/ Alexis Sciard
Deep inside Alaska, in the extraordinary world of Kyia, musher ; alone in the freezing forest, she raises and leads forty-four sled dogs.
The glass door of the airport slides open and the polar air envelops you immediately ; it sweeps into the still hot bodies and seizes everything that moves. Few minutes waiting in the dark, finally flashed by two headlights. A big pickup stops. The window lowers, revealing an ageless face. Welcome to the 49th State of America : Alaska.
I will spend a part of the winter here at Kyia’s, as a handler and assistant sled dog driver. I will sleep in a trapper’s hut with another handler, and every morning, without fail, we will wake up to join in the cold the cabin of the boss, shot down a bitter of coffee before finding the 44 dogs, feed them, clean after their shit, both frozen and steaming, work or go out a few times with the sled.
Here, mushing is not just an ancient means of transport but also a sport with growing popularity and a way of life. The Yukon Quest and Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, while unfamiliar to us, are the two largest mushing races in the world that go across much of Alaska. Between 1600 and 1800 kilometers of trail to be covered in just a few days, alone with the dogs in the wild, where the cold and fatigue can be felt a thousand fold.
Kyia dreams of taking part in one of these races one day. She says she would need time to prepare well beforhand. But there are other concerns that could be summed up in one question : how to survive out there ? You need to feed both yourself and the pack, keep warm and have gasoline in the truck. All this comes at a cost that is difficult to bear when one is broke. In Fairbanks, the nearest city, she tried to set up a mushing museum, with a collection of objects gathered over the years, but there were unfortunately not enough visitors so she had to shut it down after only few years. Even today, Inuit sleighs and others are piled up under a tarpaulin, desperately waiting for a buyer. Faced with uncertainty of the future, she lives under stress and a heavy heart. The sled outings are rare, in contrast to her nervous breakdowns, and in the immense whiteness outdoors, there is this remote world that closes in slowly, a strange, small part of Alaska, that belongs only to Kyia, half-bear half-witch.