Friends of Talkeetna dog musher Melanie Gould say the Iditarod veteran disappeared this week, alarming neighbors and co-workers who were searching for her Friday by foot, by automobile and with aircraft.
Gould, 34, left the Talkeetna Roadhouse after work Monday afternoon. The last time anyone saw her was Tuesday at the Tangle River Inn along the Denali Highway, her friend and fellow musher Heidi Sutter said.
"She had a cheeseburger there, and after that it sounds like she hasn't been seen again," Sutter said Friday by radio phone from the MacLaren River Lodge, about 20 miles west of the Tangle River Inn.
Alaska State Troopers do not suspect foul play and say they have no reason to believe Gould is in danger.
Troopers confirmed Gould had been at two locations in the past two days, said spokeswoman Megan Peters. Peters declined to say where or when Gould was seen or why troopers believe she's OK. "She's an adult and entitled to her privacy," Peters said.
Friends said the musher would sometimes leave Talkeetna on short notice. But this time Gould left behind her sled dog team and her canine hiking companion, Jane, said Amanda Randles, another friend.
"She would never leave her dogs," Randles said. Sometimes when Gould is having a hard time, she takes off, she said.
"But she tells her work, and she takes the dogs or gotten somebody to watch them," Randles said.
A Talkeetna trooper, Sgt. Troy Shuey, said there are no signs "anything bad has happened" to the musher.
"We don't have any indications she wanted to hurt herself or anything like that," he said.
Still, friends have been alarmed ever since Gould failed to show up at work at the Roadhouse on Tuesday. She also did not appear at her job at a bakery Wednesday, said Talkeetna Roadhouse owner Trisha Costello.
Missing work without notice is unusual for Gould, Costello said, but what worried friends most is that the musher left her kennel of about a dozen dogs.
The musher's friends held a meeting at 3 p.m. Friday at Talkeetna Elementary to plan a search. Meantime, a Facebook page titled "Have You Seen Melanie Gould" rapidly gained more than 300 fans.
After the meeting, searchers set out to walk trails, drive local roads and state highways and post fliers. Pilots and spotters in three planes and a helicopter had joined the search by Friday night.
Sutter, who filed a missing persons report with Alaska State Troopers, said Gould's disappearance is mysterious.
"As a dog musher, if you're going somewhere overnight, the dogs are fine if you're coming back the next day," Sutter said. "But if you leave your dogs and no one knows what's going on ... that is just extremely unheard of for any dog musher to do that."
Friends are taking care of the dogs, Sutter said.
Gould might have driven north to Cantwell or the Denali Highway area, she said. Helicopters already planning to fly in the Denali Highway area were asked to do wide sweeps Friday morning to look for Gould's truck, Sutter said.
Gould drives a light-blue or silver-and-blue Toyota pickup with either a sled dog box or a topper over the bed, according to a flier printed by the Talkeetna Roadhouse.
Gould stands 5 feet, 9 inches tall, has blond hair and blue eyes, and weighs about 145 pounds.
Friends are asking anyone with information on Gould's whereabouts to call Talkeetna troopers at 907-733-2256.
While troopers have found no evidence of foul play in Gould's disappearance from Talkeetna, they still wanted to talk to her to make sure she's OK, Peters said. "We understand that people are concerned for her."
Gould competed in seven Iditarods, beginning in 2000. She steadily improved from a 64th-place finish her rookie year to placing 18th in 2006. Gould scratched in 2007 after a crash destroyed her sled, according to reports at the time.
By CASEY GROVE and KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News