Some people may not know about it, but every year, Alaska holds a momentous, exceptionally challenging event known as the Iditarod dogsled race. This dangerous race is held annually along the Iditarod Trail in Alaska, which goes from Anchorage to Nome. It is dogsledding at its finest and the coverage is quite a sight to see.
Of course, sledding into the unknown with only a team of snow dogs for company is not an activity for the fainthearted. It’s a grueling 990 some-odd miles all on your own. Not everyone can do it and even trained professionals like Blair Braverman, run into unusual and harrowing circumstances along the way…
An Adventurous Spirit
Blair Braverman is categorized by her Wikipedia page as an American Adventurer. That is a bold statement to attach to anyone, but in Blair’s case, it’s pretty accurate. She’s an author, nonfiction writer, a feminist, and a dogsled racer, and she does not shrink from a challenge. She has even been called the 21st-century feminist reincarnation of Jack London.
A Love of Norway
Blair was born in California in 1988. When she was 10, her parents moved to Norway for a year. It was there that she found her passion, one she would return to in college when she studied there as an exchange student. She learned dog-sledding and winter survival, both of which would come in really useful when she began a career as a professional adventurer…
When it comes to dogsled racing, the Iditarod is the big show. This incredibly important race sees over 50 mushers racing more than 1,000 dogs every year. It’s a long, grueling race that can last between 8-15 days. It’s a race that taxes the survival skills of even the most seasoned dogsled racer.
The Iditarod trail also happens to be one of the wildest Alaskan trails. Dangerously deep snows, perilous icy lakes, and dense forests are dotted all the way from Anchorage to Nome. These things didn’t scare a pro like Blair Braverman though. On the contrary, she was prepared for anything she or her dogs would encounter along the way. She was mistaken…
In the most recent Iditarod, Blair took to social media so that she could livetweet portions of the race. This brought the difficult trek through the wilderness to a whole new audience, highlighting some of her most dramatic moments on the trail. It also served as a reminder to Blair and everyone else, how lonely it can get on the icy road to Nome.
Things seemed pretty solid at first. Blair and her dogs were making great time. Then, just as they were mushing past Ophir, the trail began to turn really remote. Blair and the team had been running for 8 hours straight without seeing any sign of another human being, or another animal for that matter. That was about to change…
Wind and Voices
The snow had grown thinner and the trees taller and scragglier than she’d noticed before. Blair felt the wind blow in from the West as hills rose around her in just about every direction. It was quiet, but for the heavy panting of the sled dogs and her own muffled breaths. Soon, Blair began to hear things. It sounded like human voices echoing in the coming twilight.
Sniffing the Wind
Blair whipped her head around to see where the voices were coming from, but there was no one and nothing there. Even if there had been trappers of other racers somewhere, they were miles away. Meanwhile, the dogs began to sniff the wind. Their ears perked up and they looked as though something had caught their attention…
The sun was setting quickly. Before Blair knew it, it was night time. She and the team were now running through darkness. The only light they could see were the stars sitting high in the sky and her headlamp casting strange shadows along the trunks of the trees. Their shapes were unnerving and Blair had to look away to avoid thinking too much about them.
Shapes in the Darkness
Ignoring her own growing paranoia, Blair focused on driving the team forward. She knew they would probably have to rest soon, but she wasn’t going to stop there. Not while her own prodigious imagination made her question the terrifying shapes she was seeing. Suddenly, one of those shadows became even more clear and defined. It looked almost tangible…
Blair could see an emaciated-looking humanoid figure resting in the darkness of the trees. Its skin was black, pitch black, but solid. This was no shadow, whatever it was. She knew this because it seemed to walk out of the shadows for a moment, before standing in the moonlight, and shifting back into another shadow to disappear.
Skipping a Beat
“It literally felt like my heart skipped a beat. I took a deep breath,” Blair Tweeted. “Focused on the dogs and the feeling of the runners beneath me…” She worried for her sanity because she had heard that mushers often hallucinate on the trail when they’re alone. She tried to refocus and spoke aloud that what she’d seen wasn’t real. But even that vocal affirmation didn’t feel like enough…
Blair switched her headlamp to its brightest setting and turned to look towards the trees. The shadows seemed to jump just as they normally did. Her eyes must have been playing tricks on her. Of course, when she saw the slim pitch-back figure again, she began to worry what it might actually be. It moved weirdly, almost loosely ahead of her on the trail.
This time, it wasn’t just Blair who had noticed. Her dogs had begun to whine and ran even faster towards the strange shape. Almost as if by instinct, Blair pushed her foot on the dog brake to slow them down. The fact that they had seen it too was disquieting, to say the least. It meant she wasn’t crazy but it also meant that this thing, whatever it might be, was real…
Blair wasn’t the type of person to believe in demons or aliens or the like. She admitted as much on her Twitter. “At this point, I was ready for anything. And we were hurtling toward it…” she said in a Tweet. The dogs had broken into a run and her lead dog Spike’s hackles were raised. Whatever it was, they were going to reach it before it vanished again.
Running Towards It
It was almost as if the shape was waiting for them. Suddenly, the moon came out from behind a cloud. The impossibly thin, dark shape stood right in the center of their path. It froze and Blair’s blood froze right along with it. The shadow man had caught sight of the dogs and they began to bark as it got closer and closer…
A Very Real Runner
Before long, the thin being was directly in front of her. As she beheld it even closer, she realized the truth. This was no strange alien being, no slender man or demon spirit. This was a jogger. Blair Braverman had just met her fist Iditarunner. That’s right. Some people take to the Iditarod Trail without the aid of snow dogs. They just jog it…alone…and in the freezing cold.
What Blair and the dogs had witnessed was one super-skinny ultramarathoner wearing full-body black spandex from head to toe. He was wearing a black balaclava and gloves. So in the snow and shadows, he must have looked quite alien indeed. But he was a runner in an Iditarod marathon that had begun a week prior. He was still running when Blair found him…
How it Worked
The reason he’d looked to move so strangely was that he’d been serpentining to and fro across the shadowy sides of the trail in order to avoid some open water. He was also running without a headlamp and had stopped to watch Blair and her cool dog sled team coming down the trail. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?
Considering that hallucination isn’t uncommon on wilderness trails, it was no surprise that Blair thought she had been seeing things. In the end, she was as glad that he was real as the runner was to get a chance to meet an Iditarod musher. They nodded to each other and continued on their separate ways. Makes you wonder if the runner told a similar story about his encounter.