By Jenny Neyman
As Dallas Seavey mushes his sled dogs through temperatures that could plunge to minus 50 degrees or colder during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starting this week and beds his team down at rest stops along the trail, Julie Bowman will be warm and comfortable in her home in Sterling. But she’ll still have a hand in keeping Seavey’s team cozy and their muscles limber, even from thousands of miles away.
Seavey, son of 2004 Iditarod champ Mitch Seavey, approached Bowman this winter about making adjustable jackets for his dogs to use in the Iditarod. Bowman, who runs a sewing business, Julie’s Ideas, out of her home, was intrigued.
“I had a lot of fun with it and just think it was a neat project,” she said. “I certainly enjoy doing special-order things like that, instead of making 400 pairs of socks. I just enjoy the different projects and enjoy the challenge of making something new.”
Seavey brought Bowman a jacket he wanted her to modify and re-create for his team. The jacket fits over the front legs of the dog and fastens with Velcro over the shoulders, so it’s adjustable for different-size dogs. The material is an insulating polar fleece on the inside with a wind-resistant coating on the outside. She also made some from a less-expensive fabric with a more rubbery exterior, so Seavey can compare how each holds up on the trail. Bowman also sewed in three pockets, one over each shoulder and one over the chest, that can hold packets of chemical warmers to keep the dogs’ muscles warm and limber.
Seavey said he uses the jackets mostly when he’s resting the dogs to keep them warm, and to prevent and treat muscle soreness. He also uses them on the trail when it gets particularly cold.
“In my case if I have a dog that’s thin or a shorter-hair dog, in a year like this when we could see 50 to 60 below, it really helps them to stay warm and conserve calories. If they’re a shorter-hair dog it lets them stay more comfortable and rest a little better,” he said.
He’s bought similar jackets before, but the outlet in Alaska he used to get them from isn’t open anymore, and he didn’t want to shop in the Lower 48. He also wanted someone who could customize the jackets.
“I thought we could make them a little bit better than we were getting. More to fit my dogs, which tend to be little bit smaller than most people’s,” Seavey said. “I also have a lot of sewing stuff I have around mushing. When I found Julie’s contact information, I thought it would be good to start building a rapport, to kind of have this stuff done locally. My parents have run a business on the peninsula all of my life, and now that’s what I’m doing, so we like to have as much done locally as we can.”
Seavey and his wife, Jen, are living and training in Kasilof this winter. In the summer they run WildRide Sled Dog Show in Anchorage, an extension of the Ididaride Sled Dog Tours business the family operates in Seward in the summer.
Seavey has trained dogs with his dad for years and ran training teams of 2-year-olds in two previous Iditarods, just like his wife will do this year. This is Seavey’s first year running competitively in the Willow-to-Nome race, which starts Saturday.
“My dogs are looking absolutely incredible. It’s the first team I’ve trained entirely by myself, for myself. It’s been fun doing things a little differently, and it’s working out well. All my dogs are happy and healthy and ready to race,” he said.
Keeping his dogs healthy is one of his primary goals.
“For me, being my first competitive Iditarod, I really want to not overpush the dogs and see that the dogs are maximized and they place as high as they are capable of placing, and having a nice healthy team the whole way,” he said. “Halfway through you see teams in rough shape and I would really like to avoid that.”
Having the jackets will help.
“Especially if it is really cold you put everything warm on them to keep them a little bit warmer,” he said.
The same goes for the mushers. Bowman made neck gaiters for Dallas and Jen Seavey, as well as Rachel Scdoris, a legally bind musher.
Bowman said she started her business in 1995 doing primarily knitting, but has since switched to fleece products.
She sells her hats and other gear at Sweeney’s and Trustworthy Hardware locally, as well as craft shows. Beyond that she occasionally takes on custom projects.
“A lot of it is just people saying, ‘Do you have or can you make?’ Or, ‘I have this really cool hat I like but I can’t find it anywhere,’” she said.
A lot of Bowman’s work is for family or charity, including donating 300 to 400 hats to SOAR International, a Christian outreach mission, to distribute in Russia each year, so she didn’t mind the extra work and tight deadline to help out local mushers.
“Dallas called and said he wondered if I could make them and can I have them ready in two weeks? I needed something to think about. It gave me something interesting to do,” she said.