No matter how challenging the Happy River Steps, Dalzell Gorge, and other notoriously dangerous sections of the Iditarod trail are in this season’s race, Kasilof musher Bruce Linton will be able to rest assured they can’t be any worse than what he’s already endured.
Linton, along with fellow Kasilof musher Jason Mackey, rolled his dog truck with 20 dogs in their boxes when the vehicle slid off the section of Oilwell Road in Ninilchik known to locals as Deadman’s Corner on Nov. 7.
The dog truck rolled at least eight times as it fell several hundred feet down the hill, until the crushed and crumpled remains of the vehicle finally came to a stop on its side at the bottom of a ravine.
“The truck it totaled, but all the dogs are doing fine. They’re all running around and happy like nothing ever happened,” Linton said last week.
“I don’t know how to explain how none got hurt, either, because the box was coming apart as it was rolling, but the worst injury is just one dog with a swollen toe,” Mackey added.
Initially, a few dogs ran away in fear after the accident. Not only did all the dogs endure the accident, but since the dog truck landed on its side, some dogs had to be cut out of their boxes with a chainsaw by Paul Gebhardt another Kasilof musher who lent his aid after the accident.
Linton and Mackey were able to recover all but three of the dogs immediately after the accident. They got two more that afternoon and the last one the next day.
Mackey was not as fortunate as his dogs and was taken to the hospital, where it was determined he had sustained several injuries.
“I tore a hamstring in my leg, I’ve got a few broken ribs and my pancreas is swollen from where my guts got banged up,” he said.
The two mushers had their sleds lashed to the roof of the dog truck, and while Linton said he thought his might have come off early in the accident, Mackey’s must have stayed on longer.
“My sled only has a few cracks, but you could put what’s left of Jason’s sled in a five-gallon bucket,” said Linton.
“It was my only sled and toothpicks are all that’s left of it,” Mackey said.
Linton said his dog truck, despite the $3,000 bill for the two tow trucks required to wench it from the bottom of the ravine, was also not salvageable.
“I loved that truck, too,” he said.
Despite the accident, both men said they felt fortunate, since they survived relatively unscathed.
“I’m banged up, but I feel lucky to even be here,” Mackey said.
Linton said the accident was, in a way, an epiphany for him.
“It was a good wakeup call to change my life a bit. To slow down, step back and see what’s important,” he said.
Linton said the accident hasn’t diminished his desire to compete in the Iditarod, but it has shown him that he may need to readjust his time table.
“I’m motivated to push forward with the same goals, I just want to achieve them more incrementally,” he said.
Linton recently moved to Kasilof from Vermont where he had completed a 300-mile race toward his 500 miles of racing to qualify for the Iditarod. He said he had hoped to finish the rest of his qualifying races this season and still compete in the upcoming Iditarod.
However, with marginal snow conditions for training around his home, no dog truck to bring the dogs anywhere else, and many financial expenses from his recent move and accident, getting to the starting line of the Iditarod in 2007 may be difficult, Linton said.
“It’s questionable right now, but if I don’t do it this year that’s fine. I come from a place where 70 percent of the mushers have a dream to move here and do Iditarod, but less than one percent actually do.
“I’m already here. I made the move to come and learn, and if it takes another year, I can wait,” he said.
Linton said he will just continue to train the dogs in the hope of competing, while also channeling energy into what he described as “contributing meaningfully to the community” he is now a part of.
Linton, a type 1 diabetic for the last 14 years, will be speaking at Central Peninsula General Hospital on Nov. 27 as part of American Diabetes Month. He has completed in numerous marathons and three Iron Man Triathalons, and so will be speaking to encourage other diabetics to “believe in yourself, believe in your dreams.”
Like Linton, Mackey is optimistically looking toward the future. He said, while his injuries from the accident are keeping him off the back of a sled, it is only a temporary condition.
“If I had to race today I’d be in trouble, but my first race isn’t for a month, so hopefully it will all work out. As long as I can breath and walk, I’ll run dogs,” he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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