“You did it with snowshoes, you did it with an ax, you did it however you could.” That was the first thing Joe May told us as he talked about the early years of racing in the Iditarod. Joe drove his Fiat to Alaska in 1975 “sick in body and sick in the head” and made a life for himself here. He built his cabin by hand and settled in. At some point he acquired some dogs and ran a trap line. His dogs were fast and could go long distances. It was Dick Mackey who talked him into racing the Iditarod. Joe made his sled out of plywood and he made everything else he needed on the trail. What an adventure!
Joe is definitely old school. Some of the new ways don’t sit right with him and he would like to preserve the history and true meaning of the race. There were about 30 of us in the room while Joe spoke and you could have heard a pin drop. As teachers who respect the Iditarod, we could understand his message.
The Iditarod will move ahead. We, as teachers of the lower 48, would not be able to follow the race as closely as we do without the technology. More mandatory items have been added to the race since Joe May’s time and more rules have been put in place to protect the mushers and protect the dogs. Time moves on, but history is preserved thanks to people like Joe May who continue spread the message.