Iron Dogs, Tired Irons, Palins and ping pong balls!

What a wonderful, wild weekend it was this past Saturday and Sunday! I had so much fun! And I love this state…have I mentioned that before??

On Sunday February 17, teams left Big Lake, Alaska on a 2,000 mile journey across the wilderness of Alaska in the longest snowmachine (snowmobile) race in the world – the Iron Dog. Teams train all year for this, invest thousands of dollars and countless hours, and it’s really a testament to perseverance.  Temperatures can reach -40 or colder, wind is so brutal that many racers place duct tape on exposed skin on their faces to prevent frostbite, all for a chance to be named the Iron Dog champion. This year was the 30th running of this race. I wasn’t able to make it to the start of the race, but was very excited about being there, on the “other end,” for the finish in Fairbanks on Saturday. I try to make it every year and was excited about seeing folks I only see during this race.

I live about 125 miles from where this race finishes, so the day started very early, about 6:00 a.m. By 6:45 I was on the road and reached Fairbanks, excited about the days events. I wasn’t able to pick up my credentials at the start so after talking to officials and getting the “okay” to photograph a few racers, I decided to check out the next best thing, the Tired Iron. Now this event is actually a series of races held on the Chena River in Fairbanks, at the same spot as the Iron Dog finish. The Tired Iron is a rather new event, started just a few years ago, and is a series of races on vintage snowmachines. Folks come from near and far, bringing their 1979 or older snowmachines out to show their stuff. The race that was being held Saturday morning, the “Jurassic Classic” is one of my favorites! Some of these snowmachines look more like washing machines on treads! I’ve never seen such an eclectic group of equipment, and some of the racers (0ne guy was 92) are as old or older than the machines they rode. Check out some of these photos from the “Jurassic Classic” race!

This guy is 92 years old! Way to go!

This guy is 92 years old! Way to go!

Ralph Seekins and his vintage sled before the race

Ralph Seekins and his vintage sled before the race

Jurassic 2 (1 of 1)

Look at that classic sled!

 

Jurassic 3 (1 of 1)

Someone put a lot of work into restoring this beauty

 

Jurassic 4 (1 of 1)

This is one of the most interesting machines I’ve ever seen!

 

Jurassic 5 (1 of 1)

Mr. Announcer Craig Compeau! This guy is always smiling!

 

The Iron Dog finish was projected for around 1:00 p.m., so I was also able to check out the start of something new at the Tired Iron event this year – The Spring Ping Fling. A fire engine was brought out onto the river and the ladder raised, then thousands of ping pong balls, each brightly colored orange with numbers on them, were dropped from the ladder several feet in the air. Children had been given bags and were positioned under the ladder bucket so that when the ping pong balls were dropped, they were to catch them with the bags. Every child that participated received a free ice cream, and many children went home with really special prizes, and one child took home a brand new small snowmachine! Check out this story about the Tired Iron and Spring Ping Fling here.

Photo credit: Eric Engman/News-Miner

Photo credit: Eric Engman/News-Miner

 

First racers into the finish of the Iron Dog were Marc McKenna and Dusty VanMeter. They were also last years winners and came across the finish line to their waiting friends, family, and lots of press!

McKenna and VanMeter, winners of the 2013 Iron Dog

McKenna and VanMeter, winners of the 2013 Iron Dog

 

One of the most famous Iron Dog racers is Todd Palin. I know the Palin family from when I lived in Wasilla and was happy to run into the gang there. Bristol Palin, who has aFacebook page and website, has been very gracious and used some of my photos to show folks what it’s like to live in our state. I was happy to be able to photograph her father coming into the finish line with his partner, Scott Davis, in 5th place – a very respectable finish. I was also very pleased to learn later that Todd Palin donated his winnings from the race to the Chris Kyle Memorial Fund in honor of the fine young man who died too young. Read a brief story about it here. Here are some photos of Todd Palin and Scott Davis crossing the finish line, along with some photos of the family.

Bristol, Willow, Tripp and friend waiting for Todd Palin to cross the finish line

Bristol, Willow, Tripp and friend waiting for Todd Palin to cross the finish line

Piper waiting to wave the checkered flag for Todd and Scott

Piper waiting to wave the checkered flag for Todd and Scott

 

Todd Palin and Scott Davis crossing the finish line

Todd Palin and Scott Davis crossing the finish line

Sarah giving Todd a hug at the finish line

Sarah giving Todd a hug at the finish line

Sarah and Todd at the finish

Sarah and Todd at the finish

Todd chats with Piper at the finish

Todd chats with Piper at the finish

Todd was all smiles

Todd was all smiles

Piper and Todd as they leave the finish chute

Piper and Todd as they leave the finish chute

In Memory of Chris Kyle

In Memory of Chris Kyle

 

After the Iron Dog finish I had just enough time to get a bite to eat then head off to the safety meeting for the Tired Iron, because I was going to be running in the race the next day! I was so excited. That night I drove the 125 miles back home, got some rest, and headed back to Fairbanks the next morning. I was on the river by 12:30 and ready to race!

My husband woke up Sunday morning sick and had no business standing on a frozen river at -20 degrees, so I was so glad when my friend Gale and her husband Cal showed up and were able to take photos of me in the race! I can’t say thank you enough to them. I’m really glad Cal was able to take these photos – and Gale informs me that Cal is ready to buy a camera just like mine! I love it too!

I found Craig Compeau, owner of Compeau’s – seller of all kinds of awesome grownup toys including snowmachines and ATVs! I love stores like his and his commitment to this event is amazing to see. Craig was going in 20 directions, getting ready for the Fun Run event that I was to race in, so he introduced me to Steve and was on his way. Steve owns the vintage 1977 John Deere Spitfire snowmachine I would be riding. The machine had been brought down to the ice two days before, but the sled had not been started since it was parked there, and refused to start now. I stood there with Gale and Cal, each of us looking at each other, wondering if I was actually going to race at all. Steve lifted the cowling (hood) and started tinkering. Next Cal jumped into the mix. Someone went and brought Craig over and next thing I knew, five or so guys were working to get this machine going. After tinkering for nearly 30 minutes, and just about 20 minutes before the start of the race, they finally got it running. They brought it down to the starting area and placed it in the lineup, then “gave me the keys” with instructions NOT to shut it off! So, I stood there with it idling as I was given last minute instructions about the course and the race.

Less then 5 minutes before the race was to start, the engine died! I’m sitting there in the lineup, ready to move into starting position, and then nothing! I motioned Steve over, he grabbed Craig and a few other guys. Under the cowling, it was discovered that the machine, which is air cooled, had gotten too hot while idling and melted a fuel line! Everyone was running around trying to find another line. Finally, in true racing style, Craig was able to salvage a shortened piece of melted line, hook it up, and fire the machine up. I had less than a minute before my start. It all happened so fast and before I knew it, I was flying down the chute.

THE RACE WAS AWESOME!!! I haven’t done this since I was a teen, and was a bit nervous, but I figured if a guy who’s 92 can do it, so can I. I made four laps for a total of 24 miles on this 6 mile course on the Chena River. Check out the photos!

 

Gale and I before the start of the race

Gale and I before the start of the race

Had to make sure my ponytails were secured!

Had to make sure my ponytails were secured!

Getting last minute race instructions

Getting last minute race instructions

At the start - I'm 2nd back on the left

At the start – I’m 2nd back on the left

And I'm off!

And I’m off!

Rounding a turn

Rounding a turn

Heading out for another lap

Heading out for another lap

Coming in to the finish

Coming in to the finish

I had a pretty big smile under that helmet

I had a pretty big smile under that helmet

 

I came in with a huge smile on my face and was very happy to be able to finish. I tell you – I was talking to that machine the whole time, just hoping to finish. It should be able to reach a speed of close to 50 mph but I was only able to get it up to 35 mph. Here is video of me running in the race. You can see me “puttering” by at time index 2:15 and again at 3:17. Funny!

 

We all posed for a group shot. It was a great day!

Group thumbs up!

Group thumbs up!

 

Later that evening, they had the awards ceremony, and I was named Mrs. Tired Iron! It was very nice to receive some sort of recognition, because I know I wasn’t at all competitive. I’m just so grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate. Here I am with “Mr. Tired Iron,” local Fairbanks business owner Ralph Seekins.

Mr. and Mrs. Tired Iron! Ralph Seekins and myself

Mr. and Mrs. Tired Iron! Ralph Seekins and myself

 

I hope you enjoyed the latest installment of my wild and wacky Alaskan adventures. Stay tuned for more! And please – comment! I’d love to hear from you!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ruth.cusack Ruth Cusack

    Great bunch of pictures.. Looks like you had an amazing time. Thanks for the blog. I enjoy your wild and wacky adventures.

    • BirchLeafPhoto

      Thanks Ruth! I had so much fun! You and I are going to have to find something fun to get into in the near future!

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  • MaMcGriz

    Wow! What a post!!!

    Thank you, Tracey!

    I’ve admired your photography a lot, thanks to Chuck Jr’s use of your excellent images on his site. You do really good work.

    And you’re a racer, too! My homegirl!! :)

    I was blessed to live for a short while in Fairbanks as a kid. Lying in the grass beside the Chena and looking up at the Northern Lights is a memory so vivid in my memory I can still smell the fragrance of the grass and see the dancing, swirling beauty overhead.

    I especially love the photo of Sarah standing beside Todd after the race. I know that look. She was thanking God and exhaling a deep breath of relief to have her man back in one piece after another triple x life risking competition so brutal most humans could never imagine, much less take part in. I know all this because I’m married to a long distance outrigger canoe racer and coach. It’s a far cry from the Iron Dog, and the racers are much less isolated, but it can still be a real nail biter to know he’s out there in the Molakai Channel, for example, jumping in and out of the canoe and treading water in one of the deepest, gnarliest stretches of open water in the world…and maybe in 40 ft. swells. ( These guys are animals. lol ) So I know that look. You captured it beautifully.

    I’m hoping to get up there to play music in the next year or so, and I’d be thrilled to meet you when I do. You’re my kind of lady!

    Thanks for making your great photos available to us all, and keep up the good work!

    PS

    At one of the places I play there’s a gentleman who plays there regularly who’s 93 years old…no…make that 94…! He drives himself to the gig, has a rich, strong baritone voice, plays a beautiful ukulele, and can flat pick faster than I can! He’s a handsome man, but not nearly as much of a hunk as your Tired Iron competitor! Hubba hubba!

  • http://www.motivationtruth.com Adrienne Ross

    Proud of you! You know how to have a good time!

  • http://www.facebook.com/bellagrazi Kristy Patullo

    Awesome, thanks Tracey! Looks like you had an awesome weekend. Congrats on being named Mrs. Tired Iron!