Mushers embark on new route across Alaska as Iditarod begins

Iditarod Sled Dog RaceBy MARK THIESSEN

Associated Press

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Iditarod mushers began their 1,000-mile trek across Alaska along a new route Monday after poor trail conditions forced organizers to push the race’s start north, bypassing a mountain range.

Canadian rookie Rob Cooke, who hails from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, was the first musher to leave Fairbanks as fans looked on from the starting gate and along the expressway.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race usually kicks off 225 miles south in Willow. But because of a lack of snow this year, officials shifted the entire route around the Alaska Range and an area that left many mushers bruised and bloodied last year.

This is only the second time Fairbanks has hosted the official start; similar low-snow conditions moved the Iditarod there in 2003.

The finish line remains in Nome, on the state’s wind-whipped western coast.

The route change eliminates mountainous terrain and a treacherous gorge. But the race now will be run on about 600 miles of river ice, and that can create a whole new set of obstacles.

Some mushers have hinted the new path might benefit Pete Kaiser, a young musher who recently won an all-river ice sled dog race in southwest Alaska. Kaiser disputed that Monday.

“I don’t see it as an advantage or disadvantage for me or anyone else, really,” he said as he took a break from packing his sled before the race started.

“It’s just another trail through the state, and it’s still a thousand miles, and it’s still through some rugged country,” Kaiser said.

Lance Mackey is running the race with a young dog team and is handling the changes in stride.

The four-time champion said the fact that most of the thousand or so dogs participating in the race have never seen this part of Alaska is “kind of cool.”

“Not a dog in this yard has been on this trail or this race,” Mackey said. “Everybody’s on the same playing field in that aspect.”

The new route reduces the number of checkpoints in the early part of the race, but it adds stops at villages that have never been part of the Iditarod — like tiny Huslia, an Athabascan village of about 300 residents.

Alaska’s fairly warm and snowless winter was caused by the same weather pattern that repeatedly dumped snow on the East Coast. It has made for poor conditions south of the Alaska Range, especially in the area of the Dalzell Gorge, considered the roughest patch for mushers and dogs.

This is where many mushers were injured in crashes last year. Officials said this year’s conditions there are worse.

Four-time champion Martin Buser said the lack of snow in the greater Anchorage area made for a challenging training season.

Buser said he intends to slow his start this year after setting a blistering pace in the early part of last year’s race and then fading back.

“Yeah, I’ll go slower this year, try not to be first at the halfway but try to be first at the finish,” he said.

The 2015 Iditarod features 78 mushers, including 20 rookies and six former champions.

Unlike the festive ceremonial start, which is designed to let fans interact with mushers, the staggered start in Fairbanks is all business for participants.

Racers leave the starting chute in two-minute intervals. The first musher to reach the finish line will pocket $70,000, which is $19,600 more than what defending champion Dallas Seavey received last year because of an increased purse.

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This black Lab takes the bus to her dog park

US-ODD-Bus-Riding DogTHE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEATTLE  — A black Labrador named Eclipse just wants to get to the dog park. So if her owner takes too long finishing his cigarette, and their bus arrives, she climbs aboard solo and rides to her stop — to the delight of fellow Seattle bus passengers.

KOMO-TV reports (http://is.gd/R9Fa86 ) that local radio host Miles Montgomery was amazed to see the pooch get off the bus, without an owner, at a dog park last week.

The dog and her owner, Jeff Young, live right near a bus stop.

In Young’s words, “She’s a bus-riding, sidewalk-walking dog.” Young says his dog sometimes gets on the bus without him, and he catches up with her at the dog park three or four stops away.

Bus riders report she hops onto seats next to strangers, and watches out the window for her stop. Says commuter Tiona Rainwater, “All the bus drivers know her … she makes everybody happy.”

A Metro Transit spokesman said the agency loves that a dog appreciates public transit.

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NORAD tracks when Santa Claus is comin’ to town

NORAD tracks SantaTHE ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Volunteers at the North American Aerospace Defense Command are getting ready to monitor Santa Claus as he makes his storybook Christmas Eve flight.

Technology and social media have become an important part of the U.S. and Canadian military tradition, and NORAD Tracks Santa has already attracted a record 1.5 million Facebook “likes.”

The volunteers will spend Wednesday answering phone calls and emails from children and posting updates on the mythical journey to Facebook, Twitter and www.NORADSanta.org .

The 59-year-old program now has a control center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, and it generates enough statistics, anecdotes and stories to fill a sleigh:

— HOW IT STARTED: A December 1955 newspaper ad invited kids to call Santa, but the phone number it listed was for the Continental Aerospace Defense Command, the predecessor to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The officers on duty played along and began passing along reports on Santa’s progress.

— HOW IT WORKS: Kids call 877-HI-NORAD or email noradtrackssanta@outlook.com starting at 4 a.m. MST on Christmas Eve. A volunteer checks a big-screen computer monitor and passes along Santa’s location. Updates are posted at noradsanta.org, facebook.com/noradsanta and twitter.com/NoradSanta. Hundreds of volunteers work for 23 hours on the day — and the night — before Christmas.

— SO FAR THIS YEAR: NORAD Tracks Santa had 1.5 million Facebook likes by Monday afternoon and the total was growing by about 100 an hour. Twitter followers stood at 136,000. Initial website visits weren’t available, and the phone lines and email accounts weren’t live yet.

— AND LAST YEAR: The website attracted more than 19.5 million unique visitors in December, the Facebook page drew 1.45 million “likes” and the Twitter feed had 146,000 followers. Volunteers took 117,000 phone calls and answered 9,600 emails. Another 800 inquiries came in via OnStar. The Facebook likes, Twitter followers, phone calls and OnStar questions were all record highs for NORAD Tracks Santa.

— GROWING FAST: Visits to the website, which was launched in 1997, peaked at 22.3 million in 2012 before dropping to about 19.6 million last year. The reason isn’t clear, but Maj. Beth Castro, a NORAD spokeswoman, said the website might not have been able to accommodate all the traffic.

— PHONE CALLS: Phone calls rose from about 74,000 in 2009 to more than 117,000 in 2013.

— SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook “likes” grew from 1 million in 2011 to 1.45 million last year; Twitter followers were up from 101,000 to more than 146,000.

— NEW THIS YEAR: The website has an animated elf named Radar. “Radar” was the favorite in a vote on Facebook, beating out “DARON,” which is NORAD spelled backward, and “Echo L. Foxtrot,” which uses the military phonetic alphabet to spell out “elf.” NORAD Tracks Santa also has a new mobile version of its website for smartphones.

— WHAT’S NORAD? The joint U.S.-Canada command is responsible for defending the skies and monitoring the sea approaches for both nations. Its control room was originally inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs in a shelter designed to withstand a nuclear attack. The control room is now at Peterson Air Force Base, also in Colorado Springs.

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Born at the right minute: 10:11 on 12/13/14

Leisha Campbell12-13-14 Montana Birth

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

At least two U.S. babies have birth times and dates that are easy to remember: 10:11 on 12/13/14.

Above at left, in Cleveland, 7-pound, 14-ounce Hazel Grace was born Saturday morning to Leisha Campbell and Shawn Zimmerman at Cleveland’s Fairview Hospital. Her family already knew she’d be born on Saturday’s special date. They didn’t know she’d get the minute right, too.

“Everyone is telling us we should play the lottery,” Campbell said. “We feel this is a lucky day and are excited to get family photos with Santa.”

Saturday’s Dec. 13, 2014, represented the last sequential calendar date for at least 20 years, if you count Jan. 2, 2034, or 89 years if you choose to wait for Jan. 2, 2103.

Hazel was getting a visit from her three older sisters, Aubree, Adalynn and Josalyn, on Sunday. The family lives in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, in Billings, Montana, the time and date aligned for another baby girl, and the infant’s weight came close to making the event even more unique.

Quincy Kessler, shown above at right, was born at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings at 10:11 a.m. on 12/13/14.

Even more remarkable, her birth weight, at 7.84 pounds, almost aligned with the other numbers. A fraction of an ounce more, and she would have weighed 7.89 pounds.

The baby is the second daughter born to Trenton and Melida Kessler.

Melida Kessler tells The Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/1IQ438m ) that nurses in the hospital room noted around 10:05 a.m. that the 10:11 time might work out.

At that point, she says she started to push and Quincy came out at 10:11.

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Rocket fans cheer as porta-potty blasts off

 

Members of the Michiana Rocketry launch a 10-foot, 450 pound porta-potty, mounted on rocket motors, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, from a field in Three Oaks, Mich.(AP Photo/The Herald-Palladium, Don Campbell)

Members of the Michiana Rocketry launch a 10-foot, 450-pound porta-potty, mounted on rocket motors, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, from a field in Three Oaks, Mich.(AP Photo/The Herald-Palladium, Don Campbell)

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

THREE OAKS, Mich. — Mission accomplished! A group of rocket enthusiasts launched a porta-potty into the sky Saturday in southwestern Michigan. It made an arc and almost landed on a spectator’s pickup truck, 2,000 feet away.

A group of Michiana Rocketry club members planned the project for more than two years. The club is trying to increase awareness of rocketry as a hobby and prove it’s possible to turn a porta-potty into a rocket and launch it successfully.

The Herald Palladium newspaper says liftoff occurred in a soybean field near Three Oaks in Berrien County. About 30 people worked on the rocket, from engineers to sales people who lined up sponsors.

Rocket enthusiast Bob Bycraft says it was carefully planned. He says it wasn’t “barnyard engineering.”

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Competitive eater sets record by eating entire turkey

Turkey Eating Contest
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Competitive eater Joey Chestnut has won a turkey-eating contest in Connecticut, setting a record by devouring an entire bird.

Ten contestants vied to see who could eat the most of a 20-pound turkey in a competition Saturday at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Chestnut ate 9.35 pounds of meat off the bone in 10 minutes. According to Major League Eating, the food equivalent of the NFL, he bested the previous record, which was held by Sonya Thomas, who ate 5.25 pounds of turkey in November 2011.

Chestnut, a San Jose, California, resident who turns 31 on Tuesday, is ranked the top competitive eater in the world.

He took home a $5,000 check after stuffing his face with turkey. The remainder of the $10,000 purse was divided among other contestants.

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Daffy dinosaur has a unique look — and way to eat

The Deinocheirus has a look that's akin to Jar Jar Binks mixed with Barney the Dinosaur. (AP Photo/Michael Skrepnick, Dinosaurs in Art, Nature Publishing Group)

The Deinocheirus has a look that’s akin to Jar Jar Binks mixed with Barney the Dinosaur. (AP Photo/Michael Skrepnick, Dinosaurs in Art, Nature Publishing Group)


Nearly 50 years ago, scientists found bones of two large, powerful dinosaur arms in Mongolia and figured they had discovered a fearsome critter with killer claws.

Now scientists have found the rest of the dinosaur and have new descriptions for it: goofy and weird.

The beast probably lumbered along on two legs like a cross between TV dinosaur Barney and Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars fame. It was 16 feet tall and 36 feet long, weighing seven tons, with a duckbill on its head and a hump-like sail on its back. Throw in those killer claws, tufts of feathers here and there, and no teeth — and try not to snicker.

And if that’s not enough, it ate like a giant vacuum cleaner.

That’s Deinocheirus mirificus, which means “terrible hands that look peculiar.” It is newly reimagined after a full skeleton was found in Mongolia and described in a report for the journal Nature. Some 70 million years old, it’s an ancestral relative of the modern ostrich and belongs to the dinosaur family often called ostrich dinosaurs.

“Deinocheirus turned out to be one the weirdest dinosaurs beyond our imagination,” study lead author Yuong-Nam Lee, director of the Geological Museum in Daejeon, South Korea, said in an email.
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When scientists in 1965 found the first forearm bones — nearly 8 feet long — many of them envisioned “a creature that would strike terror in people,” said University of Maryland dinosaur expert Thomas Holtz Jr, who wasn’t part of the study. “Now it’s a creature that would strike bemusement, amazement.”

And yes, he said, “it’s pretty goofy.”

The find is tremendous but is a cautionary tale about jumping to conclusions without enough evidence, said University of Chicago dinosaur expert Paul Sereno, who wasn’t part of the discovery.

It also reminds us that evolution isn’t always what we think, Sereno said.

“This is evolution in a dinosaur — not a mammal — world,” Sereno said in email. “The starting point is a two-legged animal looking somewhat like a fuzzy-feathered ostrich. Now you want to get really big and suck up lots of soft vegetation. In the end you look like a goofy Michelin ostrich with fuzz and a tail — not a cow.”

Lee figures the tilted wide hips and massive feet show that Deinocheirus was a slow mover and probably grew so big to escape from being regularly feasted on by bigger dinosaurs.

It had a beak that could eat plants, but it also had a massive tongue that created suction for vacuuming up food from the bottoms of streams, lakes and ponds, Lee wrote.

Originally Lee’s team couldn’t find the dinosaur’s skull, but a tip from another researcher led them to recover it from the private market in Germany.

Some kids will soon adopt this dinosaur as their favorite, Holtz said, “and those are kids with a sense of humor.”

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Online:

Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature

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Reported by SETH BORENSTEIN of the Associated Press. He can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

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2014′s biggest pumpkin weighs in at 2,058 pounds

Ashley Goldsmith, 6, of San Ramon poses for a photo with the winning pumpkin at the 41st Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off  in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. The 2,058 lb. winner was grown by John Hawkley in Napa Calif.(AP Photo/Alex Washburn)

Ashley Goldsmith, 6, of San Ramon poses for a photo with the winning pumpkin at the 41st Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. The 2,058 lb. winner was grown by John Hawkley in Napa Calif.(AP Photo/Alex Washburn)

A gourd weighing 2,058 pounds took first prize and set a new tournament record Monday at an annual pumpkin-weighing contest in Northern California.

John Hawkley, 56, won this year’s Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-off in Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco.

Hawkley “squashed” his competition, beating the runner-up by more than 300 pounds, Tim Beeman, a spokesman for the weigh-off said.

Hawkley — a production manager for a local newspaper — credited his success at least in part to warm weather. He ended up with a total of six pumpkins on a 4,500-square-foot patch of land in his front yard in California’s Napa Valley, which is famous for its wine grapes. One of his other pumpkins also weighed more than 2,000 pounds.

“My wife said this is as much pumpkin patch area as I’m going to get,” he said.

Hawkley said he will use the more-than $13,000 in prize money to make repairs on his home, which was damaged during a strong earthquake in the Napa area in August.

All 30 pumpkins weighed at this year’s tournament were from California, according to Beeman. The contest normally gets growers from Oregon and Washington as well.

Last year’s winner was also from the Napa Valley and came in at 1,985 pounds.

Hawkley’s gourd will be on display this weekend at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival.

Reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS from HALF MOON BAY, Calif.

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