Denver Evans received her first dog sled when she was 12 years old.
She tried in vain to get housedogs Sadie and Timber to pull the sled. But at ages eight and 11, they weren’t too keen on the idea.
“They looked at me like I was crazy!” she said.
But the trial and error didn’t dissuade Evans from her love of mushing and sledding – each day she has only wanted it more.
“She’s been into animals since she could crawl,” mother Heather Rodig said. “Her first interest was around nine when she started getting books on the Iditarod and dog sledding.”
Rodig said there was a lot of frustration and stomping of feet, but “through trial and tribulation she never lost interest.”
Four years after receiving her first sled, Evans has decided to compete in the Junior Iditarod, a 140-mile race starting at Knik Lake, AK, and finishing outside of Willow.
But with only six months to go, Evans has driven a sled only twice and with just two dogs, compared to the 10-dog team she will lead in February. But she doesn’t let the inexperience intimidate her.
“I’m not a scared person. I know what I’m doing. I know all the dogs. I know what to do,” she said.
Though confident, it goes without saying that Evans will be training a lot this winter. In the summer, she practices by having the dogs pull her bike through town, also known as bike joring. In the winter, she will venture to Log Cabin in B.C. to get practice in the powder.
But what Evans may lack in experience, she makes up for in knowledge.
At 14 she was hired by Alaska Excursions to work with puppies, opening up a network of connections and possibilities. Today she is a handler, working with mushers and sled dog teams on the mountain above Dyea.
It was here that she met Ryan Redington, a musher and former racer in the Junior Iditarod and the Iditarod. He presented her with the race application this summer.
Evans has worked with Redington throughout the season, getting to know the dogs and practicing harnessing and hooking them up.
It’s Redington’s dogs that Evans will be racing with come February.
Though she has her own sled dogs, Nala and Tobias, she doesn’t think they will be ready in time.
“They don’t have the training miles,” she said.
Evans said the race is completely doable, calling it one of the easiest races, though perhaps one of the toughest in the children’s category.
Racers will mush over the frozen Yentna River through territory Evans says is “phenomenal.”
“It’s what you think of upper Alaska. It’s wide open,” she said.
Though Evans will be racing over a frozen river, she won’t have to venture through any mountain passes. Her parents can breathe a sigh of relief.
The race is expected to last a little more than 24 hours, but Redington thinks his dogs can do it in less time.
Evans said the dogs will run for approximately 20 miles, take a break, and start back up again, running for four to six hours and resting for five to six.
Racers are only given one long break. The dogs are all unharnessed and the mushers cuddle into sleeping bags, laid out on top of sleds.
Before all else, Evans said you take care of the dogs first.
“You make sure they are fed and taken care of before you feed yourself,” she said.
[quote_right]“You make sure they are fed and taken care of before you feed yourself,” she said. [/quote_right]
The dogs not only need lots of food and rest, but booties for their feet, too. For all 10 dogs, Evans needs over 1,200 booties. They not only keep the dog’s paws warm, but also protect the area between their toes, ensuring that their feet do not split open.
And what about Evans? She needs warm gear too. As of now, she only has a 20-degree sleeping bag and is in need of a good winter coat – an obvious necessity.
Evans will not only need help funding her warm winter gear, but also airfare for a week’s worth of practice in Knik during Christmas break, and the flight to get her to and from the race.
In an effort to raise $3,000, Evans has set up a GoFundMe account, where fans and supporters can donate to her adventure. To donate, visit http://www.gofundme.com/cu2k3ju8.
Rodig understandably worries for Evans’ safety.
“I am concerned about her being out in the middle of the night,” she said. “But she relates better to dogs than she does to people most of the time.”
But Evans isn’t worried about the dark or about the challenge ahead of her. If anything, she’s scared of crossing paths with a moose.
“Hopefully you see it before they see you,” she said.
As for tactics during the race, Evans said speed and endurance are the name of the game. She plans on averaging eight to 10 miles per hour, keeping the dogs slow for the majority of the race.
“During those last few miles when you finally release the brakes, they just go,” she said.