Friends, fans show Boyce the way home

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2000

"Has the musher been found?" was all the e-mail said, referring to Rod Boyce of Two Rivers, who became lost while competing in the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race two weeks ago.

"Thanks," was the one-word appreciative response, after the sender heard in the affirmative.

A Michigan woman with a grandson the same age as Boyce, 38, called the musher last week to say she'd been praying for his safety and wanted to hear his voice.

In Los Angeles, former Alaska resident Jennifer Stinson received phone calls from friends letting her know Boyce, whom she'd never met but felt connected to by virtue of her Alaska roots, had been found safe.

Boyce's experience -- and the search effort that continued for more than five days through some of the peninsula's worst winter storms -- captured the nation's attention.

With four years of mushing experience, Boyce decided this was the year to try the Tustumena 200. Driving from their home in interior Alaska, Boyce and his wife, Julie Stricker, encountered snow and road conditions that made them happy to be in the starting gate on Jan. 29.

"I'm surprised we even made it through Turnagain Pass," said Boyce, referring to the heavy snows and avalanches that closed the highway.

Sometime in the wee hours of Jan. 30, some 50 miles into the race, Boyce realized he was no longer following the proper trail. His efforts to correct the situation only made it worse, and before sunrise, Boyce found himself on a ridge somewhere in the Caribou Hills.

Early in the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 4, Ron Poston was snowmachining from Homer's East End Road to Caribou Lake Lodge to help in the search for Boyce that involved public safety agencies and hundreds of volunteers. In a stroke of good timing, he and Boyce's trails crossed. Boyce was subsequently taken to the lodge, where searchers excitedly welcomed him and a helicopter lifted him safely out of the hills, reuniting him with his wife in Soldotna.

In no time at all, Boyce was besieged by well-wishers. One of the first was Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles.

"He got between me and my cheeseburger," said Boyce, referring to his efforts to enjoy the first meal he'd eaten in days.

As he, Stricker and their 10 dogs neared their home in the Fairbanks area last Sunday, they were greeted by a "Welcome Home Rod and Dogs" sign. At the end of their driveway, another sign reading "Haw" directed them, in the language of mushers, to turn left.

With strains of "Staying Alive" playing in the background, an enthusiastic crowd shared with Boyce the poll they'd taken.

"I can't recall the results, but some of them said they thought I was buried under snow," he said.

On Tuesday, Boyce returned to his job as city editor for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Thanks to well-meaning co-workers, a line of trail markers, complete with fluorescent orange tips, led Boyce safely from the front door to his desk.

"I've received a lot of calls and e-mails," Boyce said. "I even got a call from my very first journalism professor."

His parents also have found themselves the center of attention.

"The other day I saw a picture on the front page of a newspaper and I thought, 'I know those people,'" said Boyce's mother, Julie, from her home in California.

"Then I realized it was us," she said, referring to herself and Boyce's father, Ray.

"We've received calls from all over," she said. "We're very unassuming people, like Rod, but all of a sudden we're personalities."

Poston also has received a fair amount of attention from both the press and friends, who are eager to hear about his role in the search. Retired for 16 years, Poston spent his Coast Guard career involved in search and rescue.

"I've done a lot (of search and rescue)," said Poston. "After a while it just gets to be a routine thing."

But finding Boyce standing beside the snowmachine trail was an experience Poston won't soon forget.

"It was pretty awesome for me," Poston said. "My wife said it took two days for me to get down out of the clouds. It was just really, really awesome."

Nema Arndt, president of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race Association, is enjoying a different experience after days of preparing for the race and assisting with the search.

"Things are quiet at the moment," she said, with a relieved sigh. With the race only two weeks behind her, she's already looking toward next year's race and board elections are scheduled for April 5.

Poston is looking forward to getting back to snowmachining.

"I'm heading back out in the hills tomorrow," he said Friday. "My snowmachine's already packed."

Boyce said he is looking forward to more mushing.

"Our own club, Two Rivers Dog Mushing Association, has races in March and April," said Boyce, who is one of the association's officers.

"And either Julie or I will run the Gold King Race," he said, referring to a 100-mile event scheduled for mid-March.

Boyce became involved in mushing through his interest in skijoring.

"You just add a dog here and there and before you know it, you think, 'If I only had a sled,'" he said. "And then it's just a long downhill slide from there."

Boyce credits mushing mentors, Brian O'Donoghue, Tim Mowry and Chris Knott, all Iditarod veterans, with teaching him what he knows.

But they left out one thing.

"None of them told me to get lost," Boyce laughed. "I figured that out on my own."

Although his desire to mush wasn't dampened by recent events, other appetites have changed.

"I've had my fill of cheeseburgers," he said, referring to the food he most missed while sustaining himself and his dogs on a water diet.

With regard to writing, Boyce put to rest speculation that a book is forthcoming.

"There's no book in this," said Boyce. "I'm just writing a little something for (the News-Miner's) outdoor section about some things I did right and some things I did wrong."

One thing Boyce did right was stumble across Poston's trail.

"He looked at me and I looked at him, and he said, 'Where do I know you from?' He looked familiar to me, too," said Poston. "But we'd never seen each other before. One of these days, I'll call him up and see how he's doing,"

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