Washington woman ready for Iditarod

Fresh off top-five finishes in sled dog races in Canada and Montana, Port Gamble's Laura Daugereau is ready for today's start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

This will be Daugereau's second run in the famed race. She competed and finished last year, the first Washington woman to do so.

The 26-year-old completed her Iditarod preparations this year with a second-place finish in the 200-mile Race to the Sky in Montana and a fourth-place finish in the 330-mile Canadian Challenge.

During a brief rest last week in Great Falls, Mont., where she trains with Rick and Sandy Larson, Daugereau (pronounced doe-zure-oh) talked about her passion for racing.

How did you get into the sport?

"Sixteen years ago, we used to live in Leavenworth. I had a pet dog. Buster was a Lab-Samoyed mix. I taught her all the tricks. Once, I was pulling my sled up the hill, she would jump on and then we would ride down. I realized this wasn't fair. So I taught her to pull the sled up the hill.

"I remember reading a National Geographic article when I was 7 about Susan Butcher winning Iditarod. (Butcher, a four-time winner, died of leukemia in 2006). So I taught Buster to pull a sled. I thought it was really fun. It combined everything I loved: training, the outdoors, adventure. I was 10 when we got another dog from the pound, so I had a little team.

"My dad took me to a junior symposium in Fairbanks when I was 13. I got to meet Susan Butcher. It was the first time I rode behind a real dog team, and

I was hooked for life. It really stirred in me what I really wanted to do."

What did you learn about yourself from last year's Iditarod?

"It was really fun to see that goal (of being the first Washington woman to enter the race and finish) accomplished. But it gets in your blood and you want to do it again.

"I also learned how rummy you can get on a lack of sleep. The bond with your working dogs is extreme, more than with any pet. I didn't think that bond could get any stronger but it does. They were like my family out there.

"There were times when you're on a mountaintop and everything is perfect and you think this is what you want to do with the rest of your life. You learn never to doubt yourself out there. You learn to follow your gut and keep going."

What will you do differently this year having run the Iditarod last year?

"It is a different course, it's the southern route. (Each year the race alternates between a northern and southern route.) There will be 150 miles I've never run before. It's supposed to be a little tougher. I'm anxious about that.

"Last year I learned I was the weakest link on the team. The dogs were always ready to go. I've learned where my sleep depravation limits are.

"I hope I'll be able to understand my limits a little better this year. I'll eat a little better this time around. I lost 9 pounds last year. My team has gelled a lot more this year. I'll have 10 veterans from last year's team with me this year. I also know my (16-dog) team better. Knowing which dog wants their food in a bowl or dumped on the snow. It might seem like a simple thing, but those simple things matter out there."

What are your expectations for this year's Iditarod?

"My goals for this year are to improve my position. I finished 64th out 96 last year. I want to improve on that, but the dogs are first and foremost. Having a happy, healthy team going down the trail is what matters most. If I have to take a little extra break then that is what I'll do."