Iditarod has a Durangoan

Race to kick off today in Alaska

Ryne Olson competes in the Sheep Mountain 150 race in December 2011 at the Sheep Mountain Lodge about 70 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska. She finished 11th out of 47 mushers in the 150-mile race. She will use some of the same dogs, Alaskan huskies, in the Iditarod. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Mike Olson

Ryne Olson competes in the Sheep Mountain 150 race in December 2011 at the Sheep Mountain Lodge about 70 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska. She finished 11th out of 47 mushers in the 150-mile race. She will use some of the same dogs, Alaskan huskies, in the Iditarod.

Durango High School graduate Ryne Olson is one of 66 mushers in the 40th running of the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that kicks off today.

Olson, Durango High School class of 2007, is realizing a dream.

“I worked for a sled dog kennel in Michigan for a year,” Olson, a 23-year-old Durango native, said by telephone Friday from Anchorage, Alaska. “I was hooked.”

The 1,049-mile trail from Willow, just north of Anchorage, to Nome commemorates the early-day delivery by sled dogs of mail and supplies to isolated villages.

Since 2010, Olson has worked at Skunk’s Place Kennel in Two Rivers just outside Fairbanks, Alaska. She and Aliy Zirkle, the kennel owner, will guide separate 16-dog teams in the Iditarod.

“Aliy will have the 16 best dogs, the ‘varsity team,’ and I’ll take the junior varsity,” Olson said.

The ceremonial start is today with a sled-dog parade through Anchorage. The race itself starts Sunday.

The race distance varies because the Iditarod Trail has a northern and a southern route, which are followed in alternating years.

Particular circumstances can change the trail within each route, she said.

Olson has stashed 1,600 pounds of food for the dogs and herself at 22 locations along the trail.

Mature, experienced dogs can run for seven to 12 hours, younger dogs for less time, Olson said.

Even so, there are three mandatory layovers, one of 24 hours and two of eight hours each. Individual mushers can take other rest periods if they want.

Sled dog races of lesser distance and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest from Fairbanks to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory led up to the best known of them all, the Iditarod, Olson said.

As a novice, Olson doesn’t expect to win or even place in the Iditarod. She figures she’ll reach the finish line in 11 to 13 days. The winner probably will complete the run in eight to nine days.

Olson had her first encounter with sled dogs in seventh grade when she went on a ride near Mancos with the Durango Dog Ranch.

After graduating from DHS, she attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., as a math major for two years.

But the call of the wild was too strong. At the end of her sophomore year, she found the opening at a sled dog kennel in Michigan.

daler@durangoherald.com