Iditarod -- Race Across Alaska
2003 Live interview with Cali, Tessa, and Jeff King on March 18 from 1–2 p.m. ET.

Question: Congratulations from Mrs. Morgan's fifth-graders in Massachusetts. We were wondering if Cali thought her dad's experience really helped her as a rookie.
Answer: Cali: Of course, any experience my dad had did help me, because I've been hearing about his experiences since I was very young. It made it very comfortable for me and I had more knowledge to pull from.

Question: What are your dogs' names, Cali?
Answer: All of them? The leaders this year were Bismarck, like Bismarck, North Dakota, and Reno, like Reno, Nevada, Tinkle, Romeo, Potter like Harry Potter, Jodi. And I had other dogs that didn't lead. Mozart, Megan, Melville, Darwin, Chip, and Latte.

Question: How does a musher pick his lead dog?
Answer: Cali: Well, every since they are puppies, we try all of them in lead to see if one fits better than the other. We have a bunch of lead dogs. They all are better at leading in different situations. It's kind of like having only one pitcher for a baseball team, if you have only one dog. You have pitchers that are better at fastball or curve ball. You have dogs that are better at leading on the ice, or in the wind, or at night. We find leaders by trying leaders.

Tessa: My dad likes to say it isn't us who picks the leaders; it's the dogs choosing that they want to lead and we can tell.

Cali: Curiosity is one thing, wanting to know what is around the next corner. Being confident enough that you can lead the way. Whether they are able to learn the commands quickly. We use retired dogs to help puppies learn the commands. You can see the one that is always trying to get in front of everybody and get everyone else to follow.

Question: How many dogs needed to quit because of their paws being sore?
Answer: Cali: We didn't have any dogs that went home because their feet were sore. The dogs I sent home had wrist or shoulder soreness. I sent home three dogs.

Question: What did your dogs like eating the best?
Answer: Cali: Along with the dry dog food we feed them—the kibbles they really like—they like eating frozen cow intestines. It's called tripe and they really like that. We also feed them ground beaver and ground beef. My dad buys the ground beaver at a canine caviar food supply place.

Question: What was your favorite snack that kept you going? [Mrs. Colantonio's second grade, Simsbury, CT]
Answer: Cali: It was kind of hard to eat a lot out there because you're doing other things and your hands are cold. I ate a lot of trail mix with almonds and craisins in it. I ate a lot of granola bars.

Question: How many times have you raced in the Iditarod?
Answer: Jeff: My first race was in 1981 in the Iditarod. My second was in 1991. I've raced every year since for a total of 14, I think.

Answer: Cali: Only once. I finished 32nd out of 64. I finished in 12 hours and some odd minutes.

Question: When you run the race do you ever miss your family and wish you were at home?
Answer: Cali: Yes, of course. You just remember that in two weeks you'll be back home. It's like going to summer camp, I guess. We're allowed to call. You could write a letter, but there's no time for that. I received some letters from some of my friends. My mom was actually traveling the trails by airplane so I was able to see her at a couple of checkpoints, which helped.

Answer: Jeff: I finished in third place. There are times you wish you were home and you miss your family, but it's a predictable thing; you know it's going to happen. You've got to make some compromises to do the things you want to do. Knowing they are all there, anxious for you to do what you're doing and proud of you, makes you want to do well. It makes me want to stay out there and do a good job.

Question: Cali, were you able to stick to your schedule during the race? What was the hardest part of the race for you?
Answer: Cali: I stuck to my schedule pretty well, but I did have to adjust. I finished just an hour after I had predicted. That was pretty close. The hardest part for me was the trip from Shaktoolik to Koyuk, which is along the coast. It was windy and we were going into the wind. It was right in our faces. The dogs don't like that very much. No matter what you had on, cold got into your clothes. It found every little hole. It was only one stretch of about 50 miles. I did it all right.

Question: Hi, Cali. Is it hard to race against your father?
Answer: Cali: Not really, because my dad is racing the A team, like the varsity team. I'm racing with the JV [junior varsity] team. There's really no way that I could race for his position just because my dogs and I aren't quite as experienced as he is.

Question: When is the Jr. Iditarod this year, Tessa?
Answer: Tessa: The last weekend in February. I got fourth place. It was the first time I ran the Jr., but it was my second race this year. I ran the Junior Yukon Quest in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Junior Yukon Quest is about 120 miles. The Jr. Iditarod is 160 miles. I placed fifth in the Junior Yukon.

Question: What was the best part of the race?
Answer: Cali: Having such great weather and having such healthy dogs.

Answer: Tessa: For the Jr. Iditarod, the weather was perfect and the trails were great. And my dogs did great. It was fun to get to know some of my competitors.

Answer: Jeff: I'd have to say the best part of this year's race was from Unalakleet to Shaktoolik: The view of the setting sun and the three villages in the distance was absolutely spectacular. I stopped at exactly the same spot the mushers would have carried the serum 75 years ago and would have seen the same thing.

Question: Tessa, how long will it be before you can race in the Iditarod with your dad and sister?
Answer: Tessa: I'm 16 years old now and I have to be 18 to race the Iditarod. About two years if I choose to. Right now I don't think I will run it when I turn 18, mostly because next year I'm going to be a senior in high school. When I'm 18, it will be my first year of college and I would have to take that year off before I started college to train. I don't know if that is something I would want to do.

Question: Mr. Bennett's fifth-grade class in Winter Haven, Florida, would like to know if the lack of snow caused any problems with the race or did enough snow finally come?
Answer: Jeff: I just want to emphasize that we don't need a lot of snow to do this. We just need enough to make it slippery. We need cold weather to freeze water and lakes. Lack of snow did not cause as many changes in the race as much as warm temperatures in southern Alaska cause. Yes, we did have enough snow and enough cold weather, but it took changing the start location to Fairbanks.

Answer: Cali: Along the entire trail there was enough snow to go. All the rivers were frozen, generally.

Question: Did you ever get lost on the trail?
Answer: Cai: No. The Iditarod trailbreakers did a good job marking the trail. Like my dad would say, I never got lost. I may have been off the trail a little while, but I was never lost. Whenever I was off the trail, I was always very near the trail.

Answer: Tessa: No. The trailbreakers for that race also did an excellent job. I was able to follow the markers and stay on the trail the whole time.

Answer: Jeff: Twice I got off the marked trail, once leaving the village of Anvik. If we are going to get lost or get off the trial, it's going to be in one of the villages because of the local trail use. There was a place where the most highly used local trail went a different direction. I missed reading the markers correctly. That's a lot like driving in a town and missing the sign that shows your exit. Shortly after missing the exit, you realize you didn't take the right route. I went about a mile before I realized it.

Question: At what age did you start getting into racing and how old are you now?
Answer: Jeff: I'm 47 I believe. I first went dog mushing at about 19 years old. I was interested in dogs and snow and mushing back when I was about 10. I read a lot of great books, many by Jack London, that fascinated me about Alaska and the Yukon. Most of the books involved dogs and transportation and companionship. I lived in California next to where Jack London lived. In Glenn Allen, California.

Answer: Tessa: I probably went mushing for the first time when I was four or five and have been ever since. My first race wasn't until this year.

Answer: Cali: We were probably taken out on dog sleds when we were first in a baby pack. I started racing in 2001.

Answer: Jeff: I remember one time, I had the kids as toddlers in my sled and there were some caribou by the trail. The dogs chased the caribou and the kids were only about 3 or 4 years old. They loved it.

Question: What was the funniest experience you've encountered while sledding?
Answer: Jeff: Probably the most funny this year was when—because of the race route—we had lots of teams; we had to pass them head on. We had to run down to Anvik, touch base and come back to Caltag. It was a lot of head-on passing. It was fun to watch my dogs' expressions, because they don't usually have to do that. They charge up the trail to quickly see what's coming and we'd pass them going the opposite direction.

Answer: Cali: This year, I made room in my sled to be able to carry dogs to give them a break. At one point I was carrying two of them at a time because it was flat on the river. I had two young males on my sled and it was a really hot day so I zipped open one of the sides so they could have fresh air. They both stuck their heads out and rested their heads on each other like a hammock. They rested there for about two and a half hours.

Question: Did the change in the route cause a lot of problems?
Answer: Cali: As far as I was concerned, it eliminated lots of problems. The race committee and trailbreakers are very educated as far as what we need as dog mushers to travel safely. The trail that they rerouted was much safer than the trail we could have been taking. I didn't have any problem. Everybody was so thankful we were able to get a trail, everyone was pretty happy with the way it went. Maybe a couple of little things happened that mushers may have complained about in a different year, but not this year.

Question: Did you like having your dad on the trail?
Answer: Cali: I liked having my dad on the trail. I only saw him once besides the first day. I saw him on the Yukon River. We passed head on. We stopped and talked for a little while and asked how it was going. It was really neat.

Answer: I didn't see him a lot—other than hearing about him a lot at the checkpoints. It didn't feel like I was on the trail with him at all. We are the first father/daughter (I think) pair to ever run the race. I'm sure he worried about me a little bit.

Question: Will you do this for the rest of your life?
Answer: Cali: Not likely. I'm going to college next year and hoping to study international affairs. I'm going to college for at least four years, so I would at least be missing four years of the Iditarod. Truthfully, it's not my interest right now. I'm glad to have experienced it once and maybe I'll do it again, but I don't want to make a career out of it.

Answer: Tessa: I would have to say just about the same thing Cali did. I'm planning on four years of college, which would mean I wouldn't be able to run the Iditarod until after I finished college and I can't see that far into the future, so I really don't know.

Question: Did the race go into the night? Was it scary?
Answer: Cali: Yes, lots of people mushed through the night. Even if you're not mushing through the night, it gets dark at 9 o'clock and you mush until about midnight. It's not any scarier than the daytime, but it's definitely more boring and harder to stay awake than during the daytime travel.

Answer: Tessa: On the Jr. Iditarod, I did a percentage of my racing the second day, mostly in the dark. It was not scary; the only thing that kind of scared me was that I might miss some of the markers. Most markers have reflectors on them, but I noticed the first day there were some without them, so I just had to be extra alert. I didn't have a problem. It wasn't too scary.

Question: What advice could you give a person that was interested in mushing. I have a husky who is three.
Answer: Jeff: The main thing is to understand that it needs to be fun for the dog and you don't necessarily need to have a husky to enjoy your dog as a mushing dog. First thing to do is to find a harness that fits the dog so you can start to help the dog focus his energy for running. Tie a leash to the harness and have someone run in front of the dog or ride a bike in front of the dog and have him learn to run in front of you. It comes to them naturally.

They'll just pull you along. When they do something you want them to do, reward them with praise or treats. When they do something you don't want them to, discourage them with no, no, no, and no rewards. They quickly figure out what you want them to do.

Question: Did you like having your daughter on the trail?
Answer: Jeff: It was fun to have someone on the trail with me. This was something that until this year, I'm the only one in our family that has done it. I would come home from races and tell the family what it was like. I was glad someone from the family was experiencing it firsthand just like I did.

Question: Jeff, will you continue making new inventions for dogs? [Victoria and Whitney of Mrs. Morgan's class]
Answer: Jeff: I really enjoy thinking of ways to help the dogs do better at what they do. I most certainly hope I never stop thinking of new things to try to help them or be good at what we do.

Question: Will you have to retire any dogs from your team? What happens to retired Iditarod dogs?
Answer: Cali: Many of the dogs that raced with me will be sold to less competitive teams. Most of them will never make my dad's team and that's why we raise and train the dogs, to get them in my dad's team. None of the dogs in my team will be retiring yet, however.

A retired dog, from our kennel anyway, would go on to a less competitive team to help them train their dogs, or a recreational team. When they retire from racing, they still have a lot of years of mushing, but at a slower pace.

We also keep some retirees around our kennels to help train our puppies.

Answer: Jeff: Right now we have Cannon, Red, Falcon, Booster, Kitty, all dogs that have been in my race team that have retired here. Some have died of old age. Falcon and Red continue to greet us when we go in the dog yard. They've retired and I think they will be happy to spend the rest of their lives with us. JoJo goes on family walks with us as a family pet. It depends on the dog. Paris lives in Minneapolis, and is retired from my team and now jogs with an avid runner.

Question: How many sled dogs do you have?
Answer: Cali: 106 dogs right now, including our golden retriever puppy and our border collie.

Question: Did you know most of your competitors?
Answer: Tessa: I knew probably half of my competitors. Some better than others. Some were sons and daughters of my dad's competitors that I have seen at the banquets. Others I have gotten to know through Cali when she raced the Jr. Also during the Jr. Yukon quest.

Answer: Cali: I knew far less of my Iditarod competitors than I did my Jr. Iditarod competitors. They weren't the competitors I was racing against, because most of them were my dads' close competitors. They were up in the top 20. There were a couple of people racing near me that I knew.

Answer: Jeff: Well, I knew some. There are 60 some-odd teams that made it to the start line. Many come back for years. There were teams from other parts of the country and the world that I haven't gotten the opportunity to know yet.

Question: How much sleep did you get each night?
Answer: Jeff: During the race, first of all, we don't just sleep at night, we steal catnaps whenever we can, one during the darkness, or nighttime, or one during the day; three maybe four hours of sleep in every 24-hour period.

Answer: Cali: I got way more sleep than my dad did, because I was on a much more leisurely schedule. A couple of times I got six hours of sleep at night. Those nights I didn't sleep during the day. If I did, only a half hour or hour. More commonly I got three hours of sleep at night and rested in the afternoon for two hours. My schedule was peppered with long breaks; every three days or so I would have longer rest.

Answer: Tessa: I don't think I ever fell asleep during the Jr. Iditarod. I lay down for about an hour. I was there for eight hours, though. If it had been a longer race, I would have slept more. It was only one night, so I knew I could sleep the next day after I came in.

Question: Tessa: What is the most scariest moment you have had?

During the Jr. Iditarod, somewhere in the first eight miles of the race, there was a really icy and sharp corner, and right after the corner was a steep downhill and uphill. Right behind me and right around the corner, there was a tree. My dogs cut the corner really close to the tree and knocked my sled on its side. I had big gloves on, and hadn't taken them off, so I didn't have a very good grip. I was forced to let go of the sled. It was very scary.

I was thrown in deep snow and it filled up my sled. The dogs stopped long enough for me to throw my sled up on its runners and leave before the next musher got too close.

Question: How did it feel to cross the finish line?
Answer: Tessa: Great! I had an awesome time in my races. But it is a very relieving feeling to know it is over with and you accomplished your goal and you can now sleep.

Answer: Cali: I was very relieved and very happy. The last day coming into Nome, I was in a good mood. I was able to get my dogs pumped up and energetic. When we crossed the line they were pretty happy just like I was. A couple of my friends were there and they had signs up. My main feeling was that I was glad it was over with, even though I did have fun.

Answer: Jeff: It feels great every year. I must admit that this year my team was so strong and the weather so beautiful, before the race was over I started to plan the next race in a couple of weeks. I wasn't ready to go home this year; I was having a super time.