Doug Ruzicka and his dog, Happy, introduced Stanfield Elementary School students to the great frontier of Alaska Friday morning during a school assembly.
Ruzicka of Anchor Point, Alaska, and of Mush Husky, an Alaskan wilderness dog sled expedition business, visited Stanfield Elementary to talk about the climate, geography, culture, history, lifestyle and dog sledding of Alaska.
MushHusky! visits 12-13 states per year including 200 schools. Ruzicka told the students about Kodiak bears that stand as tall as the basketball hoop in their gym. He also talked about the history of dog sledding using the movie "Balto" to illustrate the tragedy of the diphtheria epidemic and the need to get medicine to remote areas accessible only by dog sled.
"It's a little too early to talk about snow here, but in Alaska we've already had our first and second freezes," Ruzicka said. "The dog sled guys are already getting their dogs ready for the upcoming season."
Ruzicka brought not only his dog, but his sled and his gear to explain dog sledding in Alaska. His gear includes outer wear designed to withstand the freezing temperatures of Alaska.
"How cold is 50 degrees below zero - if you spit it freezes before it hits the ground," Ruzicka said. "Your skin can freeze in 60 seconds."
The musher rides on the sled or runs with his sled and dog team. Some dogs will run five miles per day and the musher will run or walk at least two of the five miles.
"We don't really say 'mush,' to get the dogs to go," Ruzicka said. "Our favorites are words like, 'hike,' or 'go dogs.' My favorite is 'OK dogs let's go."
Ruzicka likes to use a "good old fashioned," wooden sled. He explained how the musher stands on the sled and that you never, ever let go.
"You'll fall off," he said. "You're dogs will not stop, they love to go. Everything you need to stay alive is on that sled - food, clothes - it's very important to stay with your sled."
His gear includes, snow shoes, a cooker, cookpot, ax and warm clothing.
"You have to dress warm, lots of layers of clothes," Ruzicka said.
Your feet, ears, face, hands and back of neck must be protected from frostbite.
"I wear a beard, not only does it make me look really good, it helps insulate my face," Ruzicka said. "All my friends wear beards, even some of the ladies."
He went through his outer gear from his Anorak to his fur-lined mittens and insulated snow boots.
"All good mittens have fur on the back," he said. "When out on the trail you get a runny nose - snot icicles. You can't jump off and look for a hanky. The fur on the back makes an instant hankie. When this hand gets dirty, you always have the second."
Ruzicka introduced Happy to the children. He is one of 24 dogs Ruzicka owns.