Willow, Alaska, is musher country, a place where residents joke that there are more dogs than people.
Sled dog trails weave through the trees right up against the Parks Highway.
Four-time Iditarod finisher Karin Hendrickson is familiar with the curve near mile marker 91. It’s where she and her sled dog team were struck by a vehicle Tuesday night.
“She and the team were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Hendrickson’s friend, Jennifer Hawks.
Around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night, Hendrickson was exercising a 14-dog team. The adverse weather resulted in poor road conditions, and a car veered off the road and hit them. Troopers are still investigating the crash.
“See how the tires go right into the water right there,” Hawks explained at the scene, a day after the crash.
Hendrickson was taken to the hospital with a broken back and broken leg. Mushers from around the community spent the night rounding up her dogs. Thanks to their efforts, all the dogs were found and brought home.
Handler Maliko Ubl is still monitoring the dogs for injuries.
“I just want to watch them move around,” said Ubl, focusing on one of the dogs. “Like whack-a-mole right now, I don’t see any limping. I don’t see any unevenness in his step. He looks really, really good.”
While friends worry about Hendrickson, the musher is worried about her dogs.
“We kind of chatted a little bit this morning and that was her main concern, ‘How are the dogs doing?’ Uble said. “We’re both just so amazed that these two guys are all that had injuries.”
The 2015 Iditarod would have been Hendrickson’s seventh, but that will have to wait. Friends say that perhaps the most important thing is that she is alive. And so are her dogs, waiting for her to come home.
Hendrickson has requested that people donate to the dogs instead of sending flowers or candy to her in the hospital, as she’ll need help meeting their needs while she recovers.
Editor’s note: The video portion of this story incorrectly says Hendrickson completed the Iditarod six times. She has finished four times.