Working in his father's print shop for the past two decades, Lance Barve was always asked the question.
When you gonna do it Lance? When you gonna run the Iditarod?
The question burned when he heard it. He'd get around to it, someday.
As the son of former Iditarod musher Lavon Barve, Lance practically grew up on a dog sled. And, after twice winning the Junior Iditarod (1985-86) when he was a teenager, it seemed only natural Lance would follow in his father's footsteps and run the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.
But the dreams of youth are put on hold for a variety of reasons -- a job, marriage, money, or just realizing they are unrealistic. For many, those dreams fade away, destined to become nothing but a memory. For others, a regret.
Barve's Iditarod dream took a back seat to life. Wary of the money pit that is competitive dog mushing, he buried the dream, believing he would get around to it some day. Instead, he traveled the country, went to work in his father's Wasilla print shop, married and began raising a family.
"It was always in the back of my mind," Barve said.
Barve always knew he'd run the Iditarod. He trained for most of his youth with his father, a veteran of the race since 1975 and past president of the Iditarod Trail Committee. Lance began mushing before he could walk, accompanying his father on the sled. He trained his father's dogs, served as handler at all his races and flew to checkpoints to follow his results.
Lavon vouched for his son's abilities as a trainer. In 1985, when Lavon placed 10th in the Iditarod, Lance trained one of the leaders.
"When Lance worked with me was when I had my best teams," he said.
After placing second twice, Lance became the second musher to win back-to-back Junior Iditarods. He had the advantage of using his dad's Iditarod-tested dogs, but Lavon said his son earned those victories.
"I said if you train, you can run the Junior Iditarod," Lavon said. "If you don't train, don't run. He put in 2,000 miles training for that race."
But Barve lost the lure of mushing when he realized its financial burden. He was unwilling to mortgage his family's quality of life so he could run dogs. Nor was he willing to go hat in hand seeking the necessary sponsorships.
He learned only too well watching his father, a musher of 35 years who gave it up in 1997 to pursue work in ministries.
"I've won $200,000 mushing dogs," Lavon said. "But I've spent $500,000 doing it."
Lance said he's seen numerous mushers promised sponsorships, only to get burned later.
"To be a competitive musher in this day and age, somebody has to step forward and give you a blank check," he said. "Or you have to work in a business that allows you to take off the winter months."
But despite his wariness, Barve couldn't give up the dream. Meeting his second wife Pam proved to be the first blessing that led him back.
"She told me, 'I come with three children and 10 sled dogs,' " Barve joked. "Well, I couldn't handle having dogs not be in races."
Barve has three children from his marriage to his first wife, who died four years ago.
His second blessing was watching lifelong friend and fellow musher Lance Mackey of Kasilof chase his own Iditarod dream. Mackey, the son of Iditarod champion Dick Mackey and brother of champion Rick, recently recovered from cancer. After scratching in last year's Iditarod, he plans to return to run the race next year.
As teens, the two Lances trained and competed against each other and made plans to conquer the mushing world.
"But you know how it is. You have dreams as teenagers, and they always fall through," Mackey said. "But actually, they just took a back seat for awhile."
Mackey saw Barve while running the Copper Basin several years ago, and the envy on his old friend's face was easy to read.
"He saw his best buddy doing it, and he had to sit and watch," Mackey said. "That started his little adventure."
So now, at 34, 17 years after his victory in the Junior Iditarod, Barve is perhaps the most experienced rookie in the 2003 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. But as Barve was quick to point out, his knowledge is dated. He knows little of modern supplement use or of current dog-handling techniques.
Much of his gear is hand-me-down from his father and other mushers -- lines, harnesses, booties. Nothing wrong with the gear, but styles change. At the Knik 200 last year, Lance said he drew glances.
"Yeah, people were saying, 'He's definitely still back in the '80s,' " he said. "I was using an old toboggan sled. Stiff as heck."
But in one important area, Barve feels confident as anyone.
"I don't feel many people can ride a sled like I can," he said. "I was raised on a dog sled."
This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Ron Wilmot. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.