On a cold winter night two years ago, Ed Borden revved up his snowmachine to launch it off a snow berm onto the bed of his shiny new pickup truck. He overshot the mark and shattered the cab's back window.
"Well, that went better than I expected," he drawled.
It was hardly the first time something went wrong in Borden's half century of life, one driven by dreams of mushing and littered with misadventures from Birmingham, Ala., to Kasilof.
Borden ran the 1984 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, finishing second to last, and ran countless smaller races and sled dog journeys after that, including the Serum Run from Nenana to Nome. In the summers, he piloted a state Department of Fish and Game boat on the Kenai River, surveying anglers and writing tickets. He labored for hours all winter building dog sleds for other mushers.
And he told stories, some of which were true, mostly.
Borden, 52, died peacefully at his home Saturday after a short battle with cancer.
He was one of the more colorful characters in the woodsy network of neighborhoods surrounding the Kasilof River. Friends describe him as testy, opinionated, stubborn and ornery, but also loyal, friendly, generous, a good cook, blessed with comic timing -- and kind.
"I don't think a lot of people knew that because of Ed's gruff exterior. He sure did have a big heart, and he kept that hidden sometimes," said Gary Titus, a friend who once worked with him on the Kenai River.
"I don't think there's anybody around here who has as many friends as he did," said Bob Toll, a neighbor who ran the 1984 Iditarod with Borden.
Ed Borden was born July 24, 1950, in Birmingham, Ala. As a boy, he would bring home live catfish and bats. The catfish wound up in the bathtub, or his sister's goldfish aquarium. And the bats would surprise whoever opened the closet.
Making a living as a carpet layer and hospital lab technician in his 20s, Borden spent his free time racing cars, and, eventually, "He got to fooling with huskies," said Donnie Brooks, a childhood friend who married Borden's sister. Borden would dodge traffic around suburban Birmingham streets on a wheeled cart pulled by his dogs.
He couldn't shake the dream. He showed up in Alaska in 1981 with a handful of Siberian huskies, a Malemute and a lap dog named Matahari.
The first Alaskan to see Borden's Jeep rumble off a state ferry in Juneau was Ken Gair. At the time, Gair was a ferry terminal manager and one of Juneau's few dog mushers. He would become one of Borden's longtime friends.
"I really don't know exactly what he had on his mind," Gair said. "I think he was running away, but he was also running to."
It wasn't long before the two mushing green-horns embarked on a dog sled journey from Skagway to Atlin via Carcross, then back. It was a round trip of roughly 300 miles.
"When we got back to Skagway all we could talk about was running the Iditarod," Gair said. "And a lot of those dogs Ed had on that trip he ended up taking to Nome. It anchored us in dog mushing, both of us."
Borden won first place in the KSRM Kenai Peninsula Champion-ship sprint sled dog race in 1987.
On the Kenai River, Borden liked to think of himself as enforcer, and he did write his share of tickets, co-workers say. But mostly, he helped boaters who were in a bind.
A lifetime of health problems, from bad knees to the onset of muscular dystrophy in the late 1980s, limited Borden's sled dog career. But he always maintained a small kennel. He put his passion for huskies into building sleds, and was race marshal for the Kasilof-based Tustumena 200 sled dog race.
Last year, before he knew about the cancer, he embarked on what would be his final sled dog journey, the 2002 Serum Run from Nenana to Nome.
"Running the Serum Run was a hell of a victory for him," said Dean Osmar, the 1984 Iditarod champion, Borden's neighbor and long-time friend.
Borden is survived by his girlfriend, Jane Faulkner; son and daughter, Zachary and Annie Borden, both of West Palm Beach, Fla.; sister Patricia Brooks and brother-in-law Donnie Brooks of Gallant, Ala.; sister, Margaret Adams of Birmingham, Ala.; and ex-wife, Loretta Borden of West Palm Beach, Fla.
He also leaves 16 sled dogs and a pet beagle, Peewee.
He also viewed the people of Kasilof as his family. "I cannot believe the support he has gotten from this community," Faulkner said.
A memorial service is planned for 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Tustumena Lodge.
His ashes will be scattered by dog mushers at Ptarmigan Head, a knob above tree line in the Caribou Hills with vistas of the Kenai Mountains, Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet.
Memorial donations can be sent to the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, P.O. Box 220, Kasilof, AK 99610.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.