Sled racer stayed put to survive six days

ANCHORAGE - After becoming lost in the Alaska wilderness, rookie dog-sled racer Rod Boyce remembered survival lesson No. 1: Stay put.

Boyce, who disappeared in a blizzard during a 200-mile race, was found alive Friday afternoon, six days after he was last seen.

"I stayed put, but I didn't know where to go," Boyce said. "I was just trying to figure out what to do."

He was found near the race trail in the Caribou Hills of the Kenai Peninsula, said Greg Wilkinson, an Alaska State Troopers spokesman. A snowmobiler spotted him walking near the trail about 1:30 p.m.

"I said, `Hi, I'm the missing Tustumena musher,' and he gave me a candy bar," Boyce said.

Boyce, 38, was competing for the first time in the 200-mile Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race on the Kenai Peninsula when he took a wrong turn early last Sunday and found himself off the race trail and atop a ridge.

Instead of pressing on, he staked his dogs and hunkered down to build camp in the shelter of trees to wait for the snow to stop.

He used a cooker to melt snow and rationed his food - a bag of candy and a couple of sausage and cheese sticks. When he became very hungry, he attempted to eat dog food and used some of the candy to get rid of the taste.

Boyce had survival equipment - required to compete in the race - that included snowshoes, a sleeping bag, an ax and a stove to melt snow. He was wearing thermal underwear, a snowsuit and wind pants, but was without his parka because he had sent it ahead to the halfway point in the race.

He heard snowmobilers looking for him, but three days of snow prevented him from venturing out. When he heard the search helicopters, he waved a red jacket and one day hiked to the top of a ridge and stamped "HELP" in the snow, using alder branches to make his message stand out. At night, he crawled inside the bag of his sled, and two dogs slept on top to keep him warm.

He awoke Friday to clear skies, gathered up the last of the candy, put on his snowshoes, staked his dog team and began hiking toward where he had heard snow machines.

On a rise, he could see the trail was closer than he had thought. He estimated he had walked about four miles the snowmobiler spotted him.

He told troopers he didn't need medical treatment and instead went to a hotel to take a long nap. One of the first things he enjoyed was a cheeseburger. Apart from aching feet, he said he felt good.

Another musher went to the camp to retrieve his dogs. Boyce said his dogs made out fine but became a little cranky. He separated them to keep them from fighting.

Hope of finding Boyce, city editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, had started to wane after days passed without any sign of him or the dogs.

When Boyce's colleagues at the newspaper found out he was alive, cheers broke out in the newsroom.

"I had a lot of respect for Rod as an editor before this," Managing Editor Kelly Bostian said. "I mean, I am amazed and impressed that he could pull through that. . . . That takes somebody with a good head on their shoulders. I am just very impressed that he was able to pull this out."