FINGER LAKE - Charlie Boulding, a man who reinvented himself a few times and came out of the woods to change sled dog racing, ought to make his next career in Hollywood now that he's running his last Iditarod.
His is the face of a great character actor - weathered by Alaska summers and winters along the Tanana River, featuring a magnificently bent nose, bushy gray eyebrows, twinkly hazel eyes, a wise smile, all framed by cascades of gray hair - some flowing wild, some braided - and eight inches of shaggy gray beard.
His is the soft drawling voice of a North Carolina native who left one life behind - a family, a farm, a construction career - headed West, found another life briefly among oil rigs in Montana, then discovered still another life, fishing and trapping, mushing and raising sled dogs in Alaska.
His is the demeanor of a 62-year-old man who has lived deeply yet simply in a subsistence lifestyle, forsaking electricity and running water, going without telephone or TV in a log cabin with his 39-year-old wife, Robin. They emerge into public life a few times a year when he competes for cash in sled dog races.
He can be talkative or taciturn. He's eccentric, but he's clever. He's polite, but he's tough, winning the Most Inspirational Musher Award in 2003 after starting the race following surgery and treatment for colon cancer.
He's so far from citified, and so lacking in pretense, that Hollywood is probably the last place he'd think of going. In fact, he's already bought a 32-foot sailboat in the British Virgin Islands and plans to spend a couple of months each year with his wife cruising the Caribbean.
But if Robert Redford ever wants to making a mushing movie, he should look no further than Boulding, the musher's musher.
"I fully believe I'll be right up there in the top 10 this run," Boulding said as he began his 12th Iditarod. "This is going to be my last year because my knees are shot. The left one's worse than the right. Unless they come up with some new miracle thing to fix my knees, I won't be running this again."
Despite his age and balky knees and the still tiring aftereffects of his colon cancer, the tenacious Boulding most likely will finish among the leaders. He wasn't far behind them Monday morning - sixth among 79 starters after reaching the third checkpoint in Finger Lake, 928 miles from Nome.
Healy's Brooks Takes Early Lead
The Associated Press
Musher Ramy Brooks, of Healy, Alaska, took an early lead Monday in the Iditarod trail sled dog race. Brooks, 36, is running his 11th Iditarod and was the race's rookie of the year in 1994.
On day 2 of the race, he left the rainy pass checkpoint - 898 miles from nome - just after noon.
In second place was longtime musher Deedee Jonrowe of Willow; followed by Lance Mackey of Kasilof, who won the 2005 Yukon Quest International sled dog race last month; Norway's Robert Sorlie, the 2003 Iditarod champion; and three-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park.
the route from rainy pass to the next checkpoint, Rohn, is 48 miles.
Knik musher G.B. Jones scratched monday at the Skwentna checkpoint, about 149 miles into the iditarod trail sled dog race.
Jones, 56, cited equipment trouble and challenges with his dog team. He also said he had sore ribs.
He completed the 1,100-mile race twice, in 2002 and 2004.
In first was veteran musher DeeDee Jonrowe, followed by Rick Swenson, Lance Mackey, Mike Williams and Norway's Robert Sorlie. Rachael Scdoris, the first legally blind Iditaroder, was still in the race but far behind in 76th place.
Boulding has been in the top 10 in eight of his last 10 Iditarods. He finished third in 1998, fifth three times and was sixth last year after leading until a storm slowed him down.
Boulding has the respect of all the mushers for the ways he has improved sleds and sled dogs. He came up with the Easy Rider sled about 15 years ago, a design that nearly everyone else copied because it allowed for better steering. On his 30 acres along the Tanana, he keeps close to 100 dogs, breeding them for toughness and speed.
Boulding never planned this sort of life.
"It's just a way to make money," he says, referring to breeding and mushing. "You've got to have some cash flow. I used to make it trapping and fishing and both of them sort of went to hell in the '80s.
"I never planned to race dogs. I started going into it in village races and made a little money. So when one income went down, the other one went up, and I ended up doing this. We fish all summer and dry the fish so we have enough to feed the dogs in the winter."
Boulding plans to sell his team when he gets to Nome. He may race other dogs in shorter events from time to time, but never again in the Iditarod. The only question is whether he will miss the race more than the race will miss him.
"There's probably no musher who is respected more, or who inspires more people, than Charlie," Jonrowe said. "We're all going to miss him."
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