(Pre-story note: all of the following interviews were conducted via facebook.)Facebook, the social networking site which is now several years old, is being used by even the surliest of dog mushers these days. And many of those dog drivers live off the grid, but still manage to update regularly to their friends and fans around the world.For example, three-time Iditarod champ Lance Mackey added on to his home and dog yard north of Fairbanks this summer and is keeping fans and friends apprised on the progress of his book.Quest champ and 2009 Iditarod runner-up Sebastian Schnuelle took advantage of a less-hectic summer to travel abroad and visit his family.Even Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod, updates her ‘status’ regularly. (She loves those Juneau salmonberries, btw – That’s cyber speak for ‘by the way.’)But all this posting and updating and chatting makes you wonder despite mountains of dog chores and lofty training schedules, what the real motive is behind these hardy, dog-loving facebookers?Like a lot of us, these mushers were coerced by friends to join up, but once signed up, realized that the social networking site was a perfect way to connect with other dog people, advertise new mushing events, and even get tips and techniques from fellow dog drivers from all across the globe.Schnuelle, for example, who lives about 30 miles outside Whitehorse, Yukon, heard about Jeff King’s new doubles race on Facebook, he said.He’s also snagged some fish for his dogs through Facebook and receives updated trail conditions.“Yes, Facebook has definitely helped with things,” he said, adding that he has used Facebook to advertise dogs for sale.On Facebook for about a year now, Schnuelle has garnered about 590 ‘friends’ about 500 of which are fans rather than family or long-time friends. A fan in Texas even started a Sebastian Schnuelle fan page on Facebook and it now has members from around the world, the majority of whom Schnuelle has never met, he said.Facebook, originally called thefacebook, was started by a Harvard student more than four years ago. Since then it has grown to more than 200 million users and has expanded to include thousands of groups, events, tools and applications. There’s even a mushing application where can send your ‘friends’ cyber gifts of foot ointment, harnesses and even a great gee-haw leader. With all the extras, it’s easy to see why people spend hours chatting, plowing their cyber fields in ‘Farm Town’ or putting out cyber hits in ‘Mafia Wars.’In March when sprint musher Amanda Byrd of Fairbanks broke her leg during a fun passenger race, she was introduced by her “real-life friends” to farming on Facebook.“This becomes very addictive very quickly,” she said. “I had to be the very best famer, make the most money, have the most cows and horses. It took up a lot of my spare time,” she said, adding that she had to quit cold-turkey when her leg healed.Iditarod champ Lance Mackey has been on Facebook for a just a few months and likes to keep track of what’s going on in the mushing world. He said the majority of his 850 friends on Facebook are fans and though some look ‘questionable’ he isn’t all that concerned about privacy. He, like most, just watches what he writes.Like many professional racers, Iditarod veteran Karen Ramstead, who lives and trains in Alberta, Canada, is no stranger to online networking with her blog, website and Facebook account, and said privacy is always a concern.“I am quite careful about what I post. It is really no different (than) my blog or website, you must remember that anyone could be reading and gear the postings accordingly,” she said, noting that she has about 600 ‘friends’ on Facebook most of which are fans she has never met.For Byrd, there’s always the ‘unfriend’ option if things get too creepy, she said. But, she added, if you’re really that worried about privacy, don’t sign up for Facebook.Byrd added that she too heard about King’s new race first on Facebook and though she doesn’t get much advice from other mushers, she does dole it out from time to time. Also, she uses Facebook to help spread the word about big events like the annual Alaska Dog Mushers Association symposium.For recreational mushers or wannabe racers (ahem) Facebook is, in fact, a great way to acquire tips and techniques from the pros. Neophyte dog driver Tim Looney, who lives and trains in Iowa, just got his first two sled dogs this spring and has used Facebook to befriend more experienced mushers and acquire tips and suggestions on everything from feeding to training.“Thanks to FB, I have gotten to know many mushers, discussed many training techniques, learned about races…invaluable!” he said via Facebook.” People have been extremely generous with their advice. Plus, I feel like I have become a part of the Michigan mushing community, as those races are near me and the people have been welcoming and helpful. I’ve been invited to train by more than one musher. And the encouragement from everyone is really appreciated! Where else can you comment on and talk to the very top performers in a sport?”Don Deckert, a recreational musher from Minnesota agreed. “I am Facebook friends with Lance, Dee Dee, Sebastian, Hugh, Libby, Frekings, Ramsteads, Stielstras and literally hundreds of other professional mushers,” Deckert said. “Occasionally one of them will actually leave a comment or send an e-mail. You can’t get that with any other pro sport. How many pro football players, NASCAR drivers, rock stars or actor/actresses will leave a personal comment on your Facebook page?”Deckert did admit however that Facebook has hindered his dog mushing at times. “… I spend too much time playing on Facebook when I should be out running dogs.”“(I) love hearing about friends who have been out on a great run (or a crappy one so I know I’m not the only one who has those) – good incentive to get your own butt out there,” agreed Stacie Zaychuk, a recreational musher who lives outside Whitehorse.No matter who, where or how old, it seems everyone and anyone is popping up on Facebook and many aren’t surprised when they see likes of mushing-great Joe May online.“Joe has been active online as long as I have,” said mid-distance racer Jodi Bailey. He is “often the recognized voice of reason in a world where a digital format lets anyone hide behind a public profile. We count on him to be, well, himself.”“It shows that mushers are genuine, regular folk,” agreed Looney.And the more remote you are, the more you need technology like Facebook, said Schnuelle. “I adore being able to keep in touch with folks like Joe that I really enjoy, but may only see once or twice a year,” added Ramstead. “The more isolated you are, the more valuable these tools are. I am not isolated in the sense that I live in a remote place, but I am isolated from the mushing community and this allows me another way to stay in touch and on top of things!”Besides all the dog-chat that goes on amongst mushers, Facebook is just a great way to mingle with ‘husky’ people, said Iditarod champion Libby Riddles.“It’s interesting to see what people are up to with training, mostly I like the social aspect of it,” said Riddles, who lives outside Homer with her 40 sled dogs.Many mushers also use Facebook to keep their sponsors updated but as for using Facebook to solicit donations, not all agree with that. “Personally, I find it annoying if people use Facebook (for) ‘sales oriented’ hunting for sponsors, begging for money,” Schnuelle said. “But (that’s) the beauty of Facebook: I can just delete those people from my contact list and they are gone.”Jillian Rogers is a freelance writer and dog musher living east of Homer, Alaska.Editor’s note: Mushing Magazine is on facebook, and would like to be your friend. Search facebook for Greg Sellentin.


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