Call it the Alaskan Dream.
You pack up the truck with everything you own, like modern-day pioneers in covered wagons, and hit the road, leaving normal society -- the Lower 48 -- behind. Dreams of adventure, freedom, mountains, fish and dogs pull you along.
That part of the vision doesn't apply to everyone, but several green mushers in the Klondike 300 Sled Dog Race are living out their wildest fantasies. They've come to Alaska from climates as hot and humid as Georgia and as cold and dark as Maine to feed their mushing addiction. Doing it in the place to mush leaves them giddy.
''I moved here four years ago from Maine just to run dogs,'' said Willow resident Peter Bartlett, 27. ''I brought my truck and seven dogs. I didn't know anybody.''
One of the first people he met was the late Joe Redington Sr. Bartlett lived then near Redington in Knik, and the Father of the Iditarod nurtured his interest in mushing, even giving Bartlett a 10-month old puppy. Now Sting is Bartlett's lead dog as he prepares for his first Iditarod.
''He reminds you of Joe,'' Bartlett said. ''Just a tough little guy. Tough as nails.''
Bartlett met his future wife, Therese, when she was a handler for 1985 Iditarod champion Libby Riddles, who also lived near Redington. Now the couple resides in Willow, where they raise their dogs.
The Klondike 300 was the first big race for Houston musher Doug Wurzelbacher. Originally from Pennsylvania, the 25-year-old Wurzelbacher moved to Alaska after working with a tour company that mushed dogs in Lake Tahoe. He wanted a taste of the real thing.
''It was too warm and the season was too short,'' he said. ''I came up here to get some quality time on the trail with the dogs.''
As he spoke he ladled a brown, soupy broth with liver and beef into plastic bowls for his dog team at the Tug Bar in Knik, the first checkpoint of the race. The bearded Wurzelbacher sported a big, curly brown wig as he left the starting point early Saturday at the Call of the Wild bar on Big Lake.
''I'm just goofy,'' he said. ''You gotta liven it up a little.''
''I hope to run the Iditarod in 2004, maybe 5,'' he added. ''I love it here. I thought it'd be colder, though.''
Bill Borden and his family toured the kennels of Lynda Plettner, a nine-time Iditarod veteran, during a vacation in 1997. Now Borden is preparing for his first Iditarod with a team of Plettner's dogs.
At the time Plettner was unable to find a loan in Alaska to finance her Iditarod run. Borden, a mortgage broker from Kennesaw, Ga., provided a loan that allowed Plettner back into the Iditarod for the first time in three years.
Borden plunged into the Iditarod, beginning with a sponsorship program to bring kids from the South up to Alaska for the start of the Iditarod.
''Finally, someone asked me, 'Why don't you run it?' '' he said. ''And here I am.''
Borden and his wife, Brenda, and son, Jordan, drove to Alaska in October. The family bought a house in Wasilla and plans to stay in Alaska until April to pursue mushing dreams.
Jordan, 14, also mushes and plans to run the Junior Iditarod in February. The elder Borden ran the Denali 300 last year and Knik 200 two weeks ago to qualify for the Iditarod. He didn't need to race the Klondike but was doing so because he loves mushing so much.
''It's such a blast,'' he said. ''I wanted to run this just to have fun with the dogs.''
This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Ron Wilmot. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.