Thursday, March 5, 2009

Iditarod Preview: Jeff King

From the IditaProject "Ask A Musher" forum:

Jeff. Great to have you with us.
Let's get right to it. What were your feelings REALLY when Lance pulled his dastardly trick at Elim?
Were you upset? or do you take a little pride in knowing that the younger racers may have learned a trick or two from
the master?

So, the Elim sneaky right off the get go, huh? Was I upset? Yes. Was it a 'dastardly trick' by Lance? No. My mistake. It actually goes straight to one of what I have considered one of my very best ideas concerning Iditarod and that is the 'white noise' I pump into my i-pod allowing me to sleep in a noisy environment. As big as it backfired in Elim in '08, the white noise i-pod combination has actually made me a much better racer allowing me to get quality rest in an area that I could otherwise never expect to sleep. More power to Lance for turning one of my strengths into a momentary vulnerability.

Life's way too short to get too serious about a dog race.

Also, how important is it for you to catch up to (and pass) Rick Swenson for that 5th and 6th win?

As for question 2, who is Rick Swenson??

And yes, I really do know who Rick Swenson is. However grumpy at times, he truly is one of the sports all time greats and I would love to tie and go on to beat his Iditarod victory record.

And this vitally important question from a fellow mustache wearer - You always have such impressive icicles hanging from your mustache every year. As a matter of fact I believe your mustache icicles are the best in ALL of Iditarod. So have you ever measured the longest? Any records? Inquiring minds want to know!

I have been blessed - or cursed - with the most humongous snot cicles known to man ever since I started mushing. I have noticed it as well and I don't know why.. .maybe it's an excess of hot air. I am not keeping track of lengths, girths, or contents... but I have no doubt that I hold the record in all of those categories.

Did you enjoy the Discovery filming or was it a bother? Do you think it portrayed the events accurately?

The filming during the race was a little bit of a bother from a competitive point of view, but well worth the effort considering such a fine product it offered the dog mushing viewers. I actually haven't seen the whole thing yet, but I've seen enough to know that they kinda picked out a story line and then encouraged us to 'play the part'. However I don't think it was way off base. The Discover crew certainly "baited" me to say things I would have never probably said without such bait. I actually feel the Discovery media and editors downplayed the drama that they and I felt in Elim. After years of complaining about the press making crap up, they really sheltered me in their coverage by not displaying the actual intensity of my anger, embarrassment, frustration. But I repeat - it's really not Lance I had those emotions about, but myself and at the actual moment I felt it towards those people around me I felt had watched my demise without assistance. Of course within the hour of departing Elim, it was crystal clear that those same people had done the right thing by doing nothing. I'm over it. And you can bet it won't happen again. Overall I gotta give it a B+ and I hope they do it again.

I love watching your team motor along, they are so beautifully matched. I did keep asking myself if there was one or more dogs you kept in the team that kept the pace lower than it might have been, but.....obviously if they would have been holding up the team, you would have dropped them, right?

There's not much more I feel that's in my teams best interest than training and selecting the dogs in how they move, how they feel, how they eat, their needs and their energy. Nothing is such a big turn on to me either than watching a perfectly matched team that is not fatigued, nor crazy to go. When I get it right, the team is like a single living organism - each dog a tentacle on a squid swimming in the shallows. I'm sure genetics plays some part - as does training - but I believe the most important thing I need to do to reach this sled dog nirvana has to do with the actual "driving" of the team. Cooing, coaxing, calming. Like kneading bread over and over until it's just right and ready to rise into beauty. Difficult to put into words - but that's my best shot.

Do you still have the altitude barn for the dogs to sleep in? and do you think it has given you an advantage on the trail?

Yes, I do have the dogs in the altitude barn. They sleep at an equivalent of 9,000 feet and are in there at about 8-10 hours at a time. With the help of canine physiologist Arlie Reynolds, we were able to see on paper a definite advantage in things like red cell, pac cell, lactic acid reduction ~ stuff like that. But I don't think I've won a race since I had it, so it's clearly not a runaway must-have. Lucky for you cause it's 50 grand worth of equipment. It is very fun though, I like to sleep out there as well. I sleep sound, and wake up feeling great. Don't try to light a candle though, 'cause it don't work.

During the 2006 race I became totally enamored with Salem. He seems to embody everything a lead dog should be and more. Do I remember correctly that that was the year your team got away from you during the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet and Salem stopped the team? How is Salem doing?

You do recall correctly ~ there's a moment I'll never forget. To see my team disappear into the blowing snow without me - still sends shivers down my spine. There is no question in my mind that it was Salem's unwillingness to leave me that caused the team to stop and wait for me.
Salem hasn't raced since the '06 race. Had a very difficult to diagnose shoulder injury for the last two years, however after swimming all summer again this year, we haven't seen hide-nor-hair of this injury during the current training season. I have guarded optimism that he will again be leading the team this year.

Do you wish there was a 2000mile race? Would you have tried a Anchorage-Nome-Anchorage race?

Are you out of your freakin' mind???

Who do you consider your hardest opponents in the I'rod 09?

Just scan the stats, the same names keep poppin' up - and I don't see 'em going anywhere soon.

What is your favorite memory in racing (any race)?

Passing Swingley on my way into Unalakleet in the '06 race was right up there with nirvana.

Do you have an all-time favorite dog? If so, why is he/she it?

Oh lordy - don't ask me if I have a favorite dog ~ that's like asking me if I have a favorite daughter... the answer varies from day to day!

So my question to you is, having started basically from scratch in this sport, what did you find was the most difficult part of establishing that first stable and competetive dog team?

Finding the right woman to marry me. (I'm not joking.)

Thanks for the questions!


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