Monday, March 11, 2013



It was looking so not good on the Yukon River. Warm temperatures and rain made the river a slushy mess.  Deteriorating trail surfaces and overflows made the trail an exhausting pull.  It looked tempting to move off the trail, but any weight punched through and put us into a soup. Poor Woofie Monster.  He worked hard to get us from Grayling to Eagle Island through the night and into early morning. We had to stop in the “heat” of the day, a concept that seems foreign to those creatures who live in the daylight, but remember we’re both carrying fur as thick as Bob Marley’s knots – good for cold raw winds, but not so much in a white reflective bowl of a river basin. Once the low pressure moved through we roasted in sunshine.

Woofie Monster looked worn out. I honestly feared he'd collapse. I was sleep deprived (a horrible situation for a cat use to napping 16 hours a day) but he was running in a trance.  Beyond exhaustion.  I had to stand in front of him, look him in the eye.  Now standing directly in front of any dog is not something any sane cat would do.  The last time I went nose to nose with a dog the pup ended up with a bloody gash.  Goddess’s Mom was not pleased when I swiped her sheltie con claws. 

Anyway, there I stood looking the Woofie Monster right in his dark eyes.  The dog could do little more than stand there with his tongue nearly dragging the frozen ground. His eyes were glazed over.  He totally ignored me.  All his attention was fixed on the far horizon up river.

“Woofie,” I yelled. His panting began to subside, but he kept his eyes locked in the distance.  Again I yelled at him, this time I yanked his leash.  He snapped out of his trance.

I asked, “What are you looking at?”

semi-photo by Sebastian Schnuelle
“Elephants. Gray Elephants. They’re coming this way. See them?”

I didn’t expect to see them, but I looked over my shoulder anyway.  I saw nothing but long dim shadows cast on the river melting in a weak daylight.  I blinked twice just to be sure there were no elephants. Remember I’m sleep and TUNA derived.

“Woofie, I think we need to stop. You’re hallucinating. You’re out of it. Lost. Can you make it to the next checkpoint? We can quit there. Fly out You’ve run into the ground.”

The dog stood still. Panting lightly. Then he sucked up his tongue for a few seconds. “I got my hedgehog. I got a dream to run the Iditarod.  On to Shaktoolik.”

Shaktoolik wouldn’t be any easier. It’s mile 777.  Maybe if we were playing slot machines on an Indian reservation this would be lucky.  In Shaktoolik we would be off the Yukon River, but finally on the Bering Sea Coast.  Nothing but raw winds that spin around low pressure systems faster than a dog circles a bed of hay before he falls asleep. 

“Are you sure?” I thought I might refuse to participate. It wasn’t my dream, but it was his. Could I deny him?   

“Sure as the rain on the Yukon River.  Isn’t this strange?”

"As strange as your elephants, my friend."

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Mandatory 24 Hour Rest

We’ve been running since Sunday afternoon, the official re-start of the Iditarod. Woofie Monster and I are taking the mandatory 24 hour rest period in a little hole in the wall called Don’s Cabin.

That's about thirty miles south of the ghost town of Iditarod.  Once gold was discovered in the area surrounding Iditarod, a thriving little gold town bloomed to nearly 30,000 people. Once the gold ran out twenty years later the miners left taking most of the buildings with them. Today, no one lives there. Too bad the government didn’t do bail outs back in the day. Imagine what Iditarod could be now. Grown bearded men wearing Levis and plaid shirts sitting around the river banks collecting monthly checks? That's not what any self-respecting Alaskan could tolerate.

Although Woofie Monster and I have garnished no respect for being out here among the elite mushers of the world, we do play by the rules. Well most of them anyway. So we will rest.

For the Woofie Monster the break is much deserved.  His little paws are tired and sore, but thankfully he has been wearing the booties I got for him. At first, he was a bit taken aback with the idea. But I reminded him that this race is not a romp in a Chicago dog park.  When he saw other teams wearing booties of neon green, shocking pink and a more conservative black, he agreed to wear black. Honestly, he looks no tougher. He’s still a house dog bred for existence in the family packs of humans, not for trotting and loping long endurance miles like the Alaskan Husky.  Nevertheless, the pup is faring well, despite a bit of homesickness. 

Our toughest challenge has not been weather or daylight – or lack there of. Our natural equipment has kept us warm and on trail. The abilities to see in the dark, and sniff out bacon drifting over forty miles of frozen terrain have kept us in contention and ahead of all other cat teams.  (Don’t bore me with the details that there are no other cat teams on the trail.)  

The biggest challenge is getting enough food. Fuel, that is. Always a problem at home in the kitchen, getting enough food is amplified when the dog is running and possibly burning 10,000 calories in a day. He keeps saying he is an elite athlete and he needs the protein.

We’ve had drops from @bicdelou  but bad weather grounded all air craft until just a few hours ago.
Jeff Schultz's amazing photo

We had a little incident crossing a ice bridge over Dalzell Creek. After the leaders had crossed the packed bridge the under-footing was compromised. Woofie Monster  found himself chest deep in the stream.  I scrambled to the tippy top of the sled looking for a quick exit toward a more stable stream bank. At that moment the water sounded like a wild raging flood. But the shock of the icy water did not deter Woofie Monster’s forward momentum. He kept pulling and we popped out the other side. A quick shake off and a few wide-eyed stares at each other and we mutually acknowledged we survived. Woofie Monster asked me to check on the hedgehog’s condition. Finding the spitty dog toy safely dry (sort of) we continued on the trail.

It is a good day to rest.  The winds have been blowing like stink and the trail has been a little deep.  The masses rested in the tiny town of Takotna.  FYI: One of the largest TV satellite dishes I have every seen is located in this town. It’s so big it could draw in alien TUNA.

I don’t understand how or why some dogs run away from their sleds. One dog ran from the Jamacian musher, Newton Marshall. Despite an attempted round up the canine by the trail committee the dog disappeared and the poor chap had to scratch from the race. Among the rookies give credit to a young Norwegian who has boldly moved within the top 12.  Go Joar Leifseth Ulsom. The 26 year old won the Nadezhda Hope Race in Russia, considered the toughest race on the Eurasian continent. Watch him!

The biggest challenge is yet ahead. Blasting winds off the Bering Sea. I might have to put rocks in my pockets to keep from blowing away.  Oh, got no pockets!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pre Race Interview

Here are some excerpts from a recent interview conducted by the racing committee for the Iditarod.

Iditarod: Today, there are mushers, who are relatively new to the sport. To make sure, they at least have some experience, it is asked that they finish a minimum of 750 miles of racing, of which 2 of those races have to be 300 miles in lengths. Another good idea, is the requirement that they have to be in the top 75% of the field in their qualification race, thus ensuring a certain level of competitiveness. This is your first Iditarod entry. What is your previous sledding experience?

Diablo: Once I slid around the corner of the kitchen trying to get to the TUNA bowl before Phoenix. It wasn’t a pretty crash and burn. But I won! As far as the lengths of the race, I’ve traveled to Hawaii from New York. How long is that?  And I traveled from New York to London and back. How far is that?

Iditarod: You will be up against experienced mushers from around the world. You are a true rookie. How do you expect to be competitive?

Diablo: The Woofie Monster was born to run. And my sled is tiny. He’ll be pulling an eight pound cat.  Do the math. Besides, we aren’t from Jamaica.

Iditarod: We do have a musher from Jamaica.

Diablo: I guess I made my case.

Iditarod: Um, well. Yes, where exactly are you from?

Diablo: Woofie Monster is from his mama’s dog and I’m from my mama’s cat.

Iditarod: I don’t think you understood my question.

Diablo: I don’t think you understood my answer.

Iditarod: Okay, this is a 1000 mile race, across some very isolated, barren and cold terrain. How have you prepared to survive the ordeal?  

Diablo: First, the dog has no idea how long this trek is. Please don’t tell him. He thinks this will be a romp in a Chicago Dog Park.  We have air support being provided by two expert flyers: @bicdelou and @Rio_Conure who will air drop treats provided by @Mariam Kobras.

Iditarod: Aren’t these Twitter accounts?

Diablo: Your point?  I’m a Twitter Cat with a dog borrowed from a Twitter friend @rosieandcheeto.

Iditarod:  Most mushers have sponsor support.  Do you have any big name sponsors?

Diablo: Have you ever pulled a Band-aid off your hairy arm? I’m not wearing stickers on my fur. Besides, do I look like a race car?  But seriously, I have over 5800 followers on Twitter rooting for me and the Woofie Monster.  Go team.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

False Start

Holy Crap. This is not the way to begin a long and brutal excursion to Alaska!  I admit I was trying to keep the load light, but I underappreciated the dog’s need for his toys.  Hey, I like toys just as much as the next cat, or dog. My favorite is my fuzzy orange carrot with the feathery foliage (I have at least a half a dozen of them), but you never saw me dragging them to the royal wedding. Okay, let me back up. I see some of you saying, “huh?

Since the last time I was in Chicago my good friend Cheeto (of the @rosieandcheeto Twitter fame) has endured many huge changes in his cat life.  First the Lady got married. Then there was a baby added to the mix. The family moved to a new locale. And the stupid dog isn’t getting any mellower with age. All this has been very stressful. So to help reduce some of the load my poor friend has to endure, I agreed to take the dog for a long, long walk.  To Nome.

The dog is a huskie named Rockford, but we know him as the Woofie Monster, because he woofs and woofs are totally annoying to cats. He has a lifetime dream of running the Iditarod. I am going to oblige him. I strolled into Chicago this past weekend, thankful I missed the huge snow in the northeast, but thinking all that snow would make an excellent base for a dog sled run. There have been rumors that the Iditarod was cancelled because of lack of snow in Alaska, but that was just rumor.

I have never before traveled with a companion, let alone a dog.  I’ve had to forewarn the Yard Cats of his coming, so they don’t freak out when we show up in the railroad yards to take the train to Seattle.  Except, well, I never got that far.

After a few cans of refreshing tuna juice and a little nip to take Chicago’s gun free zone edge off I had a good night’s sleep at Cheeto’s new digs, which are very nice.  With the Iditarod’s start date less than three weeks away, I was eager to head out to the railroad yards the next morning.  The Woofie Monster and I haven’t even “practiced” this sled thing yet.  He claims it is in his blood, but the dog has been city living all his young life.  We need time to prepare for all day sled pulling, living in the dark, surviving severe weather and sleeping outside in extreme temperatures for three weeks during the race.  He has never even slept outside of his stupid little cage-thingy.

Apparently, the dog has attachment issues. It must be a pack thing. While he had no problem with the idea of taking off for the wild blue yonder in the Land of the Midnight Sun, but he whined like a stupid puppy when I told him he had to leave his stupid stuffed toys in Chicago.  You can’t carry a lot of accouterments when jumping trains. They get in the way and they could very well get stolen. Not all train jumpers live by The Code, especially the two legged kind.

We were headed to the yard when the dog whirled and took off down the street. Running full tilt. Man he can run, but the commands “heel” and “no” faze him just as much as it fazes me…nada. But then I’m a cat.  What excuse does he have?  Well, I never thought I’d see him again.  I wasn’t sure how I would to break this news to Cheeto.  I should not have been surprised when he said he didn’t mind as long as the dog didn’t come back to his house.  We had a good laugh over that.

photo by Jeff Schultz
But the dog did go back to the house. Apparently,  to retrieve one of his chew toys…the hedgehog. He showed up this morning, licking my face. UGH. He still wants to go to Alaska. So I guess I am off to run the Iditarod with a huskie named Rockford and his hedgehog. Better to have the dog chew on his toy than me, I guess.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Legend is Coming

I’ve been reading the interesting and in-depth biographies on the sixty nine competitors participating in this year’s Iditarod. In case you are not up to speed on the dog sledding circuit, the Iditarod is the annual dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome. Done in February.  Brrr. As a race it started in 1973 and the Goddess saw the beginning to this historic race when she was in the Army stationed at Ft. Richardson, AK. WOW, huh? But it's roots are of legends, gold mines and miners, medicine and the mighty husky.  Of the participants all are worthy of the race, but only a handful have any of a true survival travel experience that I have.  Argue all you want. This is MY blog. I’d say that the mushers from Norway and Russia and even Canada qualify and the guys from Jamaica and Brazil.  But seriously, Jamaica?  Is this on par with the county fielding a bobsled team in the winter Olympics?  There are also twelve rookies in this year’s Last Great Race.

I noticed there are no other cats entered. A real marketing loss if you ask me. I am the only brown tabby to participate. Can you imagine the media coverage if more cats were entered?  So I present here my official race bio.  I am sure it will never be posted on the official Iditarod website.

I have a dog. 

That's it! What did you expect? My race theory is "Keep it simple stupid." Travel light and travel fast. Seriously, you didn’t think I've ever been on a dog sled in the past, did you?  I never let details get in my way.

Speaking of traveling fast and light, I zoomed across Lake Erie and landed in Canada. The lake is not frozen solid so I navigated the perimeter to Canada. As I suspected the traveling was much easier on the less populated northern shore of the Great Lake.  I didn’t have a passport but I did have my microchip, but nobody was paying attention to a cat trot across the semi-frozen lake.  No problem reentering the US either.  If you look like you’re on rat patrol and make yourself look semi-employed in stalking ugliness, the border guards pay you no mind. Which is why we can be so abused: cat was used in smuggling drugs into a prison.

Nothing brings out the realities of travel hazards like Detroit. Fortunately, I have been following CityMoleDetroit on Twitter to get the latest updates on traffic and buzz about the city.  But why am I worried about accidents on the interstates? I am cutting through vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and railroad yards.  By the way, those yard cats are as feisty as ever.

I’ll beeline across the palm of Michigan and that puts me in Ann Arbor.  Sigh. Last time I was in this neck of the woods, I ended up in prison. Remember that? I try to keep that off my bio.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alaska Bound

Once again she has left me for Hawaii. So you know what that means? Road trip for the cat! If you have been a follower of mine on Twitter for the past few years you know I can’t stand to be left looking out the window for the next six months. Talk about cabin fever!  In the past, I have chased after her and made my way to Hawaii after I visited numerous Twitter friends across the US. The final leg of the trip, across the Pacific Ocean, was achieved when I stowed away on a cargo shipped manned by crazy Croatians.  The next year, with an official invitation in my little paws I went to the Royal Wedding and later cruised back to New York on the Queen Mary II.  And last year I blundered around the Mexican jungles looking for the answer to the mysteries of Mayan calendar. What a world-ending debacle that turned out to be.  For 2014 I have in mind to go to Russia for the Winter Olympics. In the meantime, however…

It’s North to the Future. Alaska. Land of the Midnight Sun, except in January. Or February. Or even March.  I know this seems crazy. But let’s put credit where credit is due. It was the dog from Canada. Yeah LuckyDog put this idea in my biscuit-size head.  Blame the dog is my motto.  LuckyDog lives in the great north and is learning to be a dog once again.  Lucky Dog is a rescue and resides with ten other dogs. I shudder to think of the chaos. You can follow the luckiest dog in the world at @LuckyDog on Twitter.

Alaska is a beautiful state. Goddess once lived there. She was in the Army way back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and dirt was cheap.  She still has a good old Army buddy living in Eagle River, just outside of Anchorage. He’s a pilot.  So I might stop in for I can smell the salmon.

It will be February when we arrive. All Alaskan will be in the deep grip of the dead of winter when days can’t get longer or warmer fast enough.  But nothing gets the free thriving self-sustaining spirit of Alaskans down.  They throw parties like Fur Rondy. That’s the crazy festival they have in Anchorage called Fur Rendezvous. Yup, we will be in the thick of it.

Oh, did I say we in that last paragraph?  Yes, for the first time I will not be traveling alone. It’s not my homie Phoenix. She’s called my homie for a reason. 

I need appropriate transportation on this journey and what better mode than a sled pulled by a canine?  Where do I get a willing huskie to drag me and my kittehn backpack to the 49th state? Chicago of course. After a consultation with my friend Cheeto (of @rosieandcheeto fame) he convinced and enlisted the woofie monster to join me. His name is Rockford, but he’s never called that. The goofie lug not only volunteered to accompany me but wants to participate in the Last Great Race in the World. No, not the Amazing Race. The Last Great Race. The Iditarod or as Cheeto refers to it the Idiot-rod.

I know this snap of the huskie doesn't look like he is in any condition to run the Iditarod, but I have a conditioning plan.

I got to bust out of NY and head to Chicago next week. I’m picking up a dog. Hope he can jump trains with the Yard Cats.

First leg: Seattle.

Join me on Twitter. That’s @southboundcat.