It’s 34 degrees in Big Lake, Alaska, today – practically balmy; perfect weather for a snowmobile race.
The event, which runs through Feb. 27, is touted as the the world’s longest and toughest snowmobile race. Warrant Officer Rick Fleming and Staff Sgt. Elaine Jackson will represent the Guard in the trail class portion of the race, from Big Lake to Nome.
“Our goal is to be the first trail class team to reach Nome and for Jackson to be the first woman to reach Nome since 2001,” Fleming said.
In the 2007 event, Fleming and his teammate reached Nome first, and he hopes for success yet again. Fleming has competed in the Iron Dog twice and has 10 years of riding experience.
This will be Jackson’s first Iron Dog.
“I grew up riding snowmachines and dirt bikes,” she said. “I took a break while serving on active duty in the Army, mainly because I was stationed in warmer locations, but got back into it when I moved to Alaska in 2002 and joined the Guard in 2007.”
Fleming and Jackson have been riding together for two years. They have put in more than 900 miles and countless hours this season to prepare for Iron Dog, which follows the historic Iditarod trail.
The soldiers’ event, the Iron Dog’s trail class, begins today, Feb. 19, in Big Lake, Alaska. They will be one of the 14 teams competing. The Iron Dog pro class, featuring 29 teams, begins two days later and follows the same route to Nome but continues on and finishes in downtown Fairbanks on Feb. 27.
The route from Big Lake to Fairbanks is 1,971 miles and runs through 25 communities. Riders can reach up to 100 miles an hour, and they have to keep an eye out for moose, sled dog teams and fight low light and visibility conditions.
“Alaska can be an unforgiving place, so we need to make sure we’re watching out for one another out here,” Fleming said. “Some parts of the trail can be pretty miserable, but it’s great to represent the Guard while riding a snowmachine in the last frontier.”
The prize purse for this year’s event is worth $184,400. Not bad.