Iditarod while coping with the extremes of Alaskan weather. When you're talking 10 or so days in the Alaskan wilderness in winter, there's little margin for error - and no margin for equipment failure. The way we figure it, if our clothing and gear survive what King and the Iditarod put them through, they'll survive anything in the Lower 48. The pre-race testing we put this stuff through would spell the end of a lot of products others try to pass off as serious outdoor gear.   more...

 



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Daughter of Quest Champ Wins Junior Race

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Tessa King, in the winner's circle.Tessa King, daughter of three-time Iditarod and Yukon Quest champ Jeff King, won the 2004 Junior Yukon Quest, beating a deep field of talented mushers and dogs.

"I was hoping to finish with all 10 dogs, which I did," she said a couple of days after the race. "I wanted a healthy, happy dog team, and I did that to. I was able to gauge their speeds right, hold them back and then let them go enough to win."

Those comments by Tessa, 17, express a kind of maturity that often takes several seasons for mushers to figure out, let alone execute successfully in the fog of racing. But it isn't unexpected in her case, being the daughter of a multiple champion of the Iditarod, Yukon Quest and many other races.    more...


 



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BIO - Al Hardman

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Al Hardman, CEO of Hardman Construction in Ludington, Michigan and owner of Alcan Kennels, started mushing in 1990 with his two pet Samoyeds. He entered his first mid-distance race in January 1993, and he and his wife traveled to Alaska that same year to watch the beginning of the Iditarod. That was the beginning of his addiction to the sport of sled dog racing.

After setting up Alcan Kennels with carefully selected Alaskan Huskies, he ran his first Iditarod in 1997, saying, “That race was the best adventure I have ever undertaken.” The thrill and challenge of the race made such a lasting impression that he ran and completed the Iditarod again in 2000 and 2002.   more...

 

 



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Long miles in, teams ready for race

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The mix of beauty and exhilaration as Al Hardman runs a team of dogs at night during a training run in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

McMILLAN, Mich. — January, and the long, hard miles of training that come with this winter month are nearly over.

Michigan’s four mushers who are preparing for the March 6 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska are crazy busy this month. Their “to do” lists are long during this final stretch of the training season: ready the dog truck, find more dog coats, cut up 500 pounds of meat, package 2,000 booties, and, while they’re at it, put 1,000 miles on their finely-tuned Alaskan huskies.

Al Hardman, of Ludington, with cabins in the Upper Peninsula; Ed Stielstra, a Ludington native now living in the U.P.; Jim Warren, a friend of theirs who also has a cabin in the U.P., and Hardman’s son-in-law Jim Conner of Grand Haven are all entered in the upcoming 1,100-mile race through the interior of Alaska.  more...

 



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Alaska ready for Iditarod

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Lots of snow for 2004 race

The 2003 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was plagued with warm weather and little snow and much of the course was re-routed far north of Anchorage.

This year, a lack of snow should not be a problem, according to Jan Newton, long-time Takotna, Alaska, resident and Iditarod checkpoint coordinator.

“We have plenty of snow, three feet maybe,” she said. “It’s piled up everywhere.”

Takotna, population 55, is a favorite musher checkpoint 418 miles into the race. The community rolls out the welcome mat for the racers.  more...

 

 



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Mushers need help from friends and family to prepare for the Iditarod

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Few mushers prepare alone for “The Last Great Race on Earth,” as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is called. Michigan’s mushers rely on family and friends as they enter the final weeks leading up to the race.

Putting training miles on the dog teams is a full-time job for most sled dog racers. Logistics and preparation are done in spare moments and with the help of mushers’ family and friends.

Iditarod teams outside of Alaska have to be slightly more organized, needing to assemble their drop bags containing all the gear and food they will require for shipment to Alaska five weeks before the race.

The mushers’ drop bags have to be in Anchorage by Feb. 19. For a musher in Wasilla, that’s a 45-minute drive, but for “outside” mushers it’s a much more complicated endeavor.

Especially this year.    more...

 



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In the thick of training

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Al Hardman mushes down an Upper Peninsula dog sled trail while leading teams from a checkpoint during the Seney 300 in mid-December. Leading the way for Hardman on the team are Olive, left, and Sackett.

With less than two months to go before the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race — Saturday, March 6 — Michigan’s quartet of mushers are training hard in preparation for the 1,100-mile Alaskan adventure.

Training the 46 dogs in Al Hardman’s Alcan Kennel is a joint effort between Hardman and his son-in-law Jim Conner, who are both entered in the race, along with Gregg Hickmann, Hardman’s dog handler.

Conner and Hardman plan to take 18 dogs each to Alaska, and each will choose 16 of those dogs to start the race with. The remainder of the Alcan Kennel dogs, about 10 total, will remain in Michigan, sitting the bench, so to speak.   more...

 

 

 



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Shores sculptor gaining notoriety with ice work

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The chameleon with the 42-inch tongue was nipped for the title at the annual ice carving contest in Hamilton, Ohio, but that won't stop ice sculptor Roy Calo of Eastpointe from pursuing his trade at future shows.

While the art of carving started for Calo on cruise ships 20 years ago, the Philippine-born, Hawaiian Islands-raised American finds solace in his St. Clair Shores warehouse, bringing 300-pound blocks of ice to life.

On Valentine's Day weekend, Calo will be among those showing off extraordinary talents in the amateur ice carving competition at the Eastpointe Shiverfest 2004 on Feb. 14-15 at Eastbrooke Commons, on Nine Mile Road and Gratiot.
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Outdoor hockey takes game to roots

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Die-hard hockey buffs such as Eric Rudolph of Ypsilanti agree: If you’re going to play ice hockey, the ideal place is outdoors in the wintry fresh air with the wind in your face. “Playing outdoors is like old-time hockey — you should be a little cold,” says Rudolph, 33, who plays goalie and often subs for an outdoor league in Ann Arbor.

The group of men he plays with is out to have fun. Every time he shows up at a game, Rudolph says, he recognizes at least one or two of the other players. “It’s nice to play with someone you know.”

Rob Hennigar of Ann Arbor, who plays indoor and outdoor hockey, prefers to play outside because “that’s where the game originated.”   more...

 



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Snowmobiler who raised money for Special Olympics killed in crash

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KALKASKA -- Shortly before the start of the 2004 Michigan Special Olympics Winter Games, a member of a snowmobiling group that was one of the leading sponsors died from injuries suffered in a crash.

The snowmobilers, known as the Wertz Warriors, learned of the death of Patrick Alexander Modos II just before opening ceremonies Wednesday evening.

“Obviously we are very devastated,” Vic Battani, chairman of the Wertz Warriors, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. “We are a pretty tight group. They are like our brothers. We all have a common cause, which is the Special Olympics.”

Modos is the first member of the Wertz Warriors Snowmobile Endurance Ride to be fatally injured during the winter event, which has raised more than $5.75 million since its inception in 1983.   more...

 



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Snowmobile races on Lake St. Clair are more than a hobby for these families and friends

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Augie Fecarotta stands on the ice, 15 feet in front of two snowmobiles at the starting line. He drops his arms and the race begins.

John Rivard against the Horizontal Ponytail.

One-Mississippi: Rivard hesitates for a split second, and a split second means everything in a drag race that will last about 6 seconds. "Omigod," he thinks. Snow and ice spit into a cloud. The power and noise and thrust are incredible.

His wife, Brigitte, stands about 100 yards away on a snowbank, halfway down the track on Lake St. Clair, holding a video camera and their 2-year-old son, Jacob. During the winter, they spend every weekend on the ice near Fair Haven, about a quarter-mile from shore, plowing the track, setting up the start and finish lines, putting out cones and racing snowmobiles until dusk. During the week, John Rivard works on his sled, tweaking it to go even faster.

Snowmobile drag racing is more than a hobby -- it's a lifestyle for their family. 

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