Far from front-runners, Iditarod laggers say reaching Nome is a winBy Rachel Doro, AP
Friday, March 12, 2010
Iditarod laggers have dreams, too
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — By now, the leaders of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race are firmly established: four-time winner Jeff King fending off defending champ Lance Mackey and other mushing behemoths.
It’s a battle far removed from the back-of-the-packers in the 1,100-mile race to Nome on Alaska’s western coast. But these lagging mushers aren’t always the sad sacks new fans might expect, unless, of course, they’re forced to drop out or a dog goes missing — as is the case for one rookie’s team.
Many say they’re in it for the adventure of getting a dogsled view of Alaska’s wild splendor.
At least for now, few expect to beat the likes of King, who was first to reach the Yukon River village of Ruby early Friday, or Mackey, bidding for a fourth consecutive win. For arriving first, King was treated to a feast that included bison stew, grilled halibut in citrus sauce and blackberry jubilee. The 54-year-old veteran, who has said this year’s Iditarod is his last, also received $3,500.
King was also the first to reach the Galena checkpoint, 445 miles from Nome, arriving at 5:10 p.m. Friday. Mackey arrived in Galena about 90 minutes behind King. Other leaders reaching the checkpoint Friday night included Iditarod veteran Hugh Neff of Tok, 2004 winner Mitch Seavey of Seward and Hans Gatt, fresh off his fourth win in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in February.
Ten of the 71 mushers who left the starting point in Willow on Sunday have scratched, citing medical problems, equipment troubles or concern for their dogs.
Rookie Justin Savidis of Willow scratched Friday night to continue looking for his dog, “Whitey.” The 3-year-old male went missing Wednesday between the checkpoints of Nikolai and McGrath, where Savidis remained Friday. Race rules prohibit mushers from advancing if they arrive without the same team that left the previous checkpoint.
Among others at the back of the pack Friday was rookie Newton Marshall, the Iditarod’s first participant from Jamaica. The resident of St. Anne Parish trained this winter with Mackey and was in 54th place among the 61 mushers remaining.
Before the start of the race, Marshall said his goal was to do his best. He also said he was determined to make it to Nome and that he was excited to see the “lovely” landscape along the way.
“Anywhere I place, you know, I just have to deal with that,” he said.
Scottish rookie Wattie McDonald, running 50th, has his heart set on earning the Iditarod belt buckle given to all newcomers who finish the race. The 46-year-old Stonehaven resident has run dog teams for a decade but nothing near the level of the world’s most famous sled dog race.
“I figure it’d be in anyone’s mind, ‘I’d love to win this race.’ But then you give yourself a reality check, and you think, ‘OK, well I’d love to be rookie of the year,’ and you’ve got to give yourself another reality check,” he said before the race, adding his ultimate goal is to make it all the way. “When I arrive and collect my belt buckle in Nome, I’ll have won.”
There’s no shame in being at the very back, especially for rookies, said Iditarod veteran Paul Gebhardt, who has twice finished second and was in 17th place Friday. Rookies should realize it takes a while to learn the trail and a while to learn long-distance mushing.
Gebhardt’s advice to newbies: “Enjoy the trip and enjoy the scenery, because it’s some of the best country you’ll ever see in your life.”
His own objective is quite different.
“My goal is to win this race,” he said. “I’ve been trying for quite a while and I’ve been so close I could taste it.”
Tags: Alaska, Anchorage, Iditarod, North America, Outdoor Recreation, Recreation And Leisure, Sled Dog Racing, Sports, United States