JUNIOR MUSHER: MICAH DEGERLUND
Featured in the March/April 2006 Issue:In 2001, I received word that Ray Redington, an Iditarod musher, was looking for someone to help in his dog yard. Without knowing what lay ahead, I spent the summer feeding and scooping the dogs in Two Rivers, Alaska. As fall turned cold, Ray pulled out the harnesses and began to train his racing team. After the first couple of runs with him, I was hooked. When the snow settled Ray gave me a sled and a yearling to train around the house. With little success at first, I promptly learned that it was easiest to train a young dog with an experienced dog running beside it. During this time, I started my journey of hacking at the tip of the giant iceberg; dog training. As the winter of 2003 came, I harness broke pups and picked the best to start training for the Junior Yukon Quest. A week before the Jr. Quest, Ray swapped some of my dogs with some from his team, evening out my team for the better. The night before the start, I became sick, but with a little urging from everyone, I still ran the race. Often sleeping on the runners, I finished in second place - eight minutes behind the winner. The next year I started to train the dogs with the thought, “if I could only train the dogs to be able to race faster at the end”. In the end, I trained the dogs too fast without enough long run. As a result I finish 3rd in the Jr. Quest and 6th in the Jr. Iditarod. Last year I slowed things down a little in my training, and tried to compete in more mid-distance races. I ended up finishing eighth in the Solstice 100, an adult race in Two Rivers, second again in the Jr. Quest, and fourth in the Jr. Iditarod. During the Jr. Iditarod, I was in second place 8 miles from the finish line when we went through a chute at Knik Lake, the dogs shut down thinking that they had just crossed the finish line. I sat out on the ice for 38 minutes before a team passed me, and another ten minutes before the next team came. At that point, the dogs were ready to race again and we ran with the other team until the finish line, ending up fourth. As I went through the young dogs at the beginning of this year, I built a fine team training them with the experience I had gathered from my previous years of racing. Due to trail conditions this year, many races were canceled. Finishing tenth in the 2006 Knik 200 gave the dogs one good race to train on and ready them for the Jr. Iditarod. This year my team seems to be the best I have trained and I am hoping to be a strong competitor for first place. This year will be my last year as a junior competitor so I hope to run the Iditarod next year before I go to school fulltime. The lessons that the dogs and long trails have taught me will last for life, reminding me that it is always better to mush on. Micah Degerlund Editor’s Note: In a stunning finish to the 2006 Junior Iditarod, Micah overtook Rohn Buser, son of four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser, to take the win. The two traveled very close to each other throughout the race, and Micah overcame a five minute deficit with only 10 miles to go in the race! A large number of junior mushers competed in the event which covered 138 miles. Micah will receive a $5000 scholarship from the University of Alaska College Savings Fund. Congratulations to Micah and all the accomplished junior mushers who ran this year.