The bison needed to poop, and it wasn't about to move aside for an Iditarod team

TAKOTNA — DeeDee Jonrowe pulled into the checkpoint here Wednesday with a story to tell -- about a big, woolly bison defecating on the trail that terrified her sled dog team.

It all started the day before, she said, when she left the Rohn checkpoint with 15 dogs, fresh off an eight-hour rest. Only a few minutes out, the dogs stopped. A bison stood apparently unruffled in the middle of the trail as Jonrowe's dogs barked and jumped.

"And he was pooping," Jonrowe said.

She pushed her sled's metal hook into the ground so the dogs couldn't flee.

"He pooped for about 20 minutes, and finally he just meandered away."

Jonrowe recounted the saga as she pulled pink jackets for her dogs from a sack, several hours into her mandatory 24-hour rest. After the bison moved out of sight, she pulled out her hook and mushed on -- but only for a bit.

"I went around the corner, and there he is pooping still," she said.


Jonrowe said she couldn't stop her dogs in time and they ran up alongside the bison -- a "grumpy, single bull" built like a "Mack truck." The bison put its head down, turned around and plowed into the team, stomping its feet. The dogs bolted into the nearby brush, she said.

"They didn't get hurt, which was unbelievable," Jonrowe said.

The bison went back to his business. Which, yes, meant "he kept on pooping," she said.

After about 45 minutes, the bison sauntered off the trail and Jonrowe's team rushed past in a tangle.

Jonrowe, who stands 5-foot-1 and has started more than 30 Iditarod races, said she was worried mostly for her dogs during the encounter. For miles afterward, they "freaked out" at anything that smelled like bison -- even a bunch of roots, she said.

She believes the bison, which could have killed her or her dogs, was pulling a "macho man bluff."

"So that was my big adventure," she said. "Wearing runners out and breaking pieces of the sled, that's not unusual on that stretch of trail.

"But that buffalo? For me? Three decades later, that's my first encounter."

In 1965, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game transplanted bison to the area -- nicknamed the Farewell Burn after a fire decades ago. The bison thrived and have had run-ins with mushers before, including with Aliy Zirkle in 2002.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.