PUNTILLA LAKE, AK—After running directly into the grandstands during the Iditarod's ceremonial start and veering 55 miles off course late Tuesday to chase a marmot, Siberian husky and rookie sled dog Melvin apologized to his musher and fellow canines Wednesday for making a complete fool of himself in the early stages of the annual 1,150-mile race.
"First Iditarod jitters, I guess," the visibly contrite Melvin told reporters Wednesday at the Rainy Pass checkpoint. "I feel like such a moron. Here I am in the last great race on earth and I'm blowing it. I mean, 100 times out of 100, when my musher yells, 'Gee,' I turn right. But yesterday I go left down an icy slope into a bunch of evergreens and nearly break everyone's neck."
"I have to pull it together," added the dog, making a point of directly addressing his musher, two-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey. "I'm sorry, Lance. I'm acting like an idiot out there."
Melvin has gotten his squad into several embarrassing scrapes thus far, one of which occurred at Willow Lake when, in an effort to find a place to nap, he twirled around three times while still in full harness, fouling his lines and entangling his team in multiple snarls. In addition, as the team was on route to Skwentna, a child spectator threw an imaginary stick over the team, and Melvin chased it 300 miles back to the first checkpoint at Yentna Station.
Melvin's most humiliating experience, sources said, was a 20-minute period during which Mackey repeatedly ordered him to mush and the husky merely stood motionless, staring at Finger Lake.
"You look around and you realize that you are going up against your idols—Larry, Bronte, Salem, Handsome, Blue—and then it hits you: This is the fucking Iditarod," Melvin said. "It's not the Jack Pine 30 or the American Dog Derby. Out here, if you playfully root through your musher's sled basket and destroy his heavy parka and extra-warm sleeping bag, well, that's a mistake that could haunt you the rest of your career. Unfortunately, I'm learning that the hard way."
Melvin later admitted that he was overwhelmed by the pressure of participating in his first Iditarod and consequently had psyched himself out. Bouts of anxiety reportedly led to a stress dream Monday night in which he found himself standing on a calm, ice-covered pond for several tranquil minutes before the ice suddenly cracked beneath him.
"Instantly, I was treading in freezing water, and the more I struggled to get back on land, the faster I sank," Melvin said.
As he dreamt, the husky unconsciously gnawed through his team's snub line. Consequently, two point dogs and one wheel dog are still missing, and the sled can no longer go around corners.
Just five days into the race, the group is a projected seven days behind the rest of the pack.
"I'm too 'in my head' right now, you know? I have to remember my training from when I was a pup and just be natural," said the dog, adding that despite his most recent failures, he believes he was born for this. "No more stopping in the middle of a run to find a private place to go to the bathroom. Why would I even do that? I know I'm running in the Iditarod, for crying out loud. And I'm certainly not going to sprint into my teammates ever again, because that means I'm destroying our neck and tug lines, and I'm going completely the wrong way."
"I need to stay focused," Melvin continued. "Also, I think I'm going to go chase that big moose over there."
Despite the husky's shortcomings, musher Lance Mackey has stated that Melvin will remain in the lead dog position, mainly because Melvin bit the leg of fellow lead dog Sarah. Melvin was quick to point out, however, that at the time of the incident, he was suffering a panic-related delusion in which Sarah had transformed into his father, an Alaskan malamute who always told his son he would never amount to anything.
"It's a saying amongst us mushers that the dogs never make mistakes," Mackey said. "But it's not my fault that Melvin stops every 45 minutes to furiously dig in the snow. That dog's a wreck."
Mackey then sighed and added, "This is a terrible Iditarod."