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Alaskan Adventure

By Staff | Mar 7, 2008

Doug Ruzicka of Anchor Point, Alaska shows Estherville Lincoln Central third-grader Megan Brunskill why it’s important to hang on to the dog sled. EDN photo by David Swartz

Iowans who think they receive more than their fair share of cold weather shouldn’t compare notes with Alaskans.

Doug Ruzicka of Anchor Point, Alaska, told Estherville Lincoln Central third-graders on Thursday he’s been outside with the thermometer dipping down to 48 degrees below zero.

“If you take your mittens off, your skin will freeze within two minutes,” he said. “If you throw hot coffee in the air, it won’t reach the ground–it’ll explode.”

And the point that hit home with the third-graders.

“If you spit, it will freeze before it reaches the ground,” he said.

Doug Ruzicka of Anchor Point, Alaska shows Estherville Lincoln Central third-grader Megan Brunskill why it’s important to hang on to the dog sled. EDN photo by David Swartz

Ruzicka was in Estherville for the third straight year to tell the middle-schoolers about Alaska and dog-sledding.

“Alaska has four seasons just like Iowa–but it doesn’t turn green until the end of May and snow returns in October,” he said. “At home right now, there’s still 23 feet of snow.”

While Texans also may talk about the size of their state, it doesn’t compare to Alaska.

Ruzicka pointed out that most maps show the main 48 states with insets of both Hawaii and Alaska.

“If you were to make Alaska to scale and place it across the states, it would touch the Canadian border, and stretch from Florida to California,” he said.

Ruzicka has participated in the Iditarod, a race commemorating a group of dogsledders who took medicines needed in Nome, Alaska.

His daughter, Rebekah, recently finished the Junior Iditarod in 13th place. A year ago she finished 21st.

“We’re looking to finish in the top 10 next year,” he said.

Ruzicka brought a wooden dogsled along with other gear needed to help survive in an Alaska winter.

While his sled is made of wood, many race participants use ones made of lighter metals.

“The lighter the sled, the easier it is for the dogs to pull,” he said.

Every sled includes snowshoes, but with snowmobiles, Ruzicka said he’s never used them. Each sled also carries a home-made stove which consists of a metal pail and a cooking pot.

Ruzicka said he doesn’t like to cook, but he does melt snow for the sled dogs to drink.

Many sled dogs also wear ‘booties’–not to keep their paw warm, but to protect them.

“Some dogs need them all the time and others just sometimes and others not at all,” he said.

Ruzicka said youth as young as 5-years-old learn how to drive a dog sled.

“I say ‘drive’ because that’s what you do. You have to lean and pull on the sled,” he said.

The key is to always hang on.

“The dogs just want to run. If you fall off, there’s just one thing you can do,” he said, emphasizing the point by waving good-bye.

Following his presentation, the ELC third-graders had a surprise for Ruzicka.

Over a two-day period, several collected change and money to help sponsor him the next time he competes in the Iditarod. They raised nearly $85.

Ruzicka said he will list the ELC class on his website.