By KYLE HOPKINS and CASEY GROVE
GOULD: Searchers find her “tired, hungry, thirsty.”
Volunteers found Iditarod veteran Melanie Gould alive Saturday in the Cantwell area, more than 11 days after the Talkeetna musher disappeared.
“She’s tired, hungry, thirsty. Those were her words to us,” said Amanda Olson, a member of a group that first spotted the missing musher. The 34-year-old Gould’s late-May disappearance sparked a broad search of the trails and woods east of Denali National Park, with volunteers pressing on after troopers ended the official hunt.
Friends like Olson had began to worry about Gould when she failed to show up for work May 31. She missed work the next day too, and friends say they began caring for the team of about a dozen dogs she left behind. Troopers later joined a search that expanded to include state and civilian aircraft, four-wheelers and dogs.
Olson declined to say exactly where Gould was found, and it’s unclear where she’s been.
Friends say they don’t know. Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said the details of the lost week are Gould’s own business.
“She indicated that she saw search efforts but stayed away,” Peters wrote in an email.
Upon finding the musher, friends gave Gould warm drinks and food, Olson said.
They didn’t ask many questions, she said. “We were just trying to get her warmed up, fed and put to sleep.”
Peters said Gould made contact with troopers Saturday. She was in good physical condition but was being taken to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, Peters said.
Gould competed in seven Iditarods beginning in 2000. She steadily improved from a 64th-place finish her rookie year to 18th in 2006. Gould scratched in 2007 after a crash destroyed her sled, according to reports at the time.
A wildlife trooper searching for Gould by helicopter had spotted her truck last Saturday on a trail about 18 miles from Cantwell, south of Fairbanks. But by Thursday troopers had found no additional clues and called off what officials called an “immense search” for the musher.
Park rangers, firefighters, the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and others participated. Peters said she didn’t immediately know how much the search effort cost.
As word of Gould’s disappearance spread, friends had created a Facebook page called “Have You Seen Melanie Gould?” that gained more than 3,000 followers. It gave Gould’s supporters and well-wishers a place to trade search information and stories about the musher, with regular updates on how efforts to scour the area outside of Cantwell were progressing.
The page was updated about 1 p.m. Saturday to say Gould had been found alive and safe but provided no additional information.
Another post followed a couple hours later, striking a protective tone.
“Everyone — remember it is Melanie’s business whether to tell anyone what happened,” it read. “She doesn’t have to ever tell any of us anything.”
By Saturday night, the Facebook page had disappeared.