NEW ULM - A New Ulm woman recently returned from Alaska where she volunteered with a group of women in the 1,049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome.
Laura Patterson said she became interested in dog sled racing when she and her husband Tom attended the Midwest Mountaineering Expo in Minneapolis when they lived in the Twin Cities many years ago.
Patterson recently spent a weekend of dogsledding at Wintermoon Summersun Adventures in Brimson, a small town at the edge of Superior National Forest, about 50 miles north of Duluth.
"It was my first hands-on dogsledding adventure," Patterson said. "Wintermoon Summersun Adventures owner/operator Kathleen Anderson organized a group of eight volunteers including me, to go to the Iditarod," Patterson said.
Her Iditarod duties included randomly collecting urine from sled dogs. The urine was tested for illegal substances, usually when dogs were uncrated from the trip to Alaska.
Patterson also helped carry dog sled team harnesses and other racing equipment to the starting line in Anchorage.
"Everyone including the dogs are very excited when they start racing," she said. "It was a great opportunity to meet people I've been following on the dog sled racing circuit for years."
A speed record was not set in this year's Iditarod. The race took place in warmer-than-usual temperatures. The trail turned to "oatmeal" at times because of temperatures in the mid to upper 30s. There were no blizzards or snow whiteouts. Fifty-four dog sled teams finished the race that began with 66 teams, Patterson said.
She rode an eight-passenger plane to a remote place in Alaska on the second day of the race.
"We followed the trail from the air," Patterson said. "It was amazing to see how vulnerable the dog sled teams are in this vast wilderness of lakes, rivers, forests and mountain passes. It was gorgeous. I'd love to do it again."
A breast cancer survivor, she plans to participate in the March 2014 Mush For a Cure, a sled dog fund-raiser - but not a race - for breast cancer, on and near the Gun Flint Trail north of Grand Marais. The event raised nearly $36,000 for breast cancer this year, including employer matching funds.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).