Dallas Seavey rockets to win 2014 Iditarod

Dallas Seavey sits under the burled arch in Nome, Alaska after winning the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Tuesday, March 11, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Dallas Seavey sits under the burled arch in Nome, Alaska after winning the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Dallas Seavey ran a blistering pace to rally from third place and win his second Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race early Tuesday in a record-breaking finish, after a sudden storm blew the front-runner out of the competition and kept another musher minutes away from her first win.jd-iditarod-logo

The victory was so strange that Seavey said he didn’t even realize he won the race until about 90 seconds after he crossed the finish line.

“Man, this is a lot of people coming out to see third place come in,” he thought about the hubbub when he arrived in Nome early Tuesday morning.

“I just found out that I won. I think you guys knew before I did,” he told a packed convention hall in Nome early Tuesday morning.

In fact, he thought he was “racing my dad for third,” he said. But in fact the trailing musher he thought was his father, defending champion Mitch Seavey, was actually Aliy Zirkle, and they were battling for first place.

Only Zirkle knew it, though.

Dallas Seavey holds one of his dogs after winning the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, Tuesday, March 11, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Dallas Seavey holds one of his dogs after winning the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

How it played out: The strange finish started Monday afternoon when four-time champ Jeff King enjoyed an hour’s lead over Zirkle and left the checkpoint at White Mountain.

King wasn’t challenged as he maintained, and at times, extended his lead along the Bering Sea coast. He was trying to become the race’s second five-time winner.

Then Safety happened.

Jeff King: Safety is the last checkpoint in the race, 22 miles from the finish line in Nome. The area was buffeted by extremely high winds and a ground blizzard.

A gust of wind blew King off course and into driftwood about 4 miles before Safety. He was able to get the team back together, but they wouldn’t run.

So he sat for 2 1/2 hours until he flagged down a passing snowmobiler. He hitched a ride to the checkpoint at Safety and scratched.

Zirkle’s struggle: Zirkle had made up the hour on King, and conditions were so bad, she decided to stay in Safety — a checkpoint no one ever uses for a break.

“I had to stop in Safety for a couple of dogs and myself,” said Zirkle, who had frostbite on her hands.

When she went to sign in, the paper was blank. She asked workers where King was, and they were surprised she didn’t see him on the trail.

“I never saw Jeff out there, but I wasn’t on the trail most of the time. I don’t know where I was,” she said.

Because of the blizzard-like conditions, she wasn’t going to continue.

“I said, to heck with it, I’m staying,” Zirkle said.

She had a cup of coffee, talked to people in Safety about how bad the conditions were, took a nap.

And after she woke up, she saw Seavey breeze through the checkpoint, staying only three minutes. She walked outside, and decided to get on the trail, after resting there two hours and 38 minutes.

Zirkle then left the checkpoint 19 minutes after Seavey.

She lost the race by two minutes.

Talking to the dogs: “I wasn’t in a big hurry. I was racing for third, and I was telling my dogs, ‘We’ve done our work here, you guys have done a good job, let’s go home,’” Seavey said. “‘No rush, guys, let’s take it easy.’”

In fact, at one point, he stopped to take selfie photos during sunset right before he hit the bad weather.

“Sure, yeah, hindsight, blah, blah, blah … second’s pretty good,” Zirkle said about her third consecutive runner-up spot.

“I’m sure I’m going to be bummed,” an exhausted Zirkle told fans who mobbed her in the city’s convention center, where top mushers traditionally meet with fans immediately after coming off the trail.

But she also noted that three second places are “better than scratching.”

The time and the trail: Seavey finished the race in eight days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds, easily breaking the previous record set in 2011. Zirkle was 2 minutes 22 seconds behind him.

The trail this year has been marked by poor conditions because of a lack of snow after a warm winter by Alaska standards.

A number of mushers were injured at the beginning of the race as their sleds ran on gravel near the Dalzell Gorge. One musher, Scott Janssen of Anchorage, had to be rescued by a National Guard helicopter crew after breaking an ankle.

Snowless conditions again greeted mushers as they reached the western coast of the nation’s largest state.

The race began March 2 in Willow with 69 teams. As of Tuesday morning, 17 mushers had dropped out and one was withdrawn.

The Iditarod winner receives $50,000 and a new truck. The 29 teams after that get cash prizes decreasing on a sliding scale. All other teams finishing the race receive $1,049.

John Baker had held the fastest finish in Iditarod history, covering the trail from Anchorage to Nome in eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes in 2011.

Reported by MARK THIESSEN of the Associated Press from NOME, Alaska

Iditarod musher Jeff King, from Denali, Alaska, mushes between the checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety, the last checkpoint before the finish line in Nome. King was the first musher to leave the White Mountain checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod musher Jeff King, from Denali, Alaska, mushes between the checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety, the last checkpoint before the finish line in Nome. King was the first musher to leave the White Mountain checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

MORE IDITAROD ACTION

Junior Dispatch’s coverage of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race:

Junior Dispatch also offered a series of “Fast-Facts” to help familiarize readers with the rules of the game:

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Fast-Facts on winning the Iditarod

In this 1973 photo, Joe Redington, left, and Orville Lake, right, present Dick Wilmarth the trophy for his victory in the inaugural Iditarod race in Nome, Alaska. Wilmarth completed the race in a whopping 20 days and 49 minutes, followed by an even slower race the following year, when the winner took 20 days, 15 hours and one minute to reach the finish line. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Mike McCormick)

In this 1973 photo, Joe Redington, left, and Orville Lake, right, present Dick Wilmarth the trophy for his victory in the inaugural Iditarod race in Nome, Alaska. Wilmarth completed the race in a whopping 20 days and 49 minutes, followed by an even slower race the following year, when the winner took 20 days, 15 hours and one minute to reach the finish line. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Mike McCormick)

In the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, there’s always a heart-pounding thrill at the finish line in Nome, a rollicking frontier city on Alaska’s western coast.jd-iditarod-logo

The city’s siren blares as the winning team trots along Front Street at the edge of the Bering Sea. Spectators are heavily bundled against the bone-chilling cold as they cheer and chant the victor’s name. In the winner’s circle, the dogs are calm, standing nobly, like crossing almost 1,000 miles of punishing terrain was no great feat.

But some finishes have stood out among all others in the annual race that began in 1973. Here are five things to know about some of the Iditarod’s most memorable finishes.

WINNING BY THE BLINK OF AN EYE

Only one second separated the winner from the runner-up in 1978, the closest race ever. The frantic dash down Front Street left Dick Mackey as the winner over Rick Swenson, who went on to become the Iditarod’s only five-time champion.

QUEENS OF THE TRAIL

 In this March 20, 1985 photo, musher Libby Riddles stands in front of the City Hall at Nome, Alaska, shortly after crossing the finish line, becoming the first female champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Riddles forged through a blinding ground blizzard nobody else dared to challenge to become the first woman to win the Iditarod.(AP Photo, File)

In this March 20, 1985 photo, musher Libby Riddles stands in front of the City Hall at Nome, Alaska, shortly after crossing the finish line, becoming the first female champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Riddles forged through a blinding ground blizzard nobody else dared to challenge to become the first woman to win the Iditarod.(AP Photo, File)

In 1985, Libby Riddles forged through a blinding ground blizzard nobody else dared to enter to become the first woman to win the race. It took 18 days and 20 minutes — the fourth slowest Iditarod on record. The late Susan Butcher, who would go on to win four Iditarods, was knocked out of the running that year when a moose ripped through her team, killing two dogs and severely injuring several others. Butcher defended her team using only her ax and parka against the moose, which was shot by another musher. Aliy Zirkle, who’s in second place now and was the runner-up the last two years, is hoping to become the third woman to win the race.

MASTERS OF MOMENTUM

The 2011 winner, John Baker, holds the record for the fastest Iditarod completed, clocking in at the Nome finish line in eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes. That time was four hours faster than the previous record set by Martin Buser in 2002. Given the blistering pace of this year’s race, another record would not be out of the question.

EMPLOYING A LITTLE TRICKERY

Lance Mackey, the son of photo-finisher Dick Mackey, pulled off a stunt in 2008 that proved to be the turning point in his second victory of what would be four consecutive Iditarod wins. He could not shake four-time champion Jeff King for much of the trail until the two reached Elim, a checkpoint 123 miles from Nome. Mackey, who was leading by three minutes, made a show of settling in for a nap, telling checkpoint volunteers to wake him in an hour. With King soon snoring, Mackey sneaked out of the checkpoint 70 minutes ahead of his opponent, beating him to Nome by one hour and 19 minutes.

POKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS

The Iditarod’s first winner, Dick Wilmarth, completed the race in a whopping 20 days and 49 minutes, followed by an even slower race the following year, when the winner took 20 days, 15 hours and one minute to reach the finish line. Winning times have gradually quickened, thanks to innovations in dog breeding and gear and stiffer competition among mushers. Times finally reached the nine-day mark in 1995. Even the last musher to reach Nome these days is often faster than the early winning teams. Last year’s recipient of the Red Lantern award for arriving last made the trek in 13 days, 22 hours and 36 minutes.

___

Reported by RACHEL D’ORO of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska. Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

In this 1978 photo, Dick Mackey, right, runs in front of Rick Swenson, left, in a sprint to the Iditarod finish in Nome, Alaska. The 1978 dash down Front Street left Mackey as the winner with one second to spare over Swenson, who went on to become the Iditarod's only five-time champion. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Rob Stapleton)

In this 1978 photo, Dick Mackey, right, runs in front of Rick Swenson, left, in a sprint to the Iditarod finish in Nome, Alaska. The 1978 dash down Front Street left Mackey as the winner with one second to spare over Swenson, who went on to become the Iditarod’s only five-time champion. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Rob Stapleton)

MORE IDITAROD ACTION

Junior Dispatch’s coverage of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race:

Junior Dispatch also offered a series of “Fast-Facts” to help familiarize readers with the rules of the game:

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King pulls ahead of Zirkle as mushers near the end of the 2014 Iditarod

Jeff King talks about the trail from Rainy Pass to Nikolai at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Jeff King talks about the trail from Rainy Pass to Nikolai at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Four-time champion Jeff King took a razor-thin lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, trading places with his closest rival by departing a checkpoint one minute earlier on Alaska’s wind-scoured western coast.

Aliy Zirkle led hours before when she arrived at the Norton Bay village of Koyuk one minute ahead of King on Sunday afternoon.jd-iditarod-logo

King rested his 12-dog team at the checkpoint for three hours and 42 minutes, while Zirkle and her 11 dogs took a break for three hours and 44 minutes. King departed Koyuk at 5:50 p.m. Sunday, and Zirkle got back on the trail at 5:51 p.m.

Not far now: They are on a 48-mile dash to the next checkpoint of Elim on Golovin Bay, 123 miles from the finish line in Nome.

King last won in 2006 and is trying to be only the second musher to win five races.

Zirkle has come in second place the last two years in the nearly 1,000-mile race. She is seeking to become only the third woman to win the race and the first woman since the late Susan Butcher in 1990.

Zirkle arrived at Koyuk at 2:07 p.m. Sunday after a 50-mile run from the previous checkpoint at Shaktoolik. King arrived close behind at 2:08 p.m.

Other front-runners Sunday were four-time champion Martin Buser, who arrived in Koyuk in third place at 4:20 p.m. Sunday, followed 13 minutes later by 2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey. Veteran musher Sonny Lindner arrived in fifth place at 4:47 p.m., followed by defending champion Mitch Seavey, father of Dallas Seavey, at 5:23 p.m.

Veteran Aaron Burmeister had been sixth out of Shaktoolik but arrived in Koyuk at 5:58 p.m., after Mitch Seavey.

Aliy Zirkle poses for the photo with 8-year-old Autumn Nanouk. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. Autumn's grandmother, Rhoda Nanouk, made Nanouk's wolf ruff parka. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle poses for the photo with 8-year-old Autumn Nanouk. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. Autumn’s grandmother, Rhoda Nanouk, made Nanouk’s wolf ruff parka. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

The racers, who have two more checkpoints after Elim and before Nome, are expected to begin arriving in Nome no later than Tuesday.

Waiting in Nome: While the front-runners were gunning up the Bering Sea coast, volunteers and Nome city crews were busily preparing the old Gold Rush town for the coming onslaught of dog teams and spectators. Dog lots were being readied, and volunteers at the town’s mini convention center were folding souvenir T-shirts to be sold. Early Sunday morning, the famed burled arch marking the finish line was moved by bulldozer from a city parking lot to its yearly spot on Front Street.

Temperatures in Nome hovered slightly above zero Sunday, which brought clear conditions and brilliant sunshine. Snowfall has been light this winter in the frontier town of nearly 3,700, so the city has been stockpiling snow, which was being trucked to Front Street for the final stretch to the finish line.

The race began March 2 in Willow with 69 teams. As of Sunday afternoon, 16 mushers had scratched, leaving 53 teams on the trail, which was marked by long stretches of bare and rocky ground that made for an icy, treacherous trail in the early part of the race.

Zirkle on Saturday was the first musher to reach the coastal community of Unalakleet. But she thought she was running second behind Buser, learning only later that he was resting at a cabin. Thinking she was running second, she wasn’t all hyped up thinking she was first, Zirkle said before taking off from the Unalakleet Saturday night.

“I made the run really mellow,” she said in a video posted on the Iditarod website.

King left Unalakleet 69 minutes later, saying he and his dogs were feeling great. King, 58, has been battling a stiff back, shoulders and arms all winter, but he was feeling “loose as a cucumber now,” King said in an Iditarod video.

“Man, my aches and pains go way when I rattle down the trail,” he said. “I swear it.”

The first to reach Nome wins $50,000 and a new truck. The 29 teams after that win cash prizes decreasing on a sliding scale. All other teams finishing the race receive $1,049.

___

Reported by RACHEL D’ORO of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska. Associated Press writer Mark Thiessen contributed to this report from Nome, Alaska. Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

MORE IDITAROD ACTION

Junior Dispatch’s coverage of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race:

Junior Dispatch also offered a series of “Fast-Facts” to help familiarize readers with the rules of the game:

Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team across the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team across the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

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2014 Iditarod photo gallery: Weekend action

The 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began last week and the first mushers are expected to reach the finish line in Nome, Alaska, sometime Tuesday. Keep checking back at Junior Dispatch for the latest updates. These images are from weekend action in the race.

Trix, a team dog for Iditarod musher John Baker, from Kotzebue, AK, keeps an eye on the musher at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Trix, a team dog for Iditarod musher John Baker, from Kotzebue, AK, keeps an eye on the musher at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team across the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle drives her dog team across the portage from Kaltag to Unalakleet. Zirkle is the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle mushes her dog team between the checkpoints of Kaltag and Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle mushes her dog team between the checkpoints of Kaltag and Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Robert Sorlie gives a pill to his dog at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Robert Sorlie gives a pill to his dog at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Robert Sorlie gives a pill to his dog at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Robert Sorlie gives a pill to his dog at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod musher Kelly Maixner of Big Lake, Ak., puts a bootie back on Chanty after his sled dog removed it at the Cripple checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod musher Kelly Maixner of Big Lake, Ak., puts a bootie back on Chanty after his sled dog removed it at the Cripple checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Ray Redington Jr.'s, team dogs rest next to the Ruby Bible Church at the Ruby checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Ray Redington Jr.’s, team dogs rest next to the Ruby Bible Church at the Ruby checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Hugh Neff's dog team sleeps in the sun at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Hugh Neff’s dog team sleeps in the sun at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle accepts the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award for the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Aliy Zirkle accepts the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award for the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

One of Hans Gatt's dogs is ready to go as Gatt made a brief stop at the Yukon River village of Kaltag during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

One of Hans Gatt’s dogs is ready to go as Gatt made a brief stop at the Yukon River village of Kaltag during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Mackenzie Tulloch and Aubrey Tulloch are selling treats at the Galena checkpoint to raise money for musher Lance Mackey's medical expenses during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News Bob Hallinen)

Mackenzie Tulloch and Aubrey Tulloch are selling treats at the Galena checkpoint to raise money for musher Lance Mackey’s medical expenses during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod pilot Wes Erb loads dropped dogs into his Cessna 180 at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod pilot Wes Erb loads dropped dogs into his Cessna 180 at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Mitch Seavey packs some straw into his sled bag at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. Seavey did not rest at the checkpoint. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Mitch Seavey packs some straw into his sled bag at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. Seavey did not rest at the checkpoint. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Hugh Neff drives his dog team out of the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Hugh Neff drives his dog team out of the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Ramey Smyth, from Willow, Ak., arrives at the Ruby checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Ramey Smyth, from Willow, Ak., arrives at the Ruby checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Hans Gatt, from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, feeds his dogs next to the Ruby Bible Church at the Ruby checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Hans Gatt, from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, feeds his dogs next to the Ruby Bible Church at the Ruby checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Richie Diehl, form Aniak, Ak., rests at the Ruby checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Richie Diehl, form Aniak, Ak., rests at the Ruby checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

A dog belonging to Ralph Johannessen, from Dagali, Norway, rests on a bed of straw at the Takotna, Alaska, checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

A dog belonging to Ralph Johannessen, from Dagali, Norway, rests on a bed of straw at the Takotna, Alaska, checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod musher Wade Marrs, from Wasilla, AK, arrives at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod musher Wade Marrs, from Wasilla, AK, arrives at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod musher Michelle Phillips, from Tagish, YT, Canada, arrives at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Iditarod musher Michelle Phillips, from Tagish, YT, Canada, arrives at the Unalakleet checkpoint at sunrise during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

MORE IDITAROD ACTION

Junior Dispatch’s coverage of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race:

 

Junior Dispatch also offered a series of “Fast-Facts” to help familiarize readers with the rules of the game:

Read More

Miserable — and dangerous — conditions for Iditarod

Kristy Berington mushes down the Iditarod Trail in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Kristy Berington mushes down the Iditarod Trail in the middle of the Farewell Burn during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

After fighting their way down an icy gorge and across a snowless expanse, a wave of Iditarod mushers hit the Nikolai checkpoint Tuesday telling tales of survival, not racing.

Some openly criticized the Iditarod Trail Committee’s decision to keep the race on its traditional route, rather than move the restart from Willow to Fairbanks and avoid portions of the trail made miserable by relatively warm weather.jd-iditarod-logo

Broken brakes: Musher Hans Gatt, a 12-time Iditarod finisher, said keeping the race on the traditional route was “totally irresponsible.”

The problem with the poor trail, the mushers say, is they could not set brakes on the ice and frozen mud well enough to control their sleds as dogs pulled them over, through and into the hazards. When their sleds got caught on stumps and rocks, several of them broke their brake.

One of those belonged to Hugh Neff, whose metal brake pedal broke in half.

“We’re going over trees, huge rocks, stumps. It’s a mine field out there,” Neff said just after arriving in Nikolai.

Danger: Many mushers carried wounds from the battle, having slammed their bodies on sleds and, in some cases, on trees and rocks. Some limped from one task to the next in Nikolai, feeding dogs and checking gear.

“They should not send people out there. It’s not safe,” said four-time finisher and two-time champ Robert Sorlie. “I’ve never been so scared before in my life.”

Mushers Jason Mackey and Rick Casillo echoed the sentiment, both saying “I thought I was going to die.”

Others said they did not want to second-guess the trail committee’s decision on the route. Race officials said the decision to keep the restart in Willow was based on trail reports two weeks before the race. Warmer weather since then made the trail more dangerous than they had anticipated.

Musher Karin Hendrickson cuddles with one of her sled dogs at the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Musher Karin Hendrickson cuddles with one of her sled dogs at the Takotna checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Dogs: Veterinarians reported 11 dropped dogs in Nikolai late Tuesday after 40 teams had checked in. The only injuries were minor — sore shoulders and wrists, the vets said.

“It seems like the dogs fared better than the mushers,” veterinarian Bruce Nwadike said.

Dallas Seavey of Willow, the 2012 champ and one of the prerace favorites, nearly lost his team on the way to Nikolai when his sled hit a tree about 20 miles out of Rohn and the line connecting most of his team to the sled broke.

“I was doing a good job of dodging trees until that one,” he said. “I guess kind of out of instinct I started running and actually caught up with them.”

Seavey said the 12 dogs that got away looked stunned that he was running down the trail after them, so they slowed down. But the loose line of dogs sped up when he got close.
“It was kind of a running jump and I actually caught hold of something,” Seavey said.

Seavey said it was the worst he’d ever seen the Dalzell Gorge or the Farewell Burn, but he did not want to blame the trail committee for sending the mushers down the trail.

“Obviously somebody had to make the best decision they could. I don’t want to go with hindsight,” he said.

Race officials: Race marshal Mark Nordman said Tuesday night that the Iditarod Trail Committee had seen pictures of the trail and heard reports that convinced them the race could be safely run on the traditional route.

A “tremendous” amount of trail work was done, Nordman said, but higher temperatures in the days before the race started melted the snow cover, creating a hazardous route down the Dalzell Gorge and across the Farewell Burn.

The committee made the best decision they could at the time, Nordman said.

___
Reported by CASEY GROVE of the Anchorage Daily News from NIKOLAI, Alaska. Reach Casey Grove at cgrove@adn.com.
(MCT)

(c)2014 the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska) Visit the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska) at www.adn.com

One of John Dixon’s team dogs looks back at the musher after they arrived at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News,Bob Hallinen)

One of John Dixon’s team dogs looks back at the musher after they arrived at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News,Bob Hallinen)

Rick Casillo comes over the last drop as he comes down the steps onto Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen, File)

Rick Casillo comes over the last drop as he comes down the steps onto Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen, File)

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Nome native reaches Iditarod’s halfway point, earns gold nuggets

Aaron Burmeister’s sled dogs rest at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Burmeister injured his knee about 18 miles past the Rohn checkpoint on the snowless Farewell Burn. His knee popped out and he had to tape it up so it would stay in place.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Hallinen)

Aaron Burmeister’s sled dogs rest at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Burmeister injured his knee about 18 miles past the Rohn checkpoint on the snowless Farewell Burn. His knee popped out and he had to tape it up so it would stay in place. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Hallinen)

Aaron Burmeister has the lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.jd-iditarod-logo

Officials say in a release that Burmeister was the first musher to reach the checkpoint in Cripple. He arrived just before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

For his efforts, he picks up $3,000 in placer gold nuggets for being the first musher to reach the halfway mark of the Iditarod.

Burmeister is attempting to become the first Nome native to win the race.

The nearly 1,000-mile race began Sunday with 69 teams. It will end in Nome some time next week.

As of Wednesday, 11 mushers have scratched and one was withdrawn during difficult conditions early in the race. That leaves 57 teams on the trail.

Reported by the ASSOCIATED PRESS from ANCHORAGE, Alaska

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Iditarod racer: I crashed sled, blacked out and broke ankle

In a Saturday, March 1, 2014 photo, Scott Janssen keeps control of his sled rounding the corner near Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 in Anchorage, Ak. Janssen, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was back home early Wednesday, Feb. 5 after he was flown to a hospital after a harrowing ordeal that included crashing his sled, hitting his head on a stump and later falling through ice and breaking his ankle. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News,Anne Raup)

In a Saturday, March 1, 2014 photo, Scott Janssen keeps control of his sled rounding the corner near Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 in Anchorage, Ak. Janssen, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was back home early Wednesday, Feb. 5 after he was flown to a hospital after a harrowing ordeal that included crashing his sled, hitting his head on a stump and later falling through ice and breaking his ankle. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News,Anne Raup)

An Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher was flown to a hospital after a difficult turn of events that included crashing his sled, hitting his head on a tree stump and getting knocked unconscious. Later on it got worse: He fell through some ice and broke his ankle.jd-iditarod-logo

Scott Janssen, 52, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was back home Wednesday after getting a cast for the broken bone he suffered on Tin Creek, about 40 miles from Nikolai.

“I made it through the worst part of the trail only to slip on the ice and break my foot,” Janssen said as he recuperated from home.

Treacherous trail conditions with little snow have marked the early part of this year’s Iditarod, which started Sunday with 69 mushers. The nearly 1,000-mile race spans two mountain ranges, dangerous wilderness and the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast.

What happened: Janssen’s ordeal began Tuesday when he crashed his sled between the Rohn and Nikolai checkpoints, hitting his head after he said he bumped across rocks all along the trail. He lay unconscious for at least an hour and awoke to find his sled nearby and his dogs huddled next to him, covered in light snow.

As he dismantled his broken seat, another musher came along. Janssen asked him the time, and couldn’t believe an hour, if not two, had passed.

“I tripped over there, went full-speed and hit my head on that stump,” he said he told the musher. “I think I went night-night for awhile.”

After caring for his dogs, Janssen fixed his sled and continued on.

Dog escape: He made it to Tin Creek and estimated he had only about 7 more miles of nasty trail until it turned good again.

But one of his dogs, Hooper, got loose from the line and took off.

Janssen said he loosely anchored his sled and tried to call Hooper as he crossed a frozen creek. But just as Hooper heeded the call and trotted back to his place in line, Janssen fell.

“I slipped on the ice, and bang, that was it,” he said. “Then I just laid there on the ice because I could not get back across the water to get back to my sled.”

Rescue: He lay there for about 45 minutes before another musher, St. Anne, Jamaica, native Newton Mashall, came along.

Iditarod musher Scott Janssen describes his overnight ordeal while wearing a boot for his broken foot on Wednesday afternoon, March 5, 2014, at his south Anchorage, Alaska, home. Janssen, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was airlifted off the trail to an Anchorage hospital for treatment for a concussion along with a broken bone. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill)

Iditarod musher Scott Janssen describes his overnight ordeal while wearing a boot for his broken foot on Wednesday afternoon, March 5, 2014, at his south Anchorage, Alaska, home. Janssen, an Anchorage undertaker known as the Mushing Mortician, was airlifted off the trail to an Anchorage hospital for treatment for a concussion along with a broken bone. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill)

“I said, ‘Help! Help,’ and Newton comes walking up and said, ‘Yeah, mon. How you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just lying around, kicking back,’” Janssen said.

Marshall was able to retrieve a snowsuit and Janssen’s sleeping bag from his sled, helping the injured musher into both. Janssen said hypothermia was setting in at that point.

After that, Janssen said he encouraged Marshall to get back on the trial and keep racing, but Marshall wouldn’t budge until help arrived. Mushers carry mandatory GPS units that have an emergency button on them, which Janssen said he pushed.

“I had 15 dogs I have to take care of; no way I could responsibly mush in the pain I was in,” he said.

Drop outs: Janssen is among about a dozen mushers who have dropped out of this year’s race. Iditarod officials also removed a Canadian musher because of injuries.

Janssen also had a frightening experience during the 2012 Iditarod. During that race, he had to give one of his dogs mouth-to-snout resuscitation after the animal collapsed while the team was going down a decline in the Dalzell Gorge. The dog survived.

Weather problems: Warm weather and light snow near the gorge led officials to briefly consider moving the start of this year’s race from the Anchorage area hundreds of miles north to Fairbanks. However, the decision was made late last month to leave the start in Willow, because conditions had improved.

Janssen said the area had snow when that decision was made but not when mushers arrived. He talked of bouncing off rocks on the trail, driving a team on gravel and going “across these rivers that were like smooth ice.”

Sportsman: Janssen has lived in Alaska and been an active outdoorsman for nearly three decades, competing in three previous Iditarods. He hoped he’d never find himself in a situation where he had to be rescued.

But he said there’s one consolation.

“I can always wear the badge of honor that I made it over the pass on the worst year in the 42-year history of the Iditarod.”

Reported by MARK THIESSEN of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska

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Get your 2014 Iditarod fast-facts

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ramey Smyth drives his dog team into the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race near Puntilla Lake, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ramey Smyth drives his dog team into the Rainy Pass checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race near Puntilla Lake, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

jd-iditarod-logo

One human wins the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race each year, but it’s the smaller, furry athletes that do the heroes’ share of the work crossing nearly 1,000 miles of merciless terrain to reach the finish line on Alaska’s wind-battered coast.

The 2014 race, which began Sunday, is still in the early stages, with jockeying for the lead remaining fluid until all the mushers begin taking a mandatory, 24-hour layover and two eight-hour rests. Sixty-nine mushers began the race, though several already have dropped out.

On Tuesday, Iditarod veteran Sonny Lindner was the first to leave the Nikolai checkpoint, more than 700 miles from the finish line in the old gold rush town of Nome. Participants say this year’s trail conditions are grueling, including stretches of bare ground. Throughout the race, mushers will keep a close eye on their dogs.

Here are some other key things to know about the four-legged competitors:

IT TAKES A TEAM

Mushers must have 12 to 16 dogs at the starting line. They must have at least six of those dogs to finish the race. If they don’t have enough dogs at the end, too bad. Race rules say no new dogs can be added on the trail.

YOUTH VS. WISDOM

Most Iditarod dogs range in age from 2 to 7, but some dogs as young as 1 ½ and older than 9 have participated. With a good mix of ages, mushers get frisky youngsters and seasoned veterans. It’s the older dogs that have come to memorize the trail. “Like, once a guy’s been in the NBA finals, he knows it,” race marshal Mark Nordman said.

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ralph Johannessen, of Dagali, Norway, rolls his sled as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

In this March 3, 2014 photo, Ralph Johannessen, of Dagali, Norway, rolls his sled as he comes down the steps onto the Happy River between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

SUPER CALORIE BURNERS

Oh, to have the metabolism of an Iditarod dog. These are not huge animals, generally ranging from 35 to 55 pounds. Yet each sled dog burns through at least 10,000 calories on the trail, continually snacking besides the three squares a day.

CANINE TRAIL MIX

The Iditarod diet used to be heavy on meat and fish, with some kibble thrown in. But the past decade has seen a reversal. Where it was once a combination of about 30 percent commercial dog food and 70 percent meat and fish, it’s now the opposite for many teams, thanks to the development of increasingly high-quality commercial dog food. “It’s why the pet industry has enjoyed the race so much, because they learn so much from the dogs that they can pass it on to the general community of pets,” Nordman said.

DOG TEAM VITALS

Some dogs still die during the race, including a dropped dog that died of asphyxiation at a checkpoint last year after it was covered by snow from a severe storm. But dog deaths — slammed by animal rights activists over the years — have dramatically declined. Last year’s death was the first since 2009. Dog care is a huge focus, with an average of six veterinarians assigned to each checkpoint to assess the animals’ health through such indicators as heart rate, hydration and appetite. Warning signs vets look for include off-kilter gaits and attitudes.

Reported by RACHEL D’ORO of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska. Follow Rachel D’Oro at —https://twitter.com/rdoro

Veterinarian Bruce Nwadike checks the dogs of musher Mike Williams Jr. at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Veterinarian Bruce Nwadike checks the dogs of musher Mike Williams Jr. at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Nikolai, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

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Four teams drop out of 2014 Iditarod

jd-iditarod-logoFour veteran mushers are out of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race because of injuries on the treacherous trail.

DeeDee Jonrowe, Lynwood Fielder and Mike Santos scratched Tuesday in Rohn, while Jim Lanier left the race at Rainy Pass.

Iditarod officials said in a release that Jonrowe told checkpoint personnel she was “beat up physically” in the Dalzell Gorge.

Fielder cited “physical injury from driving the Dalzell Gorge passage.” The 74-year-old Lanier told officials he injured his leg.

Officials said Santos scratched for personal reasons, leaving 64 mushers in the race.

A lack of snow is causing dangerous conditions in the gorge, with many mushers crashing their sleds.

Reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS from ANCHORAGE, Alaska.

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Mushing family a strong presence in Iditarod

Mitch Seavey feeds his team at the Finger Lake checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014, near Wasilla, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Mitch Seavey feeds his team at the Finger Lake checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 3, 2014, near Wasilla, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

Don’t get Dallas and Mitch Seavey wrong. They love each other, even though they might not say it in so many words. But they’re also fierce competitors, more than happy to pass each other on the nearly 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to be the first to reach Nome.

The then-25-year-old Dallas became the race’s youngest winner in 2012, only to be replaced by his dad, Mitch, who at age 53 became the Iditarod’s oldest winner last year. While they play out their rivalry, they might need to look behind another shoulder as Dallas’ younger brother, Conway, establishes himself in the sport.

The Seaveys shy away from the term “mushing dynasty,” but Mitch Seavey, who also won in 2004 acknowledges, “we sure mush a lot.”

“We got a couple of good-sized, serious kennels banging away at it,” Mitch Seavey said. “You’re bound to get your share” of championships.

You can count three for the family in the first 41 editions of the Iditarod.jd-iditarod-logo

Mitch’s father, Dan, helped organize the first Iditarod in 1973 and finished third that year.

When Dallas won the race two years ago, all three men were on the trail. Dan Seavey that year, at age 74, ran his fifth Iditarod to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail.

“We’ve certainly got a legacy that dad handed down to us, and then myself on to Dallas and beyond,” Mitch Seavey said. “We’ve learned a lot and hopefully we’ve helped each other as we go along.”

This year’s Iditarod started Sunday in Willow, and will finish sometime early next week in Nome, on Alaska’s western coast. In the early going, four-time champion Martin Buser was the first to leave the Rohn checkpoint Monday. The jockeying for the lead remains fluid until mushers began taking a mandatory 24 hour layover and two eight-hour rests.

Besides Mitch and Dallas, there is another Seavey in this year’s race, Dallas’ older brother, Danny, 31. He jokingly told Anchorage television station KTVA during the ceremonial start Saturday that if he were to finish ahead of either Mitch or Dallas, Plan A for both of those men went horribly wrong.

Reported by MARK THIESSEN of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska

2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey interacts with fans gathered at Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey interacts with fans gathered at Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

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Your Iditarod 2014 primer and Iditarod Fast-Facts

The Iditarod dog sled race started over the weekend in Alaska, and the Junior Dispatch will do its best to offer you all the coverage we can on the competition.

In recent years, the race has taken less and less time. Now it takes about 8 or 9 days for the first dog sled to cross the finish line in Nome. The race course is about 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome.jd-iditarod-logo

Junior Dispatch is presenting its Iditarod Fast-Facts which are quick informational nuggets about the race, the racers and the dogs who make it all happen. Look for those on most weekdays!

Here are a few Fast-Facts to start you off as you learn about the Iditarod:

VET CHECKS: Before the race begins and at every checkpoint, the dogs involved in the race are checked by veterinarians for signs of injury, sickness, exhaustion and abuse. The pre-race vet check also includes blood and ECG tests to make sure there’s no disease or irregular heartbeats among the animals.
Each year about 1,000 dogs will be examined before the race even begins.
Check out this video for more about what the vets look for in the dogs.

RULES OF THE GAME: Interested in the exact rules of the race? Well check out this PDF, which explains the right and wrong way to do things, including what absolutely must be on every sled, such as snow shoes, an axe and an emergency GPS tracking beacon.

To even enter the race at all, a musher needs to have proven himself or herself in other, shorter dog sled races first. You also need $3,000 — that’s how much it costs to register for the race.

WHO’S RACING? Read musher profiles on links from this page. Each person has a biography linked to their name. You can learn about their hometown, hobbies, schools they went to and how old they are.

RACE COURSE: This year, the Iditarod is taking the Northern route — the actual course alternates between a north route and a south route.  Originally, the race was 1,049 miles to represent 1,000 miles plus 49 miles because Alaska was the 49th state.

Iditarod-routes-wikipedia

 

The longest stretch between checkpoints is from Kaltag to Unalakleet, where teams will be running 85 miles on their own. That section is about 2/3rds of the way through the course.

WEATHER: You can monitor the weather on the course here. As of this writing, which is mid-morning in Alaska, the warmest spot on the trail is about 33 degrees. The coldest is 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mushers brave the cold in typical winter clothes, but with plenty of layers. They wear heavy jackets, insulated gloves, fur hats, balaclavas, thick socks and anything else they can put on to keep warm.

Dogs wear a lot less, but most get booties to protect their footpads and to keep them warm. They also often wear smocks over their chests and abdomens to help keep in the heat.

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69 in the running for the 2014 Iditarod

Siberian huskies Fritz, left, and Ruby lead the rookie team of Lisbet Norris of Willow, Alaska, across a bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

Siberian huskies Fritz, left, and Ruby lead the rookie team of Lisbet Norris of Willow, Alaska, across a bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

We have 69 mushers racing to Nome.

We have a loaded field that includes the top 10 finishers from last year’s race.jd-iditarod-logo

We have the usual supply of Seaveys. We have intrigue in the return of Robert Sorlie, the two-time champ from Norway back for the first time since 2007. We have a two-time runner-up in Aily Zirkle, who is trying to once again make Alaska the place where women win the Iditarod.
We have everything you need for the perfect Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Except the perfect trail.

Ice, open water, soft snow and no snow await dog teams as they begin the race to Nome this weekend. High temperatures — which in early February threatened to move the start of the race north to Fairbanks — returned with a vengeance Thursday and could compromise several weeks’ worth of volunteer labor on the trail.

“I heard it’s pretty sketchy,” said Dean Osmar, a veteran musher from Clam Gulch who has a number of dogs running the race, but isn’t driving a team himself. “Warm weather we don’t need. There’s patchy snow from Rainy Pass to Nikolai. It’s gonna be pretty treacherous.”

Osmar said he told rookie Monica Zappa of Kasilof that if she can make it to Nikolai, the checkpoint at the end of the bumpy and possibly bare Farewell Burn, she can make it to Nome.

Conditions are hard, fast and icy south of the Alaska Range — or at least they were before the latest heat wave. Joe Runyan, a champion-turned-race analyst, described it like this on iditarod.com: “The trail is an Olympic luge run, interrupted by inconvenient and terrifying descents into creek bottoms and natural detours around white spruce or boulders guarding crossings down the Dalzell Gorge.”

The ceremonial start was Saturday in downtown Anchorage, where mshers and their Idita-riders — people who bid for a ride with the musher of their choice — leave every two minutes and traveled 11 miles from downtown to Campbell Airstrip in the ultimate dog show. The clock wasn’t ticking for this part of the race — it’s all about pleasing fans and sponsors.

On Sunday in Willow, mushers and dogs went through it again, only this time the clock will be ticking and their destination is about 900 miles away. The first team heads out at 2 p.m.

Here are some things to know before they go:

WHO’S GOING TO WIN?

Osmar and Runyan teamed up to predict the top 10, but when asked who is on the list, Osmar rattled off about a dozen names.

“Sorlie, of course. The two Seaveys, Aliy, Ray Redington, Jake (Berkowitz), Joar (Leifseth Ulsom), Ralph (Johannessen), Aaron (Burmeister), (Sonny) Lindner, DeeDee. I’ve got about 15 in my top 10.”

He paused to think about who he forgot.

“Jeff King! He’s top five,” Osmar said. “I know I’m gonna have some people mad at me, because there’s about five more who are in my top 10.”

WHO’S RALPH JOHANNESSEN?

He’s the guy you might wish you drew in your classroom pool.

Johannessen is one of five mushers from Norway in this year’s race. Sorlie, the champion in 2003 and 2005, is the one best known to Alaskans, but keep an eye on Johannessen. He’s been mushing since 1973 and he’s won all of Norway’s major races.

“He’s the real deal,” Osmar said. “He’s been beating Sorlie half the time.”

WHO IS ON TEAM SEAVEY?

For the second time in three years, there’s a hat trick of Seaveys in the Iditarod:

  • 2013 champion Mitch Seavey, whose win at age 53 made him the oldest champ in history.
  • 2012 champion Dallas Seavey, whose win at age 24 made him the youngest champ in history.
  • Pinch-hitter Danny Seavey, Mitch’s son and Dallas’ brother, who was in Florida three weeks ago when the family called and told him to come home — they needed him to drive a sled to Nome.

Danny, 31, was needed when Matt Giblin, who was planning to drive a team of young Seavey dogs, broke his ankle. It’s been a couple of years since Danny has raced, but Mitch said his son is an accomplished musher and he’ll do fine.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Mitch said. “Plus he harnessed and broke a lot of these dogs as yearlings.”

In 2012, the Seavey contingent included family patriach Dan Seavey, then 74.

A four-Seavey race isn’t entirely out of the question. Conway Seavey, 17, just won his second Junior Iditarod and will be eligible for the full race next year when he’s 18. But Mitch doesn’t see that happening. Danny isn’t likely to return to full-time racing, and Conway is a pop singer and songwriter preparing for his first release, he said.
Asked to handicap the family’s race within the race, Mitch didn’t hedge.

“Dallas and I will be very competitive, and Danny will be semi-competitive,” he said. “Of course, I think I’m the best.”

WHERE’S LANCE?

For the first time since 2003, Lance Mackey is not running the race.

The four-time champion is skipping the race for health reasons. Mackey won four straight titles while battling cancer and its aftermath, which in his case has been ravaging.

Mackey will be missed by fans, who like how real and humble he is, and by members of the media, who like how quotable he is. And so we asked him what he likes about the ceremonial start.

“It is a must-do for the state and the sport,” Mackey said. “The only mushers who don’t enjoy it are also the ones without many fans.”
Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.
___
Reported by BETH BRAGG of the Anchorage Daily News
(c)2014 the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska)
Visit the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska) at www.adn.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services

The dog team of Dan Kaduce of Chatanika, Alaska, heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill)

The dog team of Dan Kaduce of Chatanika, Alaska, heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Erik Hill)

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Rescue Dog of the High Pass – Chapter 14: The Message

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RESCUE DOG OF THE HIGH PASS

EDITOR’S NOTE

Welcome to the Junior Dispatch’s serialization of the 1958 book “Rescue Dog of the High Pass” by Jim Kjelgaard. This version includes all of the original illustrations as well as additional images from around the Internet.

At the end of this chapter is a vocabulary list, an essay question and a related video.

Junior Dispatch invites you to participate by commenting or e-mailing juniordispatch@yorkdispatch.com with your thoughts on the chapter, vocabulary and essay responses or artwork.

By submitting a response, you can earn a JD water bottle!

Rescue Dog of the High Pass – Chapter 14: The Message

By Jim Kjelgaard

(Read Chapter 13 here)

The fire in the refectory’s great fireplace roared. The Prior, the Canons, the Sacristan, and everyone else who lived at the Hospice of St. Bernard and did not have to be away on some urgent business, were gathered around it.

Jean Greb, who felt well enough to sit up by now, occupied a chair in front of the fire. Shaken and thoroughly chilled, but not seriously injured, Professor Luttman lay on Jean’s pallet.

The Prior said, “Let us have the dog brought forth. Even though he cannot understand it, he should hear the message.”

All eyes turned to Franz, beside whom Caesar had been sitting only recently. The boy looked toward the door.

Caesar, who had accepted the stable but found the refectory much too hot, was waiting just inside the door. His jaws were spread and his tongue lolled. He wagged his tail at Franz and whined, obviously an invitation for his master to open the door and let him out into the comfortable snow.

“He finds the fire much too hot.” The boy spoke with a free tongue from a happy heart. He wondered now why he had ever been overawed by the Prior or anyone else at the Hospice. Beneath their somber habits beat very warm and wonderful hearts. If it were any other way, they would not be here. Franz finished, “He wants me to let him out.”

“A true dog of the high pass,” the Prior said. “Very well, Franz. You may let him out.”

The boy walked to the door, opened it, and Caesar trotted out gratefully. He began to roll in the snow. Franz returned to his place.

The Prior said, “All of us know of the miracle, a miracle wrought by a young maronnier and his dog. Now we shall hear the message Professor Luttman carries.”

“I have imparted the message to you,” Professor Luttman protested. “You are the proper person to tell Franz.”

“Not I!” The Prior laughed. “I am merely an onlooker here, and I must say that, for once, I thoroughly enjoy the spectator’s role. Proceed, Professor Luttman.”

“Very well.” The Professor turned to Franz. “Do you know what I really thought the day I expelled you from my school?”

“You thought I was too stupid to learn,” Franz replied.

“No such thing!” Professor Luttman denied. “I thought, ‘There goes an Alpinist, one who can never discover in my beloved books any of the inspiration that he finds in his beloved mountains. It is truly unjust to keep him in school when he does not belong here.’ I thought also that, one day, you would make your mark in the world.”

“I am just a maronnier at St. Bernard Hospice,” Franz protested.

“And how grateful I am because you are ‘just a maronnier,’” Professor Luttman said. “Were you not, I would have died in the snow.”

“They would have found you,” Franz insisted.

“We would not!” Anton Martek spoke up. “We would have continued digging where we thought he was. It never occurred to any of us that he might be three hundred feet away and down the wall of snow.”

“That is true,” Father Benjamin agreed.

“Very true,” said Father Mark.

“So I am alive today because of you and Caesar,” Professor Luttman continued. “Emil Gottschalk lives for the same reason. He wanted to give you—” Professor Luttman named a greater sum of money than the boy had ever thought existed.

“I would not accept his money,” Franz asserted firmly.

Professor Luttman said, “So I told him, so your father told him, too, but both of us agreed that the Hospice of St. Bernard might well use it. Now the Prior and I have talked, and the Prior declares that you shall decide how that money may be spent.”

Franz murmured, “I would like enough to keep Caesar in food, so that he will not be sent away from the Hospice.”

"I would buy more Alpine Mastiffs, dogs such as Caesar, and bring them to the Hospice."

“I would buy more Alpine Mastiffs, dogs such as Caesar, and bring them to the Hospice.”

The Prior laughed. “If there was any danger of Caesar being sent away—and there isn’t the slightest—there is enough money to feed him for the next hundred years and a vast sum besides.”

Cold as the arm was, he could still feel the pulse that beat within it.

Franz looked appealingly at the Prior. “I am not worthy to spend a sum so huge!”

“You must,” the Prior told him. “No one else can.”

Franz turned his troubled eyes to the floor. After a moment, he looked up.

“There is only one thing I would do,” he said finally. “I would go down into the villages, the mountain villages where people and animals alike must learn the arts of the snow. I would buy more Alpine Mastiffs, dogs such as Caesar, and bring them to the Hospice. I am sure you may find someone with sufficient skill to train them properly.”

“And I am equally sure we already have someone,”  the Prior declared. “His name is Franz Halle. This is a day of great joy for all of us. Think of the lives that would have been lost but will be saved after we have these—

“These dogs of St. Bernard.”

TODAY’S QUESTION

This is the end of “Rescue Dog of the High Pass,” so today we’d like to know what you thought of the book. Give us a review of the story. Leave your review below or email it with contact info (to get your JD Water bottle) to juniordispatch@yorkdispatch.com

VOCABULARY

Look up these vocabulary words, define them and use each in a sentence.

  • Loll
  • Onlooker
  • Beloved

CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK

  • Anton Martek — Franz’ boss at the Hospice
  • The Alps — A mountain range in Europe
  • Aunt Maria Reissner — A relative of Franz
  • Caesar — An alpine mastiff (usually called a St. Bernard) owned by Franz
  • Dornblatt — Not a person, but the town where this chapter takes place
  • Erich Erlic — A resident of Dornblatt, known for having a good skill with his saw
  • Emil Gottschalk — A rich landowner in Dornblatt
  • Father Benjamin — A traveler with great knowledge
  • Father Paul — The priest of Dornblatt
  • Franz Halle — A school boy and owner of Caesar
  • Grandpa Eissman — An old man in town that Franz helps. Eissman was an expert mountaineer.
  • Hermann Gottschalk — The son of Emil and schoolmate to Franz
  • Hertha Bittner — One of Franz’ schoolmates
  • Jean Geiser — A missing hunter
  • Jean Greb — A handicapped man helped by Franz
  • Lispeth Halle — The mother of Franz
  • Professor Luttman — The school teacher
  • Paul Maurat — Head of the kitchen at the hospice
  • Widow Geiser — A woman who runs a farm in Dornblatt
  • Willi Resnick — One of Franz’ schoolmates

MORE INFO

Get the FREE Gutenberg.org of this book here.

VIDEO

In this video, we see a whole lot of Saint Bernards. A veritable colony of Saint Bernards! http://youtu.be/PgIz1Add98s

Read More

Rescue Dog of the High Pass – Chapter 13: Caesar’s Feat

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RESCUE DOG OF THE HIGH PASS

EDITOR’S NOTE

Welcome to the Junior Dispatch’s serialization of the 1958 book “Rescue Dog of the High Pass” by Jim Kjelgaard. This version includes all of the original illustrations as well as additional images from around the Internet.

At the end of this chapter is a vocabulary list, an essay question and a related video.

Junior Dispatch invites you to participate by commenting or e-mailing juniordispatch@yorkdispatch.com with your thoughts on the chapter, vocabulary and essay responses or artwork.

By submitting a response, you can earn a JD water bottle!

Rescue Dog of the High Pass – Chapter 13: Caesar’s Feat

By Jim Kjelgaard

(Read Chapter 12 here)

There was a wind, but it was not the roaring blast that so frequently snarled through St. Bernard Pass and it had not tumbled the snow about enough to cover the ski trail left by Father Benjamin and Jean Greb. It was a safe path, for two men had already traveled it in safety. Rather than having to choose carefully a slow and uncertain way, the four could now move swiftly.

Followed only by Caesar, who found the going easy on a path packed by so many skis, Franz stayed just far enough behind Anton Martek to avoid running up on the toboggan the giant pulled. Father Benjamin led the way, followed by Father Mark. There were ropes and shovels on the toboggan.

Franz tried to swallow his heart that insisted on beating in his throat, rather than in his chest. An avalanche was as unpredictable as the chatter of a jay. For all his vast experience in the mountains, Jean Greb had not known this one was coming until it overwhelmed both himself and Professor Luttman. No one could ever be sure.

Franz tried to reassure himself by thinking of the three men ahead of him. All were not only men of the mountains in general, but of St. Bernard Pass in particular. There was no situation that could arise in the Pass which they had not met before and with which they would not know how to cope, Franz told himself. They were very sure of finding Professor Luttman.

But in his own heart, Franz knew how very wrong he could be.

An avalanche was a freakish thing. When tons, and millions of tons, of snow thundered down a slope, it was somewhat comparable to a treacherous river. There were currents that surged toward the top and those that bored toward the bottom. Even though Jean Greb had been cast out on top, Professor Luttman might be lying at the bottom. For all their ability to work miracles, the men of St. Bernard Hospice would never reach him alive if he were. They would never even find him.

Franz tried to banish such gloomy forebodings from his mind and might have succeeded had not one thought persisted. If Father Benjamin believed there was a good chance of finding Professor Luttman, he would have made Jean Greb as comfortable as possible and tried to find him. And in the refectory, while Jean lay unconscious, Father Benjamin himself had said that there was no hope.

Franz thrust a hand behind him and felt a little relieved when Caesar came up to sniff it. He was by no means sure that Caesar could find Professor Luttman, but he was positive that they stood a far better chance with the big mastiff than they ever would without him. He tried to picture in his imagination all the places where the avalanche might have occurred — and gasped with dismay when they finally found it!

The prevailing west wind funneled through a broad gulley. On the east, the gulley was bounded by a gentle slope. But on the west, the slope rose sheer for almost half its height before giving way to an easy rise. The wind had plastered snow against the steep portion. More snow, either wind-borne or  falling, had gathered upon it to a depth of twenty feet or more.

It was a much greater burden than the slope should have held. With almost a perpendicular wall, and not a single tree or bush to hold it back, a whisper might set it off and send snow roaring into the gulley. It was a death trap that any experienced mountaineer would recognize at a glance.

Jean Greb, seeing the peril, had chosen to climb above the steep portion on the west slope, rather than veer to the east. It was a choice any mountaineer might have made. But something, possibly the light ski tread of Jean Greb and Professor Luttman, had started the snow on the steep wall rolling. This, in turn, had set off an avalanche on the gentle slope and all of it had poured into the gulley.

In the center of the gulley, snow lay a hundred feet deep. On the north end, where the cleavage between the snow that had rolled and that which had not rolled was almost as sharp as though some colossus had cut it with a knife, there was a near-perpendicular drop that varied between sixty and ninety feet in height. The tremendous force of the avalanche had packed the snow to icy hardness.

Father Benjamin halted, waved his arm and said, “I found your friend here, Franz. He was trying to dig into the snow.”

Franz stared with unbelieving eyes at the faint scars in the immense pile of snow. They could have been made only by a ski pole, but a ski pole was the only tool Jean had. Franz knew suddenly that Father Benjamin had been entirely right in bringing Jean to the Hospice. A hundred men with a hundred shovels could not move that mass of snow in a hundred years. It was better to save the man who could be saved than to let him senselessly risk his life for the man who could not.

“You found him here?” Anton Martek asked.

Father Benjamin answered, “This is where the avalanche cast him up. Since he and his companion were traveling very close together, he is sure that his friend cannot be far from this place.”

Anton said, “I know of nothing we may do except dig here.”

“Nor I,” said Father Mark.

Father Benjamin said, “If I had a better idea, I would surely make it known. Let us dig, and let us have faith as we do so.”

The boy seized a shovel and began to dig, along with Anton and the two priests. He shook his head in disbelief for, even though he used all his strength, his shovel took only a tiny bite of the hard-packed snow. Despite the cold wind that snapped up the gulley like an angry wolf, beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead….

Franz thought that an hour might have passed when, while the other three continued to dig, he had to stop and rest. For the first time, it occurred to him to look about for Caesar.

The big dog was at the north end of the avalanche, peering over the perpendicular wall. He trotted anxiously back and forth, then leaned over to rest his front paws on a ledge. Suddenly Franz remembered when Caesar had found Emil Gottschalk buried in the snow.

Anton Martek and the two priests remained too busy to notice the boy’s departure when he made his way to Caesar’s side. The great mastiff wagged his tail furiously and stared down the wall of snow.

Suddenly Franz remembered when Caesar had found Emil Gottschalk buried in the snow.

Suddenly Franz remembered when Caesar had found Emil Gottschalk buried in the snow.

“Is he there?” Franz whispered. “Is he there, Caesar?”

The dog took three paces forward and three back. He whined, leaned over again to rest his front paws on the ledge, then withdrew to his master’s side. Franz studied the awful wall that suddenly seemed a thousand feet high, and where a mistake in judgment or a misstep meant possible death and certain injury.

But Caesar would not stop staring down it, and only three feet below was the ledge where he had rested his paws. Franz stepped down, widened the ledge with his shovel and reached behind him to help the dog down. He sought the next ledge that he might dig out with his shovel.

They were halfway down the wall when the boy heard a thunderous, “Franz! Franz! Come back!”

He recognized Father Benjamin’s voice but he dared not look back, for even a fairy could not have found more standing room on the thin ledge where the boy and his dog stood. Franz reached down with his shovel to scoop out the next ledge.

After what seemed an eternity, they were at the bottom of the wall.

Caesar ran forward and began to dig in the snow. Scraping beside him, presently Franz found the limp arm of a man.

Cold as the arm was, he could still feel the pulse that beat within it.

(Continue on to Chapter 14, the conclusion of the book, here)

TODAY’S QUESTION

In this chapter, Franz works hard shoveling as he and the rest of the search party dig for the missing man. It seems like an impossible task, but eventually they find him. Tell us about some seemingly impossible tasks that you’ve done. Maybe it’s learning to ride a bike. Finally getting an A+ on a math test or learning all the words to a song. Leave your answer below or email it with contact info (to get your JD Water bottle) to juniordispatch@yorkdispatch.com

VOCABULARY

Look up these vocabulary words, define them and use each in a sentence.

  • Jay
  • Gulley
  • Perpendicular
  • Pace
  • Eternity

CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK

  • Anton Martek — Franz’ boss at the Hospice
  • The Alps — A mountain range in Europe
  • Aunt Maria Reissner — A relative of Franz
  • Caesar — An alpine mastiff (usually called a St. Bernard) owned by Franz
  • Dornblatt — Not a person, but the town where this chapter takes place
  • Erich Erlic — A resident of Dornblatt, known for having a good skill with his saw
  • Emil Gottschalk — A rich landowner in Dornblatt
  • Father Benjamin — A traveler with great knowledge
  • Father Paul — The priest of Dornblatt
  • Franz Halle — A school boy and owner of Caesar
  • Grandpa Eissman — An old man in town that Franz helps. Eissman was an expert mountaineer.
  • Hermann Gottschalk — The son of Emil and schoolmate to Franz
  • Hertha Bittner — One of Franz’ schoolmates
  • Jean Geiser — A missing hunter
  • Jean Greb — A handicapped man helped by Franz
  • Lispeth Halle — The mother of Franz
  • Professor Luttman — The school teacher
  • Paul Maurat — Head of the kitchen at the hospice
  • Widow Geiser — A woman who runs a farm in Dornblatt
  • Willi Resnick — One of Franz’ schoolmates

MORE INFO

Get the FREE Gutenberg.org of this book here.

VIDEO

This video is a change of pace for our videos in this series. This time we look as how some “impossible” photography is created. http://youtu.be/mc0vhSseGk4

Read More

More on Mitch Seavey’s Iditarod win

Mitch Seavey became the oldest winner, a two-time Iditarod champion, when he drove his dog team under the burled arch in Nome on Tuesday evening, March 12, 2013. Race marshal Mark Nordman is at right.  (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

Mitch Seavey became the oldest winner, a two-time Iditarod champion, when he drove his dog team under the burled arch in Nome on Tuesday evening, March 12, 2013. Race marshal Mark Nordman is at right. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

Mitch Seavey, 53, outdueled Aliy Zirkle on the final stretch of the Iditarod, becoming the oldest champion in the history of the 1,000-mile race.

The Sterling musher steadily pulled away from Zirkle on the 67-mile run from White Mountain, where just 13 minutes separated the two mushers in the afternoon.

Led by Tanner, a 6-year-old, orange-brown husky who is a kennel favorite, Seavey coasted down Nome’s Front Street at 10:39 p.m.jd-iditarod-logo

“I gotta go congratulate my lead dog Tanner,” Seavey said after his team came to a stop. “He’s probably the best I’ve ever had.

“Tanner is happy to be a sled dog and he makes it look easy.”

Seavey’s winning margin of 23 minutes, 39 seconds made it the fourth-closest race in Iditarod history. Seavey finished in 9 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes, 56 seconds. Zirkle finished in 9 days, 8 hours, 3 minutes, 35 seconds.

“I was going for it,” Zirkle said, “but that slippery little sucker, I couldn’t catch him.”

As she traveled from White Mountain to Nome, Zirkle watched Seavey’s winding tracks in the snow. She tried to guess if the musher was speeding up or slowing down based on whether the tracks stayed smack in the middle of the trail or drifted to the side.

“And you don’t know,” she said. “But it’s kind of fun to guess.”

“And then for about 30 miles of the trail we’re high above treeline in these rolling mountains, and every time I would come up over the hill I would see him coming back down the other side,” Zirkle said.

Zirkle, 43, said she thought she saw Seavey’s yellow sled after Safety, but it was just a hallucination.

Meantime, Seavey was imaging he was seeing Zirkle all across the tundra.

“I saw the raven Aliy, I saw the fuel tank Aliy. And the upside-down boat Aliy,” Seavey said. “Everything I was seeing back there I thought must be her … I would continue to scare myself that she was catching up to me.”

Zirkle’s time is the second fastest by a woman. Her time last year — 9 days, 5 hours, 29 minutes, 10 seconds — is the fastest.

“You’re gonna win this thing,” Seavey told the Two Rivers musher as he shook her hand.

OLDEST WINNER
Seavey replaced Jeff King as the Iditarod’s oldest champion. King, who was poised early Wednesday morning to claim third place, was 50 when he won his fourth victory in 2006.

Mitch’s son Dallas was 25 when he won last year’s race, giving the Seaveys the oldest and youngest champs in race history.IDITAROD 2013-map1

Both of those distinctions came at Zirkle’s expense. Dallas beat her by 59 minutes, 44 seconds last year.

Tuesday’s victory was the second for Mitch — he won his first in 2004 — and marked his 19th finish in 20 attempts.

“I hate to go off into the sunset knowing I only did it once in 20 tries,” he said, “so it’s sorta a validation.”

The finish was the 12th for Zirkle, who was hoping to drive her team to its second thousand-mile championship of the year. Nine of the 10 dogs she finished with — Quito, Olivia, Scruggs, Scout, Beemer, Nacho, Chica, Biscuit and Willie — helped Zirkle’s husband, Allen Moore, win the Yukon Quest last month in Fairbanks.

“My dog team is my heart,” Zirkle said. “They’re my family and they’re fantastic.”
Seavey will collect $50,400 and a new pickup truck for his victory. Zirkle gets $47,100 for second place.

Mitch Seavey congratulates second place finisher Aliy Zirkle after she arrived in Nome. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

Mitch Seavey congratulates second place finisher Aliy Zirkle after she arrived in Nome. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

PATIENCE PAYS OFF
Seavey had to ward off both King and Zirkle in the last one-third of the race.

Patience paid off for him on Monday, when he resisted the urge to follow when King blew through Koyuk to temporarily claim the lead. Seavey stayed at the checkpoint for another three hours and was able to overtake King on the run to Elim.

He owned a 48-minute lead leaving Elim on Monday night, but Zirkle came on strong during the overnight run to White Mountain and sliced 35 minutes off his lead.

Seavey did himself no favors on that run — he twice fell asleep and fell off his sled, according a Facebook post by his son Danny Seavey.
‘RUN MY TUSH OFF’
Normally the 67 miles from White Mountain to Nome is a formality. If you get to White

Mountain with a comfortable lead, your only job is to avoid screw-ups during the roughly 10-hour trek to the finish.

Zirkle’s plan?

“Run my tush off,” she said early Tuesday as the leaders rested in White Mountain.

Zirkle was trying to become the third woman to win the race and the first since Susan Butcher’s final championship in 1990.

Her sled dogs are a small, pixie-like team that descended from a favorite leader named Cha-Cha, are led by pink-nosed veteran Quito. (That’s short for Poquita, smallest of her litter of Spanish-named puppies.)

Though Zirkle trailed by a scant 13 minutes at White Mountain, King noted that even a lead of a few minutes there can hand the frontrunner the advantage over the final run west across rolling hills to the coast.

“You can get out of sight and the second team doesn’t have the advantage of drafting off you visually,” said King, who said he led DeeDee Jonrowe by about seven minutes out of White

Mountain en route to his 1993 title, which he won by more than 30 minutes.

Nome musher Aaron Burmeister like how Zirkle’s team looked in White Mountain.

“Aliy’s team’s coming together really nicely for her. And they’re really coming on strong here late in the race,” he said. “Mitch has been racing up with me at the front of the pack for a good portion of the race, back and forth. I know his team is pretty tuckered, about like mine right now. His are tuckered because they’ve been raced hard.”

But Jonrowe and King said they watched Seavey’s team along the trail and saw formidable dogs.

“I saw (the team) going into Grayling, on the Yukon a lot. Just powered through that wet, nasty, sludgy stuff,” Jonrowe said.

EARLY CONTENDERS FADE
While former champion Martin Buser of Big Lake led at many of the early checkpoints thanks to an unheard of 20-hour run to start the race, it was after his team came off the Yukon River that Seavey staked his move.

By Elim, what had looked like a Seavey-King duel became a Seavey-Zirkle duel. Zirkle rested her dogs for about an hour less than Seavey, cutting Seavey’s lead to 48 minutes.
Zirkle got even closer on the run to White Mountain. Her headlamp alerted Seavey that she was closing in.

“I knew she was coming. I saw her light after I left Elim, when we got to the mountains,” Seavey said. “Typically my team does well in the mountains and I didn’t see her anymore until we got here on Golovin Bay.”

The clang of church bells announced Seavey’s arrival to White Mountain at 5:11 a.m. Tuesday.

The musher was still unpacking at 5:24 a.m. when Zirkle slid to a stop, bouncing on her sled.

“Mitch is up for a race, aren’t ya?” Zirkle said to reporters — and a nearby Seavey — as she finished feeding her dogs.

“You calling me out?” Seavey said, heating water a few yards away. He was going to get his sneakers out for the finish, he joked.

“Can I borrow your sneakers? My boots are still wet and nasty from the rain,” Zirkle replied.

OUT OF WHITE MOUNTAIN
Hours later, snowmachines zoomed to the frozen Fish River as volunteers counted down to Seavey’s departure for Nome. Already, 11 teams were parked a few hundred yards from ski planes roaring for takeoff. Dallas and Mitch Seavey hunkered at the elder Seavey’s team.

“I don’t think I’m going to be catching up with you guys by any stretch of imagination. But I don’t think you’ll have to wait too long,” Dallas said of his ETA in Nome.

Under clear skies, Mitch resumed his race.

“Tanner! Gee! Line up!” he commanded his team of 10 dogs before driving off at 1:11 p.m.

Zirkle made last-minute inspections before following 13 minutes later. She walked down her line of dogs, rubbing their faces and checking collars. Once Zirkle was on the sled runners, she called to Quito, who began a whistling howl.

The musher and the rest of the team joined the chorus, then gave chase.

SAFE LEAD BY SAFETY
Late Tuesday, the pair was crossing the Bering Sea shore where coastal wind rakes the snow and Seavey and Tanner could be seen marching west toward Nome.

Quiot and Zirkle, kicking from the sled, followed about two miles down the trail.

By the time Seavey reached Safety, 49 miles from White Mountain and 18 miles from Nome according to the race’s GPS tracker, his lead had stretched to 25 minutes.

A race that looked too close to call just a few hours earlier belonged to him.

___

Read more of the Junior Dispatch’s 2013 Iditarod coverage:

Junior Dispatch also offered a series of “Fast-Facts” to help familiarize readers with the rules of the game:

___
___
By KYLE HOPKINS and BETH BRAGG of the Anchorage Daily News from NOME, Alaska. (MCT)
(c)2013 the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska)
Visit the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska) at www.adn.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services

Mitch Seavey leaves White Mountain in Alaska, Tuesday, March 12, 2013, during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

Mitch Seavey leaves White Mountain in Alaska, Tuesday, March 12, 2013, during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

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