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Butcher shared some great adventures with Redington during the two years she spent with him and his family. For fun, they assembled a team of dogs after the 1979 race and spent 40 days climbing to the top of Denali, the native Alaskan name for Mount McKinley, becoming the first people to mush to the summit.
Redington, who represents mushing's old guard, made a stir when he told reporters that his swimsuited protégée would someday win the Iditarod. He may ruffle feathers again if he pursues his plan to nominate Butcher to the largely male Dos Mushers' Hall of Fame, in Knik. Redington, who still races despite a substantial hearing loss, couldn't care less if there's a fuss. "She deserves it," he says.
Runyon says Butchers ability to attract corporate sponsors and her intense preparation before each race have "taken the sport to another plateau." Monson has helped her carry it there. The scholarly looking 38-year-old lawyer and champion dog musher (he won the 1988 Yukon Quest and placed fifth in the 1982 Iditarod) attended college in Colorado, Minnesota and Heidelberg, Germany, and earned a law degree at the University of South Dakota before journeying to Alaska in 1976 to live "unbound by convention." He has been a business partner as well as boyfriend and then husband to Butcher since 1982.
Talk about power couples. In the main cabin in Eureka, Monson sits at a desk piled high with papers. He faxes contracts to Ralston-Purina, a company which sponsors his wife and feeds their dogs, and talks by telephone to another sponsor about transporting dog food to races. Across the yard, in the kennel office, Butcher examines the huskies' health records and plans training schedules for her teams. "Running a kennel is big business," says Monson, who also sits on the board of directors for the Iditarod. "Racing as much as we do—approximately 3,000 miles or about six races a year, which is twice as much as anybody else—there are a lot of logistics to think about. One person can't do it all."
Before becoming Butcher's husband, Monson was among her many creditors. As she was preparing to leave Redington's kennel and move to Eureka in 1980, Monson came by, hawking seafood byproducts as dog food on behalf of a native Alaskan corporation. Butcher thought she had a $15.000 sponsorship deal lined up and charged the $6,000 worth of dog food she bought from Monson to her supposed sponsor. But the sponsor backed out and left her holding the bill. That summer, she slept either in her yellow Volkswagen Beetle or at a friend's apartment while working as a supervisor at an Anchorage fish factory. On her days off, she knocked on doors all over town, looking for sponsors. She collected a lot of T-shirts and a few $50 contributions during those three months, but she didn't raise enough money to cover her racing expenses for the year, much less make a dent in her stack of bills. Over the next two years she paid Monson back in $10 and $25 increments. He was charmed. "I had a host of delinquent customers, and her conscientiousness was inspiring," he says. By 1982 they were dating and spending time together during extended visits, although they were living 600 miles apart.
After the 1982 race, the couple decided to prepare for the 1983 race full time. They figured the extra training time would improve Butcher's chances of winning. If she won, they reasoned, she would attract new sponsors, and the money would make up for the lost summer income. But the gamble didn't pay off. Butcher followed a mismarked trail, got lost for 12 hours and finished ninth. Monson had to take a job as a public defender in Kotzebue for a year to bring in money.
Since their marriage in 1985, Butcher has gone four for five in the Iditarod. As a wedding gift, Charlie gave Susan and David a complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which sits on a bookshelf in the main cabin. Monson jokes that the encyclopedia helps them settle disputes during the long Alaskan winters. Charlie figures they don't need the set very often for that. "Susan and David are made for each other," he says.
Monson gets the credit as well as the blame for the presence, around the kennel, of the electronic links to the outside world. Still, Butcher acknowledges that they have come in handy. Faxes and telephones on the premises mean no more driving 30 miles to the pay phone in Manley Hot Springs, then spending the day talking to answering machines on the East and West coasts while trying to line up race sponsors.
Butcher's other link to the outside, Bob Woolf—a Boston agent who handles, among others, New Kids on the Block and Larry Bird—has made her well known throughout the U.S. She has appeared on The Tonight Show, Today and Good Morning America. She is also a two-time Women's Sports Foundation Professional Sportswoman of the Year. Butcher, Monson and Granite dealt with a different kind of Bush when they all met the President at the White House last April. Her 45-day summer travel schedule, during which she crisscrosses the Lower 48—signing autographs at sporting-goods trade shows, sitting for photo and interview sessions, meeting with sponsors and giving speeches at seminars and conventions—allows her to sample and bring back to Eureka such luxuries as La Croix water and Korean pickled cabbage. Butcher has even developed a taste for the Big Apple. "It's my favorite place to visit—not over any country place, mind you, but among the cities," she says. "You have freedom there to do anything you want at any time of day, just like in the bush." She visits New York City once or twice a year.
Monson claims that the kennel—where expenses for dog care average about $150 per day, plus a little more for upkeep on the sleds, trucks, all-terrain vehicles, chain saws and generators—barely breaks even each year. He won't talk specifics, but he says it costs more than $130,000 a year to run the racing and kennel operations. Butcher won four of the six races she entered last year and collected about $80,000, including $50,000 for the Iditarod. The kennel made another $30,000 from dog sales (at prices ranging from $500 to $5,000 each). Add some sponsors' money—Monson won't disclose how much—from Ralston-Purina, an outerwear company, a telecommunications group and a hotel chain, and you have their total income. After paying the bills there isn't much left over.