Iron Dog racers spend countless hours preparing for and riding in the 2,000-mile snowmachine race -- the world's longest. It's also hard on their wives, but for former Alaska Gov. and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin it's part of the routine.
"It's stay out of the way," Palin said as her husband Todd Palin and his Iron Dog teammate, Eric Quam, worked on their sleds on a blustery Wednesday night in Nome. "Those who are closest to these guys know what they need to do."
Spousal support at the Iron Dog is more than just a happy wife cheering her husband on from the sidelines. At the Iron Dog, a race from Anchorage to Fairbanks with a stop in Nome, where average speeds can approach 80 mph on ice-covered rivers in Alaska's remote Interior, spousal support means trekking to Nome for the halfway festivities -- sometimes with snowmachine parts in hand.
A half-dozen race wives were on hand when racer Marc McKenna, half of the first two-person team to make it to Nome -- earning $10,000 in gold -- told reporters to give him a minute so he could give his daughter a kiss and hug as he got off his sled.
"It's a big family tradition," Palin said, holding her cell phone to shoot some video of her husband working on Quam's sled. "The whole family will road-trip up to Fairbanks for the finish."
The realities of the race are year-round, according to Palin, who says Todd spends thousands of hours on mechanical preparations in the spring and summer, and thousands more getting his body used to the rigors of riding in preparation for the race that he started competing in 18 years ago.
"It's their thing," Palin said. "They're in their element out there."
Their element is often brutally cold, and dependent on whatever Mother Nature's whim happens to be year to year. Last year she was frugal with the snow, and there were long sections of muddy trail to navigate. This year there's more than enough snow, and riders are plowing through with no real certainty of where the trail is.
"It's takes a different breed of cat to be out there in this," Palin said.
Whatever it takes, the Iron Dog certainly attracts people with a penchant for overcoming tough situations.
"They're out there and it's 70 below sometimes, pitch black and they're on a frozen river fixing a sled," Palin said. "But these guys can do that."
Todd Palin and Quam, currently in third place, finished their sled repairs and moved on to help Todd's former race partner Scott Davis, who is riding with his son Cory Davis this year.
"I look at the life lessons in this race," Sarah Palin said. "They will do anything to help each other out, but they have an extremely healthy competition with each other."
The city shop in Nome, with dozens of snowmachines parked inside, seemed to amplify her words as race competitors handed each other wrenches and made repair suggestions.
"When they finish the race, it takes only a week before they're on the phone to each other talking about next year's race." Palin said.
The men of the 2011 Iron Dog wore the dust and grease of the Nome city shop on their shirts and had bloody knuckles to show from all the wrenching going on Wednesday night, and yet this part is easy in comparison with the rest of the race.
"I think these guys are the toughest men on the planet," Palin said. "Girly men don't ride the Iron Dog."
Contact Tim Akimoff at firstname.lastname@example.org