ANCHORAGE, Alaska — May the sled dog devoured a hearty, steaming serving of canned salmon and kibble stew Wednesday night in Chugiak, her first real meal since getting loose from her team six days earlier in the 41st Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
May, a strawberry blonde female, probably traveled 300 to 400 miles over some of the most rugged country Alaska serves up, said Stan Smith, who is giving love, food and temporary shelter to May.
“She traveled several times from Rohn to Nikolai, all the way up the Dalzell Gorge, up the Alaska Range to the other side, through Rainy Pass, across Shell Lake; she was spotted multiple times in Skwentna,” Smith said.
“So many reports of seeing her. They were all heading south.
“It’s an incredible journey.”
Smith, who raced in the 1993 and 1994 Iditarods, is friends with Chugiak musher Jim Lanier, May’s owner.
The dog was on loan to Jamaica musher Newton Marshall, and she got loose last Friday between Rohn and Nikolai when Marshall’s team got tangled with another team, according to a post on Marshall’s Facebook fan page. Lanier finished the Iditarod in 35th place shortly after noon Thursday, his 16th career finish.
May proceeded to run the anti-Iditarod, backtracking for miles and miles, from checkpoint to checkpoint, eating other teams’ leftovers along the trail.
“What a trouper,” said Matt Clark of Anchorage, one of three snowmachiners who captured the dog Wednesday afternoon on a trail that leads to Big Lake.
By Tuesday, maybe earlier, May had been spotted in Skwentna, the second checkpoint in the 1,000-mile race from Willow to Nome. She kept moving south, down the Yentna River, toward Willow, toward trails she had run before.
“She was absolutely running home,” Smith said.
Except she missed the turn to Willow, where the Iditarod began on March 3. There’s a maze of trails in that part of the Susitna Valley, and May wound up on a trail that leads to Big Lake, where Clark, Michael Hansmeyer and Kaitlin Koch encountered her.
“We had just pulled over on the side of the trail and were talking about where we should go next,” said Clark, 22.
“About 100 yards away a dog was trotting down the trail. It was coming at a pretty slow pace and we were waiting to see if someone on a four-wheeler or snowmachine was with her.”
When no one appeared, the three rode closer to May. She wouldn’t approach either of the men, who stayed on their machines, Clark said. Koch got off her sled and sat on the ground near the dog.
“She came right up in her lap,” Clark said.
May was still wearing her red harness. Her paws were bloody and she was skinny, Clarke said.
The three rode to Hansmeyer’s Horseshoe Lake cabin — May sat in front of Koch, who kept the dog secure between her arms as she drove slowly to the cabin.
“We’d heard about a missing (Iditarod) dog, but we figured we were too far away for it to be her,” Clark said.
“Kaitlin was like, ‘That’s that sled dog’ And we were like, ‘There’s no way. That sled dog’s dead. A wolf would’ve got it.’”
Once at Hansmeyer’s cabin, the rescuers wrapped May in a blanket, offered her a little food and called Iditarod headquarters. Ninety minutes later, Smith was there to take May to Chugiak.