Monday, March 31, 2008

Riddle #13: Pink water

Here's the latest riddle:

It's January. A man lies dead. Next to him is a glass of pink water. What is the murder weapon?

NOTE: The correct answer has been guessed. To see the answer, look at the comments section.

Lateral Thinking Puzzlers by Paul Sloane has lots of classic riddles, clues and answers. Click here to order it.

Spring flowers

Spring came late this year. Often I start looking for snowdrops in February, and the crocuses come soon after. This year I didn't even try. But finally it was time, and we headed out to East Campus with our camera. We took these pictures on March 20. These are snowdrops

And these are crocuses. March came in like a lamb and is going out like a lion this year. Let's hope for a warm April!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Late Night Chat

I promise this is the last poem about dogsled racing (for the year, anyway). It's not really about dogsled racing, but about the obsessiveness and borderline insanity of the fans -- myself included. It's not a literary gem, but it tells a fun story. This time we were following the All Alaska Sweepstakes, a historic race that's run only once every 25 years. This year the purse was the largest ever: $100,000 winner-take all, and some big names were running. But the trail was isolated and reports were sketchy. A group of Iditabuddies decided to meet in the chat room to wait for the results. This poem tells the tale. (Don't worry. I'm not in the habit of chatting on the computer until the wee hours of the morning, but it's definitely something to experience once in your life):

Late Night with the Sweepstakes
(from the Central Time Zone point of view)

It’s 11 pm and we’re in chat
Wondering where the teams are at
There’s Heidi, Di and Fladog Fan
Who’s Scott Davis, do you know the man?
An unsigned out teacher, that’s my guess.
Just like Joe Runyan’s GPS.

It’s 12 a.m. and we’re in chat
Wondering where Jeff and Mitch are at
Tangles just went back to bed
Flowerpower and Libby are here instead.
What’s the latest from Josh’s blog?
How’s Lance doing without his lead dog?

It’s 1 a.m. and we’re in chat
Wondering where the leader's at
Sugar river and SC Race fan
Are sharing tales of the Breaker clan
Meeting a musher would be a treat
Meeting an idita-buddy would be sweet

It’s 2 a.m. and we’re in chat
Wondering where the winner’s at
Lower 48's here and Tangles is back
John even came to join the pack.
We’re sleep deprived and playing pranks
A report that Lance has joined the ranks.

It’s 2:30 a.m. and we’re still in chat
Wondering where the info’s at
There must be problems with the ham
Then we see two dog teams on the cam
Heidi says, “I’m calling Nome.”
We anxiously wait for her to phone.

It’s 3:00 a.m. and we’ve leaving chat
Now we know where the winner’s at.
Mitch Seavey has won the race
A worthy musher gets first place
The idita-buddies can go to bed
While visions of sled dogs dance in their heads.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Riddle #12: A tear in his suit

Riddle #11 has been guessed, so it's time for a new riddle. I think this one might be easier:

A man is at work and he discovers he has a tear in his suit. Immediately he knows he will die soon. Why?

The correct answer has been guessed. Please see comments section for the answer.

Lateral Thinking Puzzlers by Paul Sloane has lots of classic riddles, clues and answers. Click here to order it.

Iditarod Musings

Some people have asked me why I’m so obsessed with the Iditarod. I’ve asked myself the same question. It would be so much easier to follow a sport that was more accessible, more popular. If I liked football, I could discuss the latest stats with the person ahead of me in the grocery store line. If I was interested in baseball, I might have a chance to meet a famous baseball player someday, or at least to attend a game. But I have to be addicted to a sport that no one knows anything about. I have only a handful of friends I can talk to about it, and I usually must content myself with on-line conversations with strangers. And because I don’t travel well, I probably will never have an opportunity to watch the race or meet a musher personally.

It’s not like anything else in the world. It’s about the relationship between a musher and a dog team. It requires perseverance, making the right decisions, balancing rest and running, and sometimes a bit of trickery. It takes place in one of the most desolate parts of the world, through beautiful, yet terrifying country. It’s joyful, peaceful, chaotic and horrible all on the same journey.

I believe that more than any other athlete, superstar or adventurer (with the possible exception of mountaineers who conquer Everest), mushers deserve our admiration. Sometimes I think they achieve the impossible. Each March, while I’m going through my life, shuttling the kids here and there, chatting on the phone, trying to make my writing deadlines, I often stop to think about what nearly a hundred people and 16 times as many dogs are doing more than three thousand miles away, and I can’t even imagine it. Are people really racing dog teams over a thousand miles through sub-zero weather?

This “Last Great Race on Earth” is about so much more than who crosses the finish line first. For any other sport there is a winner and there are losers. But there are no losers in the Iditarod. Simply finishing is an achievement beyond what I can imagine. And there are so many races within the race: making it in the top ten, the rookie of the year, the great mushers who are racing at all levels, down to the backwards “race” for the coveted Red Lantern award given to the last finisher, an honor which two mushers flipped a coin for one year. It’s about the personalities, the stories. Families carry on the tradition from generation to generation. Mushers overcome health problems, injuries and tragedy to complete their goal. It’s about history, nature, community and life itself. There are times when I laugh out loud and times when I cry, just reading and imagining what these people are going through.

And, although only a few local friends even know anything about the race, there is a camaraderie in the on-line forum. (See - my screen name is emwcee) Once the race is finished, I feel an incredible sense of loss, not only because the race is over, but because I will say good-bye to my on-line friends from all over the world who share this bizarre obsession.

If you want to follow the race next year, see

Cleaning up Front Street

Every year, Front Street in Nome, Alaska, is transformed into the finish for the Iditarod. Snow is put down, and the famous "burled arch" is put in place. We "Idita-addicts" wear out our index fingers hitting F5 on the on-line Nome Cam to see if we can spot a dogsled coming in. Often all we see is a crowd of people under the arch welcoming the musher and team. The day after the last musher arrives, the street returns to normal. It's always sad to see it come down--kind of like the day after Christmas. But it's interesting to watch the Nome Cam throughout the day and watch the progress as Front Street becomes a street again. Here are some shots from the cam. You can even see the burled arch being hauled away:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Who is Trail Breaker?

Usually the funniest moments come by accident. This year the most hilarious thread on one of the Iditarod forums was started by a question posted by an unknown fan. This person started a thread called "Who's Trail Breaker?" and asked a simple question: "When I wach the GPS updates, I see that a musher called Trail Breaker is in a clear lead. Who's that guy and why isn't anybody interested in him?"

Since this particular fan never posted again, we have no idea if this person was joking or for real. The question was answered in the next post: Trail Breaker is not a musher, but a snow mobile breaking the trail. It would have ended there, but then the jokes started coming:

"Yeah! But he seems to be going the wrong way sometimes, he must be a rookie... "

"I wish I had gone with my first instinct and picked Trail Breaker in my top 10."

"Any word on whether or not this guy has taken his 24 yet? Either way they are tearing it up this year. I think I read somewhere on the internet about a top secret, hush hush breeding program at this kennel. I will have to look for the link...."

"Trail Baker has stoped in Nulato. My guess is that his taking his 24 there."

From there came talk of his various adventures and his twin sons, Heart and Ice. It turns out there is a British connection: Sir Kit Breaker (say it really fast and you'll get it.). Other relatives started to surface: Wind, Deal, Code, back, Tie, Myth, and the bad guy, Jaw Breaker.

A prolific poster named "tanglefoot" uploaded a picture of the family home in the Hamptons, owned by "Ground Breaker," and the Breaker family crest, shown at the left. He also drew a family tree, which he summarized here:

it all started with ankle breaker marrying tooth sayer...
they gave birth to nail breaker, she had 2 boys with ? they were tie and meatball, tie has no kids
meatball has 2 kids boys, bone and rule
bone married ? and gave birth to jaw, rock and neck they have no kids yet.
rule married ? and gave birth to two boys, code and kit.
kit, who married the lovely lady gail a princess, and became sir kit and lady gail breaker, they had kids then split after kit left with his first mistress that became his second wife home (nee spliter)
sir kit also had a second mistress we believe to be called egg.egg has no kids with kit that we know of.
home and sir kit then had tie and bubble,
tie has 2 kids boy and girl ball and wave and shis sister bubble has 2 boy and girl called brick and myth.
before this
sir kit and lady gail had a son, breaker following?
back to the two boys, code and kit....
code had 5 kids with syntax ( nee error)
they have 5 kids the twins, ground and our man TRAIL, john, sled and leg,
leg is married to face (nee plant) who have 2 kids, boys nose and teeth.
TRAIL BREAKER got married to 'promise' who is the missing shepherdess from NZ and they had two boys hart and ice.
ground trails twin brother married ? and lives in the mansion and gave birth two kids boy and girlrecord and wind,
wind married storm (nee acomin)and they have 2 kids circuit and deal..
and there you have it

My contribution to the forum of course was a poem, written after Trail's apparent win:

In the land of the midnight sun
Where strange things have been done
We heard everything
About Mackey and King
But nothing of true number one.

"Who is this guy, anyway?
"The fans were heard to say.
"All through the race,
He's been in first place.
The others are miles away."

Then on the 12th day of March,
His two sons Ice and Heart
Both watched him come in
And cheered his win
It was Trail Breaker under the arch!

And tanglefoot explained it all with a media advisory:

iditabuddy advisory XXXVI 11th march 2008
Rare family heirloom recovered in race to nome.

Those with a keen eye at the finish line in the early hours of this morning might have seen just before Lance Mackey arrived to claim his 2nd back to back iditarod and back to back idita-quest victory (commonly now known as the double double), two snow machines driven by hart and ice breaker, pass side by side under the burled arch! towing bins full of trail markers (moose snacks). the two intrepid snow machines have been blazing a trail to Nome to save a stricken family from falling into poverty. These plucky teenage trail makers have been responsible not only for guiding the mushers of the iditarod to Nome, but also have been involved in a sometime epic battle to try and recover a lost Alaskan gold tiara from falling into the hands of the United States Treasury Dept.

The rare Nome gold tiara is believed to have been passed down to the Breaker family from an ancient tribe that once lived on the beaches of Nome many moons ago. It is alledged to have been made by hand from solid Alaskan gold picked by hand from the beaches of Nome many hundreds of years before the gold rush.

The IRS orginally staked a claim to the item after an old gold claim was taken in lieu of taxes by a bankrupt gold dredging family several years ago. The tiara was believed to have been made from gold originating from the claim and was in fact the only gold extracted from it.

The IRS last night lost a court injunction to lay claim to the piece by a federal court and the two boys from the Breaker family were on hand to receive the piece of jewelry after it was recovered from a cabin hidden away up a long forgotten slough, just off Patsy Slough off the Yukon near the town of Koyuk.

It is believed a family member by the name of Code, had hidden the tiara there to keep it safe many years ago and passed a message to the boys before his death last week at the age of 104. The family plan to have the tiara declared rightfully theirs by a high court next week, and seek damages of nearly $1.5m. from the treasuary. The boys say they were helped by a another family member whos name is being kept a secret.


OK Iditabuddies . . .
Now if you watched really closely to the live finish, you might have seen ice on the right of your screen pass something to a person stood on the trail side...we can now inform you that it was in fact the missing tiara the missing breaker family heirloom...well folks... the mystery is over...Lance is a member of the breaker family and has succeded in grasping the tiara way back on the Yukon, then carefully stashing it in his sled, he's been transporting it at record speed to nome, to beat the IRS deadline and help save the family.

When he stopped on the beach outside nome, to thank his team, he slipped the tiara to ice,(it was a distraction technique) who raced ahead to the burled arch and passed it over to trail breaker, his dad, who in turn has now got the priceless heirloom made from the finest gold from the beaches of nome back in the family and thers is now a court case underway that they are destined to win!

dilli and i have had word that in fact the tiara is on its way to a secret location to be kept safe for future years...oh and Lance...he gets a share of the money and is not going to spend it on a new truck as planned...hes just won one for himself!

This is just a sampling from the forum, which at last count has 21 pages. To read the entire forum, see this link:

Iditarod 2008 Moments to Remember

Iditarod 36 has now finished, and it's time for normal life to resume. No more checking the race stats every few minutes. No more video updates from the trail. No more discussions with my on-line Iditabuddies and even a few local friends who follow the race.

For the second year in a row, Lance Mackey has done what people said could not be done: win both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year. His "double-double" will be talked about for years to come in mushing circles.

As I reflect on the race, here are a few other moments to remember:

At the last minute, Joe Runyan came out of mushing retirement to serve as a guide for blind musher Rachael Scdoris, after Tim Osmar, her original guide, had to cancel because of a broken leg.

G. B. Jones (shown at the right) announced his retirement effective immediately following the ceremonial start. He was possibly the only musher to scratch after only running for only 8 miles.

The experiment of GPS tracking took a comical turn when Martin Buser gave his unit to a pilot. The on-line forum was filled with frantic messages from fans who wondered why Martin was traveling erratically at an incredible speed.

To everyone's surprise, Dee Dee Jonrowe was the first to the checkpoint of Cripple and winner of the Halfway Award. The checkers were surprised to see her come out of the darkness, and Dee Dee herself was suprised. When they told her, "You're the first one here," she answered, "No. No." The prize--$3,000 in gold nuggets--came in handy. It was her husband's birthday and she hadn't gotten him a present yet.

Who could forget what happened at Elim: Lance Mackey arrived just a few minutes ahead of four-time winner Jeff King. Lance parked his dogs, hung up his coveralls and lay down, pretending to sleep. When Jeff arrived, he thought he'd take a nap too. As soon as Lance heard Jeff snoring, he sneaked away, giving him the edge he needed to win the race.

One of the most memorable finishes this year was Rohn Buser, 18-year-old son of four-time winner Martin Buser. This was Rohn's one and only race, but it was definitely one to remember for his father, who raced his 25th Iditarod this year. Here he is, greeting his son at the finish line.

Last, but most certainly not least, we will remember Deborah Bicknell, who was the last musher to finish this year, earning her the coveted "Red Lantern" award.

Last year she had to scratch when she got lost in a blizzard, fell in a river and had to camp overnight while search parties looked for her. This year, the 62-year-old grandma with an artificial knee kept going. The final run took longer than expected. The on-line forum was flooded with messages from worried fans watching the on-line Nome cam for signs of the last musher. Someone even called the bar next to the finish line to see if she had come in yet. At last, the people began to gather. A huge crowd welcomed the last musher to Nome.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Stopping by Old Woman Cabin on a Chilly Evening"

I'm excited. One of my poems has been posted at a remote cabin in northern Alaska, accessible only by dogsled, snowmobile (called "snow machine" in Alaska) or helicopter. It will probably be read by only about 100 people. So why am I so excited? Because those 100 people are some of the people I admire most -- the dogsledders ("mushers") in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. During last year's race I got inspired (as usual, late at night) and wrote a parody poem of Robert's Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Called "Stopping by Old Woman Cabin on a Chilly Evening," the poem takes the point of view of a musher stopping to feed ("snack") his or her dogs in a cabin located halfway between the checkpoints Kaltag and Unalakleet, one of the longest stretches of the race. I posted it to an on-line forum on the Iditarod sponsored by Cabelas. This year, someone posted my poem again, to a new forum that the great folks from the Bering Strait School District set up when the Cabelas site shut down. One of the teachers saw the poem, printed it out and added an illustration, which was drawn during one of the first expeditions to map out what is now known as the Iditarod Trail. He then laminated it and posted it at Old Woman Cabin. As the mushers pass through--cold, tired, perhaps a bit discouraged--I hope they take a bit of cheer in reading my poem. Here it is:

Stopping by Old Woman Cabin on a Chilly Evening
(with apologies to Robert Frost)

Whose house this was, all mushers know.
She's gone to the hereafter, though.
She will not mind me stopping here.
To snack my dogs amid the snow.

My 14 dogs must think it queer
To stop without a checkpoint near.
Between the river and the trail,
The coldest evening yet this year.

They start to bark and wag their tails
When they see me get out the straw bales.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of the ever present wind that wails.

Alaska's lovely, wild and deep,
But I've got to get to Unalakleet.
I've miles to go before I sleep,
I've miles to go before I sleep.

Here's a picture of the poem that is posted in the cabin:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Riddle #11: Two letters

My latest riddle:

A woman had two identical letters. They both were made out of the same paper and were placed in identical envelopes with no other contents. She put exactly 41 cents postage on each one. She put both letters in the same mailbox. Both letters went to the same address and were sent First Class. Yet one of the letters went to its destination, while the other was returned for more postage. Why?

NOTE: The correct answer has been guessed. Please see the comments section for the answer.

Lateral Thinking Puzzlers by Paul Sloane has lots of classic riddles, clues and answers. Click here to order it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Iditarod Poem

I usually write a poem or two during the race. This is my first one of 2008, a free verse from a musher's point of view, touching on the hallucinations that start to occur about this time, from the lack of sleep:

The frosted fingers of cold pinch my skin.
False images dance before me like ghosts.
I dodge terrifying trees where there are none,
Call out to friends who disappear
Into the snowy veils that surround me.
I jolt,
Suddenly aware
Of the whoosh of my runners
The panting of my dog team
Running across the icy expanse.
Alone with creation,
We survive,
We continue,
We prevail
We are victors,

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Riddle #10: The Stick

Since Riddle #9 has been guessed, I'll add another one. I think maybe it will be easier:

A woman dropped a stick and then picked it up again. As a result of her dropping the stick, people thousands of miles away were very upset. Why?

NOTE: The correct answer has been guessed. Please see the comments section.

Lateral Thinking Puzzlers by Paul Sloane has lots of classic riddles, clues and answers. Click here to order it.