It has been 8 weeks since I had surgery on my foot. At 6 weeks and 3 days (who’s counting?) I got permission from my Doctor to walk. He looked at my X-rays and decided that the bones had fused together substantially. I think he was shocked that I had actually been such a “good patient” (Allen’s interpretation and my Doctor’s may not be quite the same!)

So… I believe that walking is pretty much the “finish line” for me. It has changed everything! Granted, there is still a lot more to do, but I feel like I made it.

Just because I actually got permission to start walking doesn’t mean that my entire right leg is immediately ready to “walk”. This fact kinda bummed me out at first. But, as I massaged my pencil thin calf muscle and my tight Achilles tendon I understood that ‘take it easy’ really means take it easy. So, while I will not be running, jumping and hiking dozens of miles right away, those things will come back soon…

A lot of people I’ve seen in the last week, have said “Gosh, those 8 weeks went by pretty quickly, huh?” I can’t frown and outwardly disagree (because Allen has told me that I have to be nicer to everyone and smile more often now that I can walk) but, NO those 8 weeks went by quite slowly – thank you very much.

But, I will tell you that the finish line is here. I see the lights of Nome! I’m ecstatic.

Here is an excerpt from my 2016 Trail Notes about coming to the Finish Line:

Leaving White Mountain, we had very little pressure to ‘keep racing hard’. Brent and his dogs’ massive communication breakdown had changed the 2016 race outcome drastically for us. Dallas and Mitch had already claimed the first two positions. But, now the third place position was sitting open just waiting for us. No teams were close enough to catch us from behind.
We had the advantage of running most of these final miles in the cooler nighttime temperatures. There isn’t much ‘shade bearing’ vegetation along the coast, so the timing was a real plus. The rolling hills between White Mountain and the sea coast are not enormous, but they are very steep and require extra effort from both the dogs and myself. We were well rested, so we put everything into ‘getting there’ as fast as we could. No sense in dillydallying.
I had Scout and Mismo up front. They seemed to be my ‘go to’ dogs at this point. I carried 40 pounds of meat and fish and regularly snacked the team. I had a few energy bars myself and drank 3/4 gallon of water. I didn’t want either the dogs or myself to look like we had just ‘washed up on shore’ when we got to the finish line.
We climbed Topcock mountain, the last hill before the Iditarod Trail comes down to sea level and parallels the shoreline. At the summit, it was simply amazing to look down and out across the somewhat frozen ocean. The night sky was still shaded by darkness but the sea ice was white and it was lite up by the amazing stars and a tiny sliver of a moon. In all my lifetime, I will never see a sight like that again. The dogs and I paused very shortly to admire the beauty.
We came down Topcock and turned in front of the Nome Kennel Club shelter cabin. Then we started to parallel the shore. The first few shoreline miles naviagte down the center of a frozen lagoon. There is rarely any snow covering on the lagoon ice and this year was no different. It was quite the doggie skating rink. I stopped before anyone panicked as their legs slipped out this way and that. I dropped my chains underneath my runners and again thanked Allen for coming up with such a great invention. Then I walked down the team and put necklines on every dog so that they had two points of contact with the mainline. This way if a dog started to slip, it could either lean into its harness or into its neck line or both to get support. I also moved Mismo back a few spots. I kept Scout up in lead by himself. I took off his front paw boots because he would have better traction with out “slippery socks” on. I needed to be able to steer him back and forth across the skating rink. We took off again and had very little trouble ‘skating’ the next few miles.
The twenty miles from the lagoon to the Safety Checkpoint were rather tame. I will always shake my head in awe when I pass through these miles. This early morning, I was able to look around with my headlight and identified a few familiar landmarks. I really wanted to pick out the telephone pole trail marker that my team had been wrapped around during the 2014 blizzard. We passed a few that could have been “the one”. I asked Waylon and Willie if they recognized it – these two brothers were the only dogs from this team who had been with me during the final miles of the 2014 race – I got no definitive answer.
We went through the Safety Checkpoint without too much of an incident. The dogs did want to drift off to the left toward the cabin, but after a few overly suggestive “Gee” commands they turned. I will admit that a cabin in the middle of this harsh and featureless shoreline with friendly faces is quite a temptation to a dog. Plus, this cabin had indeed saved us in 2014. So, I wasn’t overly critical when the dogs wavered a little. I even told the Checker and volunteers that we might knockdown a few of their trail markers before leaving. “Sorry!”
As we trotted away, we headed up toward the last hill of the race: Cape Nome. I stopped the team at its base. I knew that we were less than 3 hours from the finish line and we were still carrying about 25 pounds of snacks. So, we had a large buffet of turkey skins, beef chunks and salmon steaks. Yummy.
After that we screamed up the hill. I either ran or ski poled every step of the way. At this point, I was really, really ready to cross the finish line. My emotions were starting to seep out. At the top of the hill, the lights of Nome consumed the horizon. Wow. I get chills even writing this now.
The last miles were an emotional roller coaster. The dogs, thank goodness, were on cruise control. Mismo was back in lead with Scout. They both knew our destination. We saw crowds gathering as day break filled the now pink-colored horizon.
I could not believe that we were going to actually finish. I was back to shaking my head constantly. I began to see family and friends standing along the trail and off in the distance. The lump in my throat grew larger and larger.
About a mile before the finish, I stopped my team on the sea ice. I tried to pick a spot that wasn’t cluttered with spectators or photographers. I wanted to thank each dog individually for getting us here. I knew that the finish line would be crowded and I just needed a few minutes to say some words to these incredible dogs. I tried to compose myself. I didn’t want to be a babbling, crying, speechless Aliy Zirkle at the finish line. This was going to be a joyful, unbelievable moment.
I walked back to my sled and asked the dogs, “You ready for this?” Apparently they were, because we took off towards the finish.
We made it. Yes we did. I couldn’t believe it then. I can’t believe it now.

22 Responses

  • Wow, Aliy! What an exciting post about the finish and I almost felt as if I were there with you. Your dogs are amazing and I am sure they were happy to cross the finish line as well. So happy to hear you are allowed to begin walking again and that your toe is healing nicely.
    On another note, I heard you are speaking at the upcoming teacher's conference in Anchorage/Wasilla and am sure they will be thrilled to hear you. My children's fifth grade teacher will be there and I hope she gets a chance to say hello to you from me. Have a great time at the conference.
    Maryalice Adams

  • I get chills just reading it. I think the dogs and your friends and family and your fans are always ready for this, whatever the 'this' might be. Seeing Aliy Zirkle and the dogs of SPK crossing the Finish in Nome, safe and sound, again, just takes my breath away. You are such a compelling writer in addition to the many other things you inspire us with. And Allen is such a perfect adviser. I am so glad you are back up and almost to full strength.

  • AWESOME. Puts the reader right there in the moment. Video during the day, language at night.

    Teams are streaming down my cheeks – even now, Post Iditarod, after months and the concerns about your big toe.

    You got me with the description of this last leg of your 2016 journey.

    Woof, woof, woof!!!

    Best always,


  • Hurrah!! You have almost completed another fabulous run in your inimitable style. I do understand how hard it has been–as hard in different ways as this year's big race, but the end is in sight and you will be back up to speed sooner than it feels! Lots of folks in your camp, rooting like mad. Proud of and happy for you on all counts. You go, girl!!! Lots of wind under those wings–actually in planes it is over them, but anyway!! Musher up and Zirkle on with love and faith to move that sled.

  • You've made it to Nome again! Bit by bit, you'll regain your strength, balance, and start the re-build to race again Aliy! So glad you're on the mend.

  • It would be a tremendous accomplishment to bring this young new team to a strong 3rd place finish, but it is an OUTSTANDING accomplishment to do so in this year's race. You may have doubted, but we fans knew you could do it; and this year's finish was my proudest as a sponsor and fan.

  • Aliy, you have such a unique way of taking us out there on the trail with you and letting us experience (just a little bit)the emotions of your journey. You are a remarkable lady. As Gaye said, we are so proud and happy for you on all counts.
    Hugs to you, Allen, and all your fabulous team mates.
    Ann and Tom

  • Ditto what all have said. Ditto! Compelling!!!
    Thank you for sharing this journey with US! Great Job on healing up Aliy and way to go Allen you are a great support coach for her. time now for a fishing a vacation!
    Padee Fairbanks

  • First, congratulations on a successful surgery. MOreover, as I sit here on my patio in 80+ degree weather, I have chills after reading your trail notes. Your strength, courage, conviction, dedication, perseverance and grace are exemplary. You have my utmost admiration. Aily Zirkle, you are a class act! (I don't care WHAT Allen says….LOL!!). Wishing you all the best.

    Lisa & Charlene
    Erie, PA

  • There's so much to remember –and forget — about Iditarod 2016. However, one thing is non-negotiable: Aliy Zirkle=Olympic -caliber Athlete.

    Aliy, so happy to hear that you're "back on your feet!"

  • Aliy thanks for sharing your heart. I pray for you every hour of your run. Your present has a finish line, too as you know. Stay strong and patient. Yes patience that's hard. I know I had surgery March 9 patience is truly a virtue.

  • Such a beautiful commentary! The emotions must have been SO high a mile out from Nome. It's so awesome, how you and every dog know eachother, and how they know your every thought. They are ALL so magnificent! There arn't many true leaders in this messed up world, who understand a great team of dogs, like you and Allen do. The team understands SO much. Glad to hear that Aliy's foot is doing well. That will be 50 deep knee bends!!
    Best wishes from Delaware

  • Boy–can't beat that last post! My same thoughts! Aliy, you are
    such a strong person and musher. What grace you bring to the sport.
    Then you are surrounded by Allen, SP Crew and those fabulous dogs.
    Love the way you write as it is just like we are there with you.
    Take Care of the foot. See, 8 wks. are over-you made it!

  • Congrats on your "Foot Fusion" Finish in Nome!! You did it….and now the work continues…at least you have a home gym to do your physical therapy…you will build up those muscles in no time flat!! I got a kick out of Allen telling you to be nicer!! That was hilarious!! Anyhow, welcome to the finish line….we are all very proud of you!

    We absolutely loved the Finish Line Trail Notes…brought tears to our eyes just reliving that moment with your words….awesome!! My favorite part was taking time to thank each team member…what an emotional trail you all shared and endured together…well done!! The natural beauty you saw on that last leg sounded intense….what a treat!!

    The surgery and the Trail was an interesting parallel….they both take perseverance and strength, mixed with patience. I think it comes to you more naturally on the Trail…but you did pretty darn good after the surgery too!

  • Aliy, I have chills, too, realizing – with your explanation – what it must have felt like arriving in Nome. Grace…that is what I keep going back to. Along with the strength, the good humor and compassion for the dogs…it all points to another successful finish of a grueling and, sadly, horrifying race. A true test of dogs and musher. I am in awe once again. Good luck with a foot that is 'new.' Surgery on bones is never without peril.

  • You need to write a book some day. In your description of the night sky, the sea ice and stars, I felt like I was right there looking at it. That must have been beautiful. LOL on Allen suggesting you be nice now, but I still cannot imagine you being too snarly. Our families, though, see that more than others usually. I'm glad you made to the finish line with your foot. Hooray!

  • Beautiful post Aliy. Your 2016 Trail Notes are going to be the best!
    As always you paint an amazing picture of beauty and love with your words!

    I think we should pull over here, and thank all those who got Aliy to this point…. We would like to thank Aliy's left foot, who has been doing the work of two feet, Aliy's right and left arms who have been doing the work of her legs, Aliy's mind, while it may have doubted, stayed steadfast and determined, Allen who has been doing God only knows what, and all Aliy's friends who have managed to keep Aliy from totally snapping.

    Congratulations on "walking" Aliy. Enjoy every moment of your strength and endurance rebuilding and recovery. Now, you get to really enjoy doing all of it, just because you CAN do it. There is nothing like having something taken away, to teach appreciation for things we take for granted.

  • How wonderful Aliy! So thrilled you are able to get back to it. Hoping muscles cooperate as you progress.
    Beautiful expression of your last stretch to Nome this year.

  • When you finished the 2016 Iditarod, Aliy you added another meaning to "Iditarod finisher." Congrats on completing your long summer of frustration & being able to start regaining the spring in your steps.

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