Estes Park Woman Hauls Dog Out On Her Back
24-year old Michaela Maddalena is tough stuff.
You have to be tough to race sled dogs in Alaska and haul a Huskie out on your back in the wake of severe flooding in Colorado.
At the age of 14, Maddalena was the first person from Colorado to be a musher in the Junior Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska as well as the Junior Yukon Quest Race. The next year, when she was 15, she did the Junior Yukon Quest a second time. Both races are between 150 to 200 miles under rather challenging conditions.
“When I left Denver it was 60-degrees,” she says. “And then I got to Fairbanks and it was 60-below. That was a little bit of a chilly change.”
Last year her house on US Highway 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon burned down.
This year it was flooded.
“I got flooded out of that house, and then I went to my mom’s house and then she got flooded out of her house. Now all of us are now staying out at Valhalla,” she says. “My dogs were on my grandfather’s property in Pinewood Springs.”
Maddalena doesn’t let adversity get her down. During hard times, she believes a person should “keep your head up and everything will get better and just keep on going. I always say, ‘Play the cards you’re dealt.’”
The “hand” dealt Maddalena in the wake of the Sept. 12th floods was how to rescue five retired sled dogs staying at her grandfather’s ranch at Pinewood Springs.
The mountain town is cut off from access to the outside world. US 36 going both in and out of the community is missing huge chunks of pavement as well as bridges washed out in several locations.
“We were able to drive to the junction of Big Elk Meadows and Highway 36,” explains Maddalena. “It was my mom, myself, my sister, and my boyfriend. We had our packs on in case we had to stay on overnight. We hiked from Big Elk Meadows Rd. to the top of the hill that starts descending down into Lyons on my grandfather’s ranch. So we hiked in there and grabbed the dogs and then hiked back out.”
Five Alaskan huskies. Four could walk, but the fifth dog was old and really couldn’t handle the terrain.
“One of them I had to carry because she’s 15,” says Maddalena. “She didn’t have the backend strength, basically, to be able to haul herself over all the obstacles we had to go over, like the rocks, and down in the ravines, by-passing the washouts on the road.”
Maddalena hiked out of the mountain town with a 50-pound pack and a 45-pound dog named Dreamer on her back. It was a 6-mile hike back to her car.
Her dog-packing trek to safety is a subject that occasionally comes up as she cuts hair and applies permanents at Cost Cutters Family Hair Salon in Estes Park where she is the manager.
Loving your dog is one thing, but why would anyone haul a 45-pound dog on their back for 6 miles?
“People who have sled dogs have this incredible bond because when you are out in the middle of nowhere you have to be able to rely on each other to keep each other safe and get each other out of any sort of negative situation,” explains Maddalena. “You know me hauling her 6 miles out on my back because she couldn’t walk is nothing compared to what she pulled me out of before. So we walked her a little bit and realized she wasn’t strong enough, so I immediately put her on. I didn’t think twice about it. You do what you gotta do.”
Michaela Maddalena did it. She fits the definition of what has become the logo for Estes Park’s recovery from the floods. She’s “Mountain Strong.”