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Northland musher prepares for Iditarod

Blake Freking of Finland and his team leave the Sawbill checkpoint after their mandatory layover during February's John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Freking is in Alaska preparing for Saturday's start of the Iditarod Great Sled Race. (File / News Tribune)

Just a month after running the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, Northland musher Blake Freking is in Alaska, preparing for Saturday's start of the Iditarod Great Sled Race.

"The team looks great," Freking said recently from his home in Finland. "We changed our training quite a bit this year. We've been training a lot slower. Much more like an Iditarod-type pace. We've got a lot of miles on this year. These guys are in great shape."

This will be Freking's third time racing in the Iditarod, a race that traverses more than

1,000 miles of Alaska's frontier from Anchorage to Nome. It takes anywhere from nine to 17 days to complete the journey.

"It's totally different from anything else. So much varied terrain," Freking said. "We spend a lot of time on the Yukon River. We spend a lot of time on the Alaska Range, and we spend a lot of time on the Bering Sea coast. On the Bering Sea, we get huge winds and cold temps. On the Yukon River, we'll get some really cold temps and winds as well."

Seventy-one teams will compete in this year's Iditarod. Freking is the only musher from Minnesota and one of only 13 teams that participate from the lower 48.

Traveling the 3,500 miles to Alaska with 20 sled dogs is a marathon in itself.

"We always say we've run several Iditarods before we get to the Iditarod starting line. We've got a truck and trailer and everybody has their own box and they have their own bunk that they stay in throughout the trip, and it's quite comfortable for them," he said. "During the trip, we stop every four hours and let the dogs out to exercise, loosen up, get a little snack."

The logistics involved in preparing for the Iditarod are extensive.

"It's a big commitment," he said. "I had to take six weeks off work to go up there and run it all, between travel and the logistics. We have drop bags that we put together prior to the race and that's a huge logistical step, getting all our gear supplied and bagged, and from there it goes out to the checkpoints on the race. That has to take place down here and then it goes by truck up to Tacoma, Washington, and it goes by barge up to Anchorage, and then it goes by bush plane from Anchorage to the individual checkpoints."

Freking relies on a team of people year-round to help him and the dogs get ready for the challenging race. And the journey is as important as the competition.

"The biggest thing for me is just getting out on the trail with 16 of my buddies and just spending some great time, traveling through some fascinating country. Alaska really is the last frontier, as far as America is concerned," he said. "It's hard to imagine going over 1,000 miles and never crossing a road. It's just fascinating country to travel to and see, and what better way to do it than with a dog team?"

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