Before leaving for Anchorage, Alaska, Julie Salazar made sure her husband, Bobby, had packed the 2,000 booties she made him to keep his dogs safe and warm - his sled dogs.
Bobby Salazar, Midway, and 16 dogs from his own kennel were the first Utahns to participate in the annual Iditarod Dog Race beginning the first Saturday in March. The race takes participants the long 1,161 miles from Anchorage to Nome.The miles are often very long and lonely. "One time I went 130 miles without a check point," Salazar said. "You're on your own out there."
Salazar told of how there were times on his 13-day trek, where he was in sleep depravation and started hallucinating. "My dog team turned into alligators and I thought I was going off a cliff one time and I wasn't."
They did have one mandatory 24-hour stop to rest and regroup. But most of the rest periods were spent taking care of the dogs.
When you're mushing through the night on three hours of sleep you need something to keep you awake, Salazar said. What kept him going were the spectacular displays of the Aurora Borealis in the sky and the glistening white tundra ahead of him. "The Northern Lights are so spectacular they kept me awake when I was about to fall off the sled," he said.
Salazar, the director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, first saw the Iditarod on TV eight years ago and knew immediately that was something he wanted to do. Over the years he built up his kennel, and started his training programs. To qualify for the Iditarod, Salazar participated in a 500 mile dog race in Minnesota. His hope for the Iditarod was to just finish and he did, 30th out of 58 entries.
"I wasn't running for first place," Salazar said. "I just wanted as many dogs to cross the finish line as possible. You get really close to your dogs out there."
Salazar crossed the finish line with the most dogs, , still in the race.
Officials of the Iditarod make it perfectly clear - the dogs are the most important part. "There were 32 veterinarians on staff and not one physician," Salazar said.
"When a dog gets dropped with an injury or doesn't feel well, they are put on the next helicopter to Anchorage."
At the end of the race the dogs are also whisked away and cared for immediately.
"That was one of the hardest things to do was relinquish my dogs five minutes after the race, because they were my friends," he said.
Weather conditions were also of concern. "We were mushing in 65 degree below zero weather with a wind at 20 knots. That made it feel like 90 degrees below zero." Salazar said.
Salazar huddled and slept with his dogs, he shared everything with them and in turn they followed him. "My lead dogs feel what I'm feeling," he said. "Its a race for people who want to rely on themselves."
Cost to enter the race was $2,000, but Salazar said altogether more than $30,000 went into the race. Northern Outfitters in Orem sponsored him and provided his clothing of which Salazar said he never felt cold even in 110 degrees below zero.
With the support of his wife and four children behind him and his dogs leading him, Salazar turned for the finish line March 18, at 11 a.m. "It was a very neat sense of accomplishment and completion," he said. "I think it's changed my dimension."