Iditarod Adventure

Iditarod by Jeff Schultz
During the 2008 race, my pilot and I were in the air, flying from one checkpoint to another, when I spotted this lake, which was wind-blown and free of most of the snow that would normally be covering it. Great lines, and I hoped for a team. Sure enough, one was coming. We circled several times and attempted to time the 90 mph airplane with the 8 mph dog team to be over the top of the team. We succeeded.

Iditarod means “a far distance place” in the Alaska Native Ingalik Indian language. Halditrod was the traditional name of the river in which, in 1908, gold was discovered in a nearby tributary, and people flocked to the area and other gold-rich parts of Alaska.

With winter in most parts of Alaska lasting six months, dog teams were the only reliable mode of transportation at the time and were heavily relied upon. People traveled from village to village and supplies, including the U.S. mail, were hauled by dog teams and their drivers over various trails. The longest and most well-connected trail was the 938-mile Iditarod Trail from Seward, Alaska, to Nome.

After the airplane and snowmobile came to Alaska, the dog teams were slowly put out of business. Villages that used to have hundreds of sled dogs now had nearly none. Joe Redington Sr. was a man who loved dogs and dog mushing, as he used the dog team while homesteading in Alaska in 1948 as well as in his work for the U.S. Army recovering crashed airplanes. Seeing the decline of the dog team in Alaskan villages, Redington yearned to revitalize dog mushing.

After helping to organize a short 25-mile sled dog race in 1967, Redington was convinced that a long-distance race, over the historic Iditarod Trail, would be the way to bring back the sled dog. On the first Saturday in March of 1973, 35 mushers left Anchorage on the inaugural 1,049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to Nome.

Iditarod Today

The Iditarod race now attracts an average of 75 mushers each year and covers the same course (Anchorage to Nome) as the first race, though every other year the trail is alternated, midway, between a northern and southern route. Redington succeeded in bringing back the sled dog. The trail is 99 percent in the wilderness and runs through forests, over frozen tundra, down and across many rivers and creeks, crosses two mountain ranges and passes over hundreds of miles of sea ice.

Race rules stipulate mushers begin with 12 to 16 dogs. Dogs may be dropped along the way, but no new ones may be added, and the musher must finish with at least five dogs. Mushers may have no outside assistance at any time during the race and must check in at each of the 22 checkpoints to have their dogs examined by a team of veterinarians. Mushers send supplies and dog food to each of the checkpoints prior to the race start. The winner will finish the thousand miles in eight days, and the last musher, some five or so days later.

Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey by Jeff Schultz
Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey checks the time on his watch shortly after leaving the checkpoint at the village of Ruby. Mackey is shown here on the Yukon River near some very large cliffs. Using a telephoto lens, the background and dog team were compressed.

If you’ve ever wondered just how tough it is to be an Iditarod musher, consider this: More people have summited Mt. Everest than have completed the Iditarod.

How I Became Iditarod’s Photographer

In 1980, at age 20, I was shooting weddings and portraits in Anchorage. I had never heard about the Iditarod, until one day when I was fortunate to meet Redington and asked him if I could make his portrait. Joe was a most avid photographer, and on that first day meeting him I was simply fascinated by his life and the Iditarod as he showed me hundreds of Kodachrome images of his early homesteading and dog mushing adventures.

Joe wanted to get everyone who he could involved in the Iditarod, and after the portrait shoot he asked me if I wanted to take one of his dog teams to Nome. I politely declined, and he shot back with, “Well, then come take pictures for us.” And so I did.

For the 1981 race, I found a private pilot who was willing to fly me along the trail if I paid for the gas and oil for the plane. My $500 budget only got me as far as halfway through the race. I processed the images and donated over a hundred black-and-white prints to the non-profit Race Committee.

A couple months later, they called and said, “If you want to donate your photos again next year, we’ll pay for your gas and oil and food, and you can sleep with the other volunteers and be one of our official photographers.” I agreed, and that’s the premise that we still work under today. I’m one of the thousands of volunteers who help put on the race each year.

The first couple years I photographed the race, I had absolutely no idea of what I was doing or how to do it. I just went out and shot, waited around and shot some more when something happened. Or I missed the shot. Or I heard from a musher, “You should have been where I was a couple hours ago.” I tried, and I learned.

Iditarod by Jeff Schultz
As I flew between checkpoints during the 2016 race, we spotted open water from a creek. During one of those out-of-the-ordinary trail conditions, we landed and waited for a team. Most dogs don’t like to cross open water because they don’t know how deep it is. The musher convinced the dogs to cross the first stretch, and then they balked again at the next. This is one of those unique images that has me coming back each year.

Then, after having traveled the trail a few times, I began to understand the players better and really got to see the terrain, the various checkpoints and the like. I started to devise actual “plans” ahead of time regarding where I might want to be to get more of the unique shots. But planning out a 10-day photo shoot over a 1,000-mile course of wilderness, with no guarantee of flyable weather and not knowing whether or not I’d be able to actually get to some of the places I saw previously, made it really a logistical nightmare. My plans were more often thwarted than successful.

Now, after 36 consecutive years of covering the race, and the digital age upon us, logistics are still mostly unpredictable but a bit easier, and I am certainly more relaxed about it.

Photographing The Iditarod Adventure

My main mode of transportation is the Alaska bush plane. The race committee dedicates a pilot of my choosing to me. We fly in a 4-person Cessna 185 airplane. Over the 36 years, I’ve had three main pilots, interspersed with years where I had to use several pilots for the trip. After a life-and-death plane crash in 1992 while covering the race, I’m looking for a very experienced and safe pilot as well as one who can fly the plane in a way that allows me to make good aerial photos. Not all pilots can do all three well.

With no roads along the trail, we typically fly from checkpoint to checkpoint. While flying, I’m always on the lookout for something unique about the trail that would tell the story of this year’s race, something different than a snowy path to Nome. It might be a challenging area for the team to negotiate or a treacherous-looking section, or one with great beauty or just somehow photographically different from what I’ve shot in the past. When I spot one, there is hopefully a dog team nearby.

By the second day of the race, the 75 or so dog teams are spread out over hundreds of miles. It would not be unusual for me to wait hours for a team to show up at any particular point. So it’s a real advantage to know just where the mushers are. Depending on the scene I find, and where the dog team is on the trail, we may land the plane nearby on a river, lake or open area for a ground-based image, or make a few passes of the team to make an aerial shot. As we approach a checkpoint, I’m even more interested in finding that unique perspective on the area from which to shoot, and also looking if a team will be arriving soon.

Once we land at a checkpoint, if I noticed a good scene or a team on the way in, I will usually borrow or rent a snowmachine (the Alaskan word for snowmobile) from a village resident and drive on the race course a few miles or more to wait at that location for a team to come by.

Iditarod by Jeff Schultz
Fabrizio Lovati travels on the trail just prior to the Finger Lake checkpoint during the 2008 Iditarod. After photographing the race for so many years, I am constantly looking for a new angle. Such was the case here. I hired a guide to take me by snowmobile and, with the musher’s permission, we “paced” the team for a mile or so with me sitting facing backward and shooting the team as it traveled.

When I find an interesting part of the trail, I attempt to make the most of it and the dog team that is heading toward me. I may not get another shot at a team in that same area. In doing so, I’ll look for a vantage point that allows me both a telephoto shot, as well as a wide-angle view, and pre-visualize the shots. Sometimes that does not work and I only get one view of the team.

With the race course stretched over 1,000 miles, there is certainly diversity in the terrain, but at the same time, there is a lot of the same thing. Miles and miles of nothing. But even that can be beautiful with the right conditions. Shooting the same race, over the same course, for so many years, it’s sometimes difficult to find inspiration and a new perspective. At times it’s hard for me to get motivated to shoot the same thing in the same place as previous years.

There is one section of the trail that suits my taste best and that I can photograph over and over again. That is the 65 miles of trail from the Finger Lake Checkpoint to the Rainy Pass checkpoint and up and over the Alaska Range, to the Rohn Checkpoint. I love this area because I so enjoy juxtaposing the small dog team against the massive looming mountains that encompass it. This is an expanse where I typically spend two or more full days. Most years I will hire a local guide to take me by snowmachine the 35 miles from the Rainy Pass checkpoint, up at over the 3,022-foot summit of Rainy Pass to Rohn. We may even spend the night in a small hunting cabin near the summit.

The checkpoints of the Iditarod range from primitive tent-camps set up just for the race by the Trail Committee, to a few old cabins in a ghost town or, most common, an Alaska Native village of 150-250 people. During the race, these villages are a buzz of activity from the scores of race volunteers (trail breakers, veterinarians, checkers and communication personnel) flown in for the race and the locals who also volunteer. Iditarod is known as the Mardi Gras of the North.

At the checkpoints, I edit and caption the images, then turn them over to my volunteer assistant, who processes the images and uploads them to the Iditarod website and social media. While that is taking place, I am out shooting more at the checkpoint.

Iditarod Gear & Preparations

The weather in Alaska of is oftentimes unpredictable, and in the winter it can be most unforgiving and brutal. During my years chronicling the race I’ve seen 40 degrees above zero and rain, 60 degrees below zero and clear, winds to 60 mph, and everything in between. A typical race will have temperatures from 20 above zero to 25 or 30 below zero for a few days. There’s been years where there was not a cloud in the sky for the entire race, and other years where snow and wind wreak havoc on the flying transportation, grounding the volunteer Iditarod Air Force for days. The reliable dog teams still move easily—it’s just the people following the race in planes who are stuck.

Iditarod by Jeff Schultz
At the race start, mushers transport their dogs in these custom-made dog boxes on the back of pickup trucks. Some dog boxes allow the dog to stick their head out, which oftentimes makes for a compelling and cute image, like this photo of musher Tim Osmar’s dog Bonnie.

Because we’re in a small plane and weight is an issue, I pack as lightly and compactly as I can while still having enough gear to be comfortable outdoors for hours at a time at those sub-zero temps. I carry only one duffle bag of spare clothes, adding layers to what I already have on as the temps drop.

For me, if my feet are warm, then for the most part, I’m warm. So I wear one pair of really sturdy boots on the trail, a pair of Cabela’s Trans-Alaska boots. They have 3 inches of material between the ground and my foot, plus good insulation. I’ve never had cold feet in them. Of course, I must be able to use my hands to operate the cameras even at those cold temperatures. My preference is to wear gloves made of wind-stopping material for shooting, and if necessary put them inside large mittens when not.

My everyday assignment and stock photo cameras are Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 7D Mark II bodies. But for the Iditarod, using Canon’s Professional Service, I borrow two EOS-1D X Mark II bodies. These bodies are perfect for the Iditarod for four main reasons: the low-noise, high-ISO capabilities are fantastic; the 12 fps motor drive works wonderfully with the fast-moving dogs; the high-power NiCad batteries last a long time in the cold; and, my very most favorite feature of the 1D X Mark II, the ability to embed a sound recording in the image file. This feature is unbelievably useful, allowing me to speak the caption, including spelling of a person’s name, and have this saved with the image. That feature alone is worth using this camera—writing peoples’ names onto paper in sub-zero temps is hard enough, but then trying to match the images and caption later is a time waster.

My lens selection includes the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM and the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. I am always shooting with two bodies: one with a wide-angle lens and the other with a telephoto.

Planning An Iditarod Trip

For those who would want to experience the adventure of Alaska’s Iditarod and capture it with images, there are a number of options to consider. As mentioned, the race course has no roads connecting the checkpoints, making air travel a necessity.

For the first-time visitor, photographing in Anchorage during the Saturday ceremonial start, again at Willow on Sunday for the restart, and then some eight days later at the finish in Nome is by far the easier and least-expensive way to make images of a lot of dog teams over a short period of time. It’s easy enough to fly a commercial airline to these places, find the race route, rent a car, and stop along the trail to photograph. One does not need any special permission or experience to watch and photograph the race.

Iditarod by Jeff Schultz
Wade Marrs on the trail along Pass Creek in the Alaska Range after leaving the Rainy Pass Checkpoint on the way to Rohn during Iditarod 2016. Traveling by snowmobile the 30 miles from the Rainy Pass checkpoint to the Rohn checkpoint, I spotted this vantage point from below. My guide and I had spent nearly 45 minutes waiting on teams to come by. Two came during that time, and then the weather began to clear to the west. Thinking the sun might just light up the sky, we waited on another team. Sure enough, the sky opened, the sun lit the clouds from below, and a musher came by at just the right time.

Getting out onto the trail where some of the more scenic and better photography can be found is a bit more involved. While not cheap ($4,000 to $12,000), there are a number of bush plane air-taxi services (see sidebar, below) that offer clients a seat on one of their three- to seven-passenger ski planes as part of a tour package to “chase the race.” One of the better ways to see and experience the Iditarod, these packages will take care of finding accommodations along the trail and fly out each day from one of the larger villages to view and photograph the dog teams, stopping at the smaller checkpoints.

Iditarod Travel Resources

Iditarod Air Taxis
• Sky Trekking Alaska, skytrekkingalaska.com
• Rust’s Flying Service, flyrusts.com
• Sheldon Air Service, sheldonairservice.com
• Talkeetna Air Taxi, talkeetnaair.com
• Regal Air, regal-air.com
• Ultima Thule, ultimathulelodge.com

Iditarod Tour Operators
• Iditarod Tours, iditarodtours.com
• Planet Earth Adventures, discoverak.com

Some of the more boutique air taxis will even stay with you and guide you to the smaller checkpoints, where the accommodations are a bit more primitive, like sleeping on the floor of the local school. This is by far the best way to get better photos and to immerse oneself in the spirit of the Iditarod. Some of these air taxis also offer less-expensive day trips from Anchorage during the first day or two of the race.

While not as intimate as a tour with one of the air taxis, there are a small number of tour operators who organize Iditarod trips using commercial airlines. These, too, can be a good way to experience the Iditarod.

For the photographer who wants the ultimate Iditarod adventure, consider hiring a personal pilot with a lot of Iditarod experience. It will be just you and the pilot in an even smaller plane, able to land in many more places along the trail to get more intimate images.


Jeff Schultz has been the official photographer of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race since 1982. See more of his work at schultzphoto.com.

The post Iditarod Adventure appeared first on Outdoor Photographer.

7 resources to build and design better sites

Milligram

A lightweight CSS framework that provides a minimal setup of styles for a fast and clean starting point. It is specially designed for better performance with fewer properties to reset, resulting in cleaner code. The framework has a host of download options. It can be installed with Bower, npm and is also available via a CDN.


Shave

If you need to truncate text to fit into an HTML element, this neat little JavaScript plug-in is ideal for the job. Plus, it hides and keeps the original text intact.


Sprite Spirit

An easy and quick way to add animation to a sprite. Drag in the sprite(s) and generate the code. Users can change the direction, width, height and duration.


Yarn

Yarn is a new kid on the block. Billed as ‘a package manager for your code’, it allows you to use and share code with other developers from around the world. It claims to do this quickly, securely and reliably so you don’t ever have to worry. Use other developers’ solutions to different problems, making it easier for you to develop your software.


Hero patterns

Not code patterns but a collection of repeatable SVG background patterns for use in your projects. Ideal as they do not lose clarity.


jpeg.io

This neat little online utility Converts any major image format into a highly optimized JPEG. Offers support for png, svg, eps, tiff and psd.


Web Bloat Score Calculator

Everyone likes a fast-loading page, especially users. Removing bloat is one way to slim down page size. Use this tool to find out where the bloat is.

Tech Lover’s Valentine’s Day Gift Guide

The days of traditional Valentines gifts are under threat because you can now express your love in a multitude of high-tech ways. If you take your time finding the right present for your loved-one, they will be able to enjoy it for a long time to come and potentially remember the sentiment behind it every day. Flowers are wonderful and are close to magical in the eyes of some, but time passes and they die. Chocolates taste good for only a few seconds and so we are aiming to make Valentine’s Day gifts something that will last for much longer and the fact that they are extremely clever or high-tech does not mean that they are any less romantic. We hope to offer you some inspiration and with some careful consideration, you may be able to find the perfect gift that shows how you feel and which is also useful and memorable in a modern romantic way. Love is expressed every day in many different ways so why not express your emotions with a carefully considered gadget? It’s 2017 after all.

A truly smart-looking smartwatch

This classy looking dress watch will suit any arm and goes well with casual or smart clothing. Despite the size of the watch, it’s design is somewhat genderless and because the trend is moving towards bigger watches it really can be suitable for anyone who deserves a special Valentine’s Day. Underneath the modern styling is some clever Bluetooth technology that connects to any smart phone running the Casio Watch+ app and which is capable of many useful things. You can receive email alerts directly to the watch in the subtlest of ways. The World Time dial can be set up from your phone and you can also set alarms and change other settings without touching the watch. On the other hand, if you lose your phone, the watch will help you to find it immediately. It’s not obviously romantic, but it will be a treasured and emotional gift to receive.

The Casio Ediface costs £325/ $410. For more info, visit casio-europe.com

A romantic photo experience

What can be more romantic than picking up an authentic feeling camera from the past, using real film and snapping the person you love? The I-1 Analog Instant Camera is designed for this exact purpose, but it can also take advantage of an app which lets you control shutter speed and aperture as well as some useful creative tools. It is the perfect balance between old and new photography and may help strike the perfect balance in your relationship as well. We should also mention that it is a beautiful thing to just look at when not in use.

The I-1 Analog Instant Camera costs £300/ $360. For more information, visit impossible-project.com

The perfect way to listen to love songs

Music should be enjoyed in the best possible environment and the AKG K92 headphones are the perfect choice to give to anyone who has a musical bent. They are ultra-stylish, eliminate background noise extremely well and are so comfortable that you will not even realise you are wearing them. Add to this a price that defies logic and we are looking at one of the best value headphones you can buy today. Indeed, the quality is so good that they are perfect for cosy evenings in with a hot chocolate and a selection of your favourite slow love songs.

AKG K92 headphones cost £50/$65. For more information, visit akg.com

Read as many romantic novels as you want

Books are given as gifts all of the time and the right title can be perfect for Valentine’s Day because it will show that you understand your partner. You could also give the gift of a Kindle and give them the ability to carry thousands of books anywhere they want to and they will also be able to enjoy reading in a way that feels much more traditional than reading from a backlit screen. Amazon has nailed the digital reading experience and with weeks of battery life included as well, it really is a strangely romantic choice.

The Amazon Kindle costs £60/$80. For more information, visit amazon.com

Take better couple selfies with this drone

The Breeze 4K will let you explore places in ways that you never imagined before. You can capture you and your partner in a romantic pose from above and you can both have fun flying it and marvelling at the quality of the video it can grab from seemingly impossible angles. Drones are not normally considered to be an object of love, but when you both start to appreciate the abilities of the Breeze 4K, you will have a new shared interest to help you pass the time together. It is a surprisingly absorbing and fun gadget for couples.

The Breeze 4K costs £320/$400. For more information, visit yuneec.com

Love your retro gaming?

The Nintendo Classic Mini is a highly sought after item that offers a genuine retro game experience from a device that you can fit in your hand. The included controller is an exact replica of the original and with 30 games included, all you need to do is buy another controller and you and your partner can share your love of gaming all over again. Everything is original and the pixel perfect games will take you back to a time when gaming was tough and when everything seemed more engaging in spite of the simplistic graphical elements.

The Nintendo Classic Mini costs £50/$60. For more information, visit nintendo.com

Get a 120-inch home cinema screen

A cosy evening reliving that special holiday or even your wedding day would not feel the same when watching the home movies on a phone. The RIF6 CUBE handily solves this problem by displaying your memories up to 120 inches, making it an incredibly small projector that is capable of big things. The bright bulb will survive for more than 20,000 hours, 90 minutes of life is available from one charge and you can even use it for gaming in place of a dedicated console. It is one of the most flexible and useful mobile gadgets we have seen.

The RIF6 Cube costs £240/$300. For more information, visit rif6.com

The record player that sounds as good as it looks

There is little doubt that music when played on vinyl offers a crispness and depth that is not found on technically better platforms. Certain genres of music suit the sound it provides best and just like photos taken with a traditional filter, the personality comes out in every note and every line. The ProJect VT-E takes this further by offering a vertical turntable that can either be stood up or mounted on a wall, making it something wonderful to look at as well as to listen to. Sound quality is quite superb and at no point is there a sense that this is a product jumping on the recent revival of vinyl. It’s authentic, very well made and perfect for those times when you both just want to sit down, relax and enjoy some classic tunes from the days when vinyl was the king of the music hill.

The ProJect VT-E costs £270/$350. For more information, visit project-audio.com

This is an extract from a feature that appeared in Gadget issue 18, available to buy now.

The new Yoga A12 tablet has an on-demand keyboard

Last year, Lenovo released its ultra-thin, dual-screen tablet Yoga Book which was available with Windows or Android and allowed you to take notes or draw with a real-ink stylus. This year, it’s dispensed with the pen yet retained the slim styling in the expectation its new lightweight Yoga A12 is going to fly off the shelves.

Although this fresh, lower-cost model has a larger, 12.2-inch HD screen, it opens to just 5.4mm at its slimmest edge and weighs in at less than a kilogram. It uses a modified version of Android that allows you to multitask over three columns while flipping between a laptop and tablet with the utmost ease, thanks to its 360-degree hinge.

But it’s the entirely flat, touch-screen Halo keyboard which will amaze you the most. Activated when needed, it’s the same as that of the Yoga Book yet it is fully finger-driven. The unraised keys give haptic feedback as you bash away, while built-in predictive and AI software figures out your typing habits so that your wordsmith sessions become that much faster.

In many ways, it shows how the productivity landscape is changing: you don’t necessarily need Windows or macOS to make light work of those tasks these days. Even better, while Yoga A12 is more akin to a Chromebook than a powerhouse laptop, at $299 (around £240), it proves tech innovation doesn’t always have to cost the earth.

Bring your LEGO bricks to life with a Boost

Earlier this year, Lego was said to have built itself into the world’s most powerful brand and it doesn’t appear ready to be knocked from its towering position any time soon. It has unveiled Lego Boost, a new 843-brick kit aimed at seven to 12-year-olds which lets you create a host of cool, programmable robots.

Set to come with a Bluetooth LE-enabled Move Hub that has an integrated tilt sensor as well as motors and a colour-distance sensor, you’ll be able to build five hi-tech models. These include a robot called Vince, a playable electric guitar, an interactive meowing cat, a bulldozer and, perhaps most intriguing, an autobuilder which actually constructs small Lego models for you.

Unlike Lego’s current, more advanced, robot-builder, Mindstorms, Boost will utilise the ordinary iconic bricks that are found in most kids’ cupboards. The creations can then be brought to life using a simple, easily-learned drag-and-drop coding language that is similar to Scratch. This will be integrated within a free app for Android and iOS and there will have more than 60 activities to try.

With sound and light capabilities as well as the potential for open-ended creation, Lego is hoping the set will encourage a new generation of robotic enthusiasts and coders. Launching in August and costing $160 (UK pricing has yet to be announced),  it’s certainly looking to be good value for money.