It has been 6 weeks since my foot surgery and it’s been rough.

I am definitely going a little stir crazy here. Allen can tell you that much. Last week, I got permission to “hobble on my heel in the boot caste” while in the house (we live in a very small house). I thought this was GREAT! One week later, all I really want to do is run screaming down the drive and out into the field. Yup… told you… stir crazy.

Needless to say, I’ve had a bit of time to think about Iditarod 2016 — imagine that? And I’ve probably over analyzed my race, Dallas’, Mitch’s and Brent’s. As well as others. And most of all, I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to win or place in the top, a musher needs to: “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

Racing the Iditarod is challenging. There are a tremendous number of ups and downs– both physical and mental. You have to be smart, you have to be savvy and you really have to be tough. As I sit here, one foot in a boot caste, feeling sorry for myself, I start to wonder where did that tough Musher from March go? Is she still around? Did she stumble off one-legged somewhere? Is she hiding? If she is anywhere around, then she ought to remember this story:

Mile 779 on this year’s Iditarod, for me and my team, was a defining moment. It was the mile that I knew, for sure, we were going to make it. Now, I’m not saying that I thought that we wouldn’t make it. I always think that we’ll make it to Nome. But… at 779, I proved to myself that there was no doubt.
Upon leaving the Unalakleet Checkpoint, Mile 714, the race finish was still a ways off. I wasn’t in the best state of mind either. Sure, we had reached the Western Coast and the frozen Bering Sea lay in front of us. But, it was still quite a jaunt to Nome and at times, during this race, some miles seemed to take years.
So I formulated a plan that I thought would benefit my team and my self – regardless of my competitors. This plan was to run from Unalakleet, over the Blueberry hills, thru Shaktoolik and go camp out on the Sea ice about halfway to Koyuk. In my mind, camping on the Sea ice meant that we could get away from the hype and media of Checkpoints, I could continue to regroup myself and the dogs would get some quality rest in the sunshine.

This is a still shot taken from an Iditarod Insider Video.

Of course, it turned out that my “camp spot” was rather extreme. I even thought, momentarily, that I had made a mistake and that we should continue on to Koyuk. But, I had formulated the plan by using a well thought out run/rest schedule for the dogs and I knew that they would benefit. So, when I pulled over to camp I said to myself: “Suck it up, Buttercup.”
I like to term my camp spot on the Sea ice as: “breezy”. “Breezy” can mean a lot of things. You may use your imagination to define what you think “breezy” might mean. I know what “breezy” means to me.
This camp spot was no easy feat. It took quite a bit of mental resolve to sit out in 25 – 30 mph winds and “rest”. Neither was it easy to cook water, feed dogs or even booty the team.

  • In order to cook water I had to set my cook pot up in the lee of my flipped over sled so that the cooker flame was not immediately extinguished by the wind. Once in a while, the wind would blow so hard that it would move my sled too close to the flame of my cooker. So, I sat down on the ice with my back leaned against the sled keeping it a wind block.
  • Then I used my knife to fillet off thin sections of frozen ocean in order to melt them in my cooker. The deeper I cut into the ocean the saltier the water became.
  • All the while, the lid of the cooker pot would periodically catch in a gust and blow off. I would have to jump up, run across the ice and get back to the sled before it caught fire.
  • Then I fed the dogs. Usually I put down dog dishes and ladle out their meals. Well, the first two dog dishes now reside somewhere in Russia. It turned out that even after I filled the bowls with a big watery meal they would blow off. So, each dog had to eat while I held their bowl in place. Thirteen dogs means thirteen bowls (well… that’s a bit of a lie because I just told you that I lost two!)
  • Before leaving the camp spot I tried to put on dog boots. Hummm. Yeah, that sucked. I always put booties on without gloves. Yes, barehanded. That way I can tighten the velcro strap easily and no velcro sticks to my fleece gloves. It’s fast, it’s efficient and often it’s cold. But, in 30 mph winds, it’s really cold. Actually the wind chill numbed my fingers so much that I couldn’t tell how tight I was making the velcro strap. Then I couldn’t tell I had fingers. Yikes!

This is a still shot taken from an Iditarod Insider Video.

This is a still shot taken from an Iditarod Insider Video.

Anyhow, you might think that Mile 779 would bum me out or get me upset about the incredible challenges. But no, it was actually the complete opposite. Once I said: “Suck it up, Buttercup.” I knew that no matter what, I could do it. I had resolve and a goal and there wasn’t anything that was going to make me falter. I had to laugh a lot because at times, like in many people’s lives, things get so incredibly challenging that there seems to be no way you are gonna get through it. But, for me at Mile 779, the harder it got, the better I did.

Now, you really think I’m stir crazy, don’t ya?

If you are an Iditarod Insider you can watch the “Aliy Zirkle Camped on Sea Ice – March 13, 2016 8:39pm” video that they took of me during this camp out. You will notice that I was completely content and somewhat gleeful with this ridiculous situation. If you are not an Iditarod Insider I took a few still shots from the video and here is a little bit of the commentary:
Insider guy: “Nice spot to camp?”
AZ: “I don’t know… I mean, it’s pretty. Look at it. Most people wouldn’t choose it. {Laughs.} But, it’s sunny, if you get behind a wind block it’s really warm. You can use your cooker.”
AZ: What are the minuses? Wind. What’s another minus? Your water might be a little salty ‘cuz you’re on the ocean. Ahhhhh. What’s another minus?
AZ: Wind? {Laughs.} Nah, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”

Stir crazy on the Sea ice? Or just sucking it up?

22 Responses

  • The Mindfulness movement is in the news again. A simple concept, being in the moment. A basic concept that's had many labels over the years. I think you demonstrate it right here. Thanks for sharing.

  • I remember being very worried about you at this point,Aliy. After watching the insider video, and having Sebastian reassure us you were fine, I knew you were good to go. I admit, though..I am still a little in shock about what happened on the Yukon. Your toughness inspires me to Stay Calm, and Zirkle On!

  • Oh no a new saying stay calm and Zirkle on
    Aliy, you haven't lost your sense of humor. I hope your smile still comes out to play too. You've been given a lesson in patience this year, huh? Doing way better than I would be.
    Keep on keeping on. You're in the homestretch!

  • Oh Aliy, I well remember watching this video during the race and thinking, "Hey, Aliy is going to be OK!!!"

    And just imagine next year, with a bionic big toe on your strong side, watch out!!!

    Believing in you, best,

    P.S. Woof!!!

  • Aliy, in the twelve years we've been following you, I've never once doubted your toughness and resiliency. Even at the worst times, you've still been able to bring smiles to all your supporters with your humor (still today). When your sledding days are over, you could be the next best selling author. Till then, hugs and best wishes for a complete recovery in the near future.

    Ann and Tom

  • Just convinced me a little more of your awesomeness and that of all the women who enter and finish this race. When the going gets tough–yep, you keep calm and Zirkle on!! There is a saying down in the lower 48–western part–"cowboy up" which means you hang tuff, get up and dust off your butt and go after it again. I now say Musher Up and it means the same–at zero and below with wind!! Aliy, thanks for being yourself and a huge inspiration to so many. It is a great gift you share. 2016 was a huge challenge in a hundred ways but you did it and you will do it again!!With a great deal of love and respect at your back.

  • Aily, That is a great story of how adversity made you stronger and even more determined. But, I'm pretty sure you won't be sea ice camping next year.

    I'm wishing very much for you that you can start walking on two legs soon. It sounds like Allen is too.

    I really enjoy all of your posts.


  • Aliy,
    I did watch that video during the race and said you are one tough
    woman. You were so cheerful in that video–you will make it no doubt
    in my mind! Your foot will be ready to run soon I hope! Wishing
    you the Very Best!! Love hearing of your trip–Thanks For Sharing!

  • More reason to admire you! So, suck it up Buttercup for a bit longer…..stir crazy, sure, who wouldn't be….but your "Nome" is in sight. Hang tough and "Zirkle on".

    All the best from us in Erie, PA
    Lisa & Charlene

  • You Rock it Aliy!
    nice post and race update. keep doing the deal, it sounds like the healing is going well and you are gonna be back to only 2 legs soon!
    Take care my friend.
    Padee Fairbanks

  • I remember watching this video during the race too. Looking back at a past situation like this strengthens ones resolve going forward. I'm sure most of us can remember going through a difficult time and reaching "mile 779". You just get through it somehow and find yourself almost to the other side. You don't forget what you've been through, but you can "see the light at the end of the tunnel". I love this comparison of your foot healing to the Iditarod race miles. You are "one tough cookie". I have recently watched some of the insider videos on the ID website. My favorite is at White Mountain watching you take care of the dogs before you and they rest for several hours. It was a beautiful sunny day that day.

  • I'm an Insider and I remember watching this video. Always love your insights and Iditarod reflections. I wonder how many home-made signs you'll see now in 2017 that show: "Suck It Up Buttercup!" Every time you pull into a checkpoint? In a very good and encouraging way, that is.

  • My hands get cold just reading this!!! Jeezum Crow!!!

    I remember seeing that video and thinking "yeah, she's alright…she's gonna be alright…look how cheerful she is" At this point in the race, I dont think we had seen that cheerful of an Aily for a while, and it was getting worrisome!! It lifted my spirits knowing you were having fun again. The description reminds me of some really fine yet nasty days ice fishing, wondering how nasty it can get, but proud you are still out in it and able to endure! Well, your situation was a bit more intense….but I get it. Felt good huh!

    This is certainly a tough summer for you…but just like you did out on the sea ice you are going to struggle with a smile on your face, yet come out of this with a different perspective and smarter than before! LOTS of time to reflect….I have no doubt your 2016/2017 Sled Dog Season will benifit on all this "down" time.

    Stir Crazy….maybe a little bit, who wouldnt be!!! Patience…you cant rush they say all good things…

  • As I watched the Insider and read all the outside news my heart ached for the two of you grappling with the tremendously stressful circumstances, a race yet to complete, sleep deprivation, aching muscles and dogs to lead/feed and get to Nome. That was a big lot to deal with and wrap your head around.Yet, having witnessed your determined steadfast attitude from prior years races, I just knew you would dig deep, pull on your boots and Zirkle On. Adversity serves to make us stronger and I think you have shown us all that you wired that one down this race. The professional way in which you handled yourself is most admirable, we have all learned from this.

    I must admit it is not easy to be patience post surgery when you are an extremely active person, this is something out of our complete control because the body mending process has a mind of its own.

    I have taken off my cry baby pants, putting on the big girl ones along with pulling up my boots when I have had occasion to think of my minuscule silly little misfortunes in comparison to your 2016.

    Zirkle On!!

  • Physical therapy can do wonders in both speeding up full recovery.

    And you can potentially strengthen yourself and increase stamina by continuing the exercise routine (done correctly) every day forever!!!

  • Thank you for the hearty laugh!
    🙂 🙂 🙂
    I wonder if you underestimated the winds. Your GPS tracker kept jumping around, and we would get excited, "she's moving, she's moving," ah, no… not yet. Eventually, it was, no lets wait another 10 minutes to see if she really is moving. You stuck to your run rest schedule and still managed to surprise us. If I see this again, I will have visions of you flying your sled like a kite, lol!!!
    What ever plans you train for, what ever plans you make, you do well to stick to them. After your "reflection" time this Summer, we might see a strategy we haven't seen in the last few years, but what ever it is, if you know you and the dogs are ready, I'm sure it will be your team's best.

    Without going into details, you really have to give yourself credit for pulling off an amazing feat this year, for numerous reasons!

    Healing is difficult because you can not anticipate the future. You will get better, you will feel better, and from what you said about your condition, I expect Aliy post surgery will be a better version than Aliy pre surgery. You will be back out there doing all the things you love soon, and enjoying and appreciating them more than ever before.

  • Dearest Aliy, you make me smile. You are, without a doubt, one of the toughest women I know. I'm sitting here remembering when we were sitting on your deck last year, and you had a pulled muscle in your thigh, probably from crossing that log across the slough when we were walking the dogs, and you said "well, I don't feel tough right now" LOL
    Well, that's what makes you so special. Tough, and tender, all wrapped up in one!
    Hugs and healing energy sent your way. <3

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