Pat Moon has a perfect beard for growing icicles. It starts at his ears and works its way down round the bottom of his chin, not spending any time on the front of his face. It’ll probably spend a good amount of time hiding inside layers of high-tech fabrics during Moon’s rookie run of the Iditarod but, at some point, icicles will hang off it. It’s just the way things go for bearded guys at the Iditarod.
Moon’s impressive beard was the first thing I noticed when I met him at Snow Days Chicago back in January. He was showcasing dog mushing, the sport he fell in love with back in 2006. His first Iditarod experience was as an Idita-Rider. The program gives non-mushing types the chance for a ride-along in the basket of one of the competitors’ sleds for the ceremonial start of the race.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I developed a thing for dog mushing when I went up to cover the race. But, while I still just follow it, Moon, 33, decided to do it. It happens to people. Dog mushing just pulls them in. The story usually begins, well I just thought I would get one dog and then…
While I bow to anybody who decides to take on a major dog mushing race–it’s quite a task, both physically, mentally, and logistically–Moon’s first outing at the Iditarod comes at a challenging time in his life. As he told me in Chicago, it’s possibly a now or never thing.
Moon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February 2009. He’s on chemo. It doesn’t make taking on a major endurance event any easier. A few veteran mushers who faced up to cancer in the past were, as he made it clear, concerned about his decision to do the race. OK, maybe more than concerned. They, strongly, advised him against it. Yet Moon would not be dissuaded. His health has tried to get in his way for years–he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when he was 15.
As Moon told me on that day in Chicago, a few sled dogs looking on from the bed of his truck, his life is not about his illness. His life is about getting out there and taking things on. He is, quite simply, one of the brightest spirits I’ve met in a long, long time.
The Iditarod starts March 6.