Veteran returns to Iditarod after 27 year break
Call it the 27-year itch.
Twenty-seven Iditarods have passed since the last time 67-year-old Rudy Demoski stood behind a dog team headed for Nome.
He was a regular in the old days — he entered three of the first four races, beginning with the second annual Iditarod in 1974 — but hasn’t been in the race since scratching in Shaktoolik in 1985.
“I got over my jitters in 1974,” Demoski said Saturday before beginning the 1,000-mile race to Nome. “Back then it was new country. You had the whole Alaska Range in front of you and it was kind of nerve-wracking. “But once you do it, it’s kind of like riding a bike.”
2013 progress: Demoski started the race with a team of 14 dogs borrowed from the kennels of four mushers. He was down to 13 by the time he reached Rainy Pass on Monday in 41st place.
A carpenter and a trapper, Demoski splits his time between Anvik, where he was born and raised, and Wasilla. Anvik is a checkpoint on the Iditarod’s southern route, run in odd-numbered years, and so every other year Iditarod teams run through his home town.
“It’s just watching all the teams go by every two years,” Demoski said, explaining his return to the 1,000-mile race.
Adding fuel to his urge to race again were some friends and some sponsors.
“I was sitting in a bar in Fairbanks and the Iditarod was on GCI so I told my friends to switch the TV to it,” Demoski said. “They said, ‘Hey, you gonna run the race?’ And I said yes.”
Those buddies chipped in some money to help get him going. Things really took off a bit later when he landed Fort Knox Gold Mine as a sponsor. He was able to lure a few other sponsors, including the Higher Grounds espresso shop in Wasilla, owned by one of his daughters.
Rosetta Alcantra, the oldest of Rudy’s six children, said the family isn’t worried about their dad disappearing into the Alaska wilderness. Demoski is in his element when driving a dogsled.
Daughter’s memories: During her childhood in Anvik, mushing was integral to the family’s survival, Alcantra said.
“It was part of our life,” she said. “He was a trapper and he would take the team and train. From the time the river froze, we wouldn’t see him until the holidays, and he would come back with furs. Then he would go back (to the trapline) and then come back and get ready for the race.
“In the summertime we’d be at fish camp, drying fish for the dogs.”
Those early races were times of mystery, Alcantra said.
“We only heard about what my dad was doing from KNOM radio,” she said. “Now they’ve got GPS trackers.”
Race changes: It’s a whole different race now than in the 1970s. Demoski said dogs were tougher back in the old days, although that didn’t make them faster.
Today’s winners makes it to Nome in eight or nine days. Back when both he and the Iditarod were young, “in 10 days, you woulda been to McGrath,” Demoski said.
His return to the Iditarod will give Demoski a chance to renew acquaintances and revisit parts of the trail he hasn’t seen for a couple of decades, and perhaps to learn something about himself.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of competition I’ve got left in myself,” he said.
Demoski offered no predictions about how his trip to Nome will go, save one.
“I know it’s gonna be a party when I get there,” he said.
Rudy Demoski’s Iditarod history
- 1974 — 4th place
- 1975 — 9th
- 1976 — 18th
- 1977 — scratch
- 1980 — 15th
- 1985 — scratch
Reported by BETH BRAGG of the Anchorage Daily News. (MCT)
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