Iditarod Sled Dogs – From Michigan to Alaska

Did you know that you can find Iditarod sled dogs right here in Michigan? Tasha Stielstra, owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures, fills us in on why she and her husband train their Iditarod team in Michigan over other states and what it entails.

Learn more about dog sledding in Michigan on michigan.org. If you’re interested in fall tours, see Tasha’s past post on fall dog sledding.

Iditarod sled dogs in Michigan?  You bet!  My husband, Ed, has completed Alaska’s 1,049 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race seven times.  What makes our Michigan-based team extraordinary is that for the past two years, Ed has been the only musher from outside of Alaska or Canada to complete the race.  We are often asked if and when we will move to Alaska.  And our answer is, “Never”.  There are unique challenges that we face while training our Iditarod team in Michigan for a race that spans across the state of Alaska, but the fact is that training is training, no matter where you live.  There could always be an excuse for not going for a run (it’s too cold, too wet, too hot, too…) but regardless of where you are, if you don’t do it, you’re not training. 

I’ve lived with Iditarod sled dogs now for about nine years (and my Iditarod-addicted husband for fifteen years), and every time I think of the Iditarod, I am amazed at what an Alaskan Husky sled dog can do. I looked up a marathon training regime from one of the best known marathon trainers and runners in the world, Midwestern running icon Hal Higdon.  Hal is probably the closest human equivalent to an Iditarod sled dog.  Hal figures that he has been continuously running since 1949, a fact that I find amazing as well.  Hal suggests an 18-week training program for running a 26.2 mile marathon. The first week of March a little less than 18 weeks away.  The first week of March is the start of Iditarod 2013. The Iditarod is approximately one thousand miles or thirty-eight marathons in length, run back-to-back.  I don’t even have to put the fact into writing, Iditarod dogs are amazing. 

Ed and I raise and train our Iditarod sled dogs from our home in McMillan (90 minutes northwest of the Mackinac Bridge).  In about 2 years’ time, our pups go from slobbery, kissy, roly-poly puppies to slobbery, kissy, Iditarod veterans.  If Hal Higdon were to take one our dog dogs for a walk down the street, you probably would not even glance twice.  Both man and dog would appear very average.  Fact is, neither are average. Hal (born June 17, 1931-age 81) has finished 111 marathons and Rhu (born June 12, 2005-age 7) has finished 114 Iditarod marathons.  Rhu weighs about 45 pounds, likes to ride in the car and sleep in the bed.  I’m guessing Hal is a bit (but not much) heavier, and also likes to ride in the car and sleep in bed!

With less than 18 weeks to go, Iditarod marathon training in Michigan is in full swing.  We are excited to make our state proud once again this year as Michigan’s one and only Iditarod team.  You can follow Rhu, our team and our progress at www.natureskennel.com

Tasha Stielstra is co-owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures in McMillan, MI.  Her husband, Ed is a 7-time Iditarod finisher.  They own nearly 160 Alaskan Huskies and two small children, Fern and Nate. Tasha does the marketing and managing for their touring business, chases puppies down the trail, and spends a great deal of time playing with monster trucks (with 2-year old Nate). Nature’s Kennel can be found online at www.natureskennel.com or on Facebook at Nature’s Kennel.

  • ChristopherAdams

    I respect and admire your love for Alaskan huskies and the training you put into it, however, I cannot say I am too thrilled to hear you compete from out of state and have no plans to even live here. The Alaskan Iditarod is an Alaskan tradition, I know many people who compete in this race every year, and their lives are devoted to training year round for this particular event. For the Alaskan mushers, this isn’t just a race, it’s a way of life. To see it being exploited in Michigan quite frankly sickens me.

  • TashaStielstra

    @ChristopherAdams
     Hi Christopher,
    Mushing is a way of life for us.  We race and train sled dogs on a full-time basis and have done so for over ten years.  We run a full time dog sled touring business (like many Alaskan, Iditarod mushers) and work very hard to promote mushing both in and outside of Alaska.  In no way do we “exploit” the Iditarod, mushing, or the “Alaskan” way of life.  Alaskan mushers race outside of Alaska with no plans to move to the lower 48 yet they are welcomed down here.  There are fabulous races in Michigan, as well as in many other states, not to mention internationally.  There are Iditarod fans, financial supporters, sponsors, teachers who follow the race,  idita-riders, and countless others who financially support and volunteer for the Iditarod living outside of Alaska.  The Iditarod needs those people involved as the race would not continue at the level that it does without them.

  • AVERON ROSSER

    THIS IS FOR CHRISTOPHER ADAMS . CHRIS, INSTEAD OF GETTING SICK OF ONE MICHIGAN TEAM EXPLOITING THE IDITAROD WHY DON’T YOU GET OFF YOUR DUFF AND COME TO MICHIGAN AND COMPETE WITH THE MICHIGAN MUSHER . THEY WOULD PROBABLY ENJOY SEEING YOU GET A GOOD TROUNCING .