Eagle River musher makes last-minute entry to 46th Iditarod
Larry Daugherty, a two-time Iditarod contestant and oncologist at Alaska Cancer Treatment Center in Anchorage, went about his daily routine two weeks ago, unaware that he would be competing in Iditarod 2018.
“I told everyone I was not going to do it,” Daugherty said Friday evening before the ceremonial start in Anchorage.
“But I got a call from Jason Campeau,” who would not be able to run his team due to lingering effects of a concussion that inspired Daugherty to wear a helmet with the note “For Jason” on it.
The Canadian Campeau asked if Daugherty would run his team. He could hardly refuse.
Daugherty’s fascination with the Iditarod started when he was a 10-year-old and his grandma sent newspaper clippings to him about the Last Great Race.
He said, “I knew who Rick Swenson, Susan Butcher, and Libby Riddles were as a 10-year-old. She ignited that fire in me for the Iditarod and that was just never extinguished.”
Running the race remained a goal, albeit distant at times, as he grew into adulthood, picked a career, married, and started a family.
When he heard about the Fjallraven Polar, a video contest in which the winner participates in a sled dog race in the Scandinavian Arctic, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I came back from that experience really changed,” he explained.
“There’s really no other way to say it. I just wasn’t happy in Florida anymore. It just ignited the fire behind this dream and within a year I was living in Alaska and really going for the Iditarod.”
Daugherty set an undesired record in his rookie year in 2016; longest Iditarod ever run after erring 70 miles off route.
He recalls battling the tempestuous conditions in the Solomon Blowhole along the coast and enduring -70 degree weather near the Yukon River last year before finishing 44th in his second race.
With a few runs under his belt, he believes his challenges will be different now.
“I think this year the hardest part will probably be to resist the temptation to push the dogs too hard but walking that balance with being competitive,” he said.
He has run 150 miles with the team since agreeing to compete this year.
According to Daugherty, it takes about 500 miles of continuous running before the team’s chemistry truly reveals itself.
The team would be elite with Campeau, with whom the dogs are familiar, mushing them. A stranger directing them will be an adjustment for the dogs and Daugherty alike. But, he remains confident.
“Luckily, the dogs are ready,” he said with a laugh. “Jason has an excellent team but it’s a little nerve-wracking going out with a team that you haven’t trained with.”
Building trust with the dogs, and not demanding too much too early from them, will be of paramount importance to Daugherty.
“By the time we hit the coast, and there are storms and I’m asking these dogs to do these difficult things for me, they’ll do those things because they trust me,” he said.
Regardless how the race ends, Daugherty remains as drawn to the race as he was as a 10-year-old, but his desire to do this race is now grounded in experience.
“You feel a deep connection with the origins of Alaska for generations,” he said. “There are plenty of moments when you’re out there at 3 in the morning and you’re the only person around for miles, it’s bitter cold, the northern lights are overhead and you hear the pitter patter of your dogs’ feet…there’s a magic to that that speaks to my soul.”
Additionally, Daugherty will race with 300 flags attached to his sled for his charity called “Radiating Hope.” He hopes to raise awareness for his patients.
For up-to-date information about Daugherty’s progress along with other local mushers, check Iditarod.com.