Slip Sliding a Long Way
By Candice Bang 12C
Most of us don’t have a clue how to hunt moose or traverse the Alaskan wilderness—let alone live in a place without cell phone reception.
Meet Jodi Bailey 91C, a competitive sled dog musher in Alaska and owner of fifty-eight dogs. It may seem that she lives a world away from Atlanta, but her experience at Emory helped lead her to the Alaskan wilds, Bailey says.
While attending Emory, she spent summers there to study and conduct research on the Athabascan Tribe, indigenous interior Alaskans.
She fell in love with the place and moved to Alaska after graduating. She now lives with her husband, Dan Kaduce, forty miles outside of the nearest town.
Bailey has been dog mushing since 1997 and says it’s an addiction. She began with dog skijoring, a sport where a person on skis is pulled by one or two dogs.
After meeting her husband, Bailey began dog mushing recreationally, which progressed to racing. Now the couple operates the Dew Claw Kennel in Chatanika, Alaska, and takes part in distance racing.
Last year, Bailey became the first rookie to race in the Yukon Quest and Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in the same year. Both races are around one thousand miles, and take place a mere two and a half weeks apart.
What would motivate someone to mount a sled and ride a thousand miles over ice and snow in below-freezing weather?
“[Mushing] gives you an excuse to get up off your butt and go outside in the middle of winter and experience one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” Bailey says. “The thing about mushing is that you will never feel so humbled and so honored at the same time. You feel pretty little when you’re out in the middle of [nature].”
Another rewarding aspect of mushing for Bailey is the relationship she has with her dogs. Her puppies are born in her living room, and Bailey trains them as they grow up. She says each of her dogs has its own “personality, moods, attitudes, nicknames, and theme songs.”
One drawback to taking part in such an intensive sport is the cost. Bailey is an educator at UAF’s College of Rural and Community Development and has to raise money to help cover race expenses. But, she says, her love for her dogs and her passion for the sport make it all worth it.
“A traditional liberal arts education gives you the ability to ask better questions and make wiser choices,” she says. “And that’s what a thousand-mile race is: there are a gajillion tiny little choices, and you have to be a strong thinker.”