Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Who Are You?

Why are bathroom selfies some of the better lit photos?
I've gotten this question, or the "I didn't know you..." comments, a lot lately. I've realized in the last few years of social networking I have more followers that really don't know who I am or what I'm about. Not that I'm anything overly unique or special, but I figured I'd go out on a limb and give a little introduction to those newly following me.

  • My name is Antonia Reitter, but I go by Toni (or Tonichelle online). I was born and raised in South Central Alaska, which pretty much solidified my introvert personality. Big country, small population. I love small towns, it's why I can't imagine living anywhere else. I can breathe here - plus little to no air pollution makes breathing a wonderful exercise!
  • I am a professional photographer. I received my first camera at 7 years old and I learned mainly by trial and error until taking actual classes in high school and college (meaning I've had a camera in hand for 25 years). No degree to show that I know my stuff, but sometimes my work speaks for itself. Photography has given me ins to worlds I would otherwise never be able to be a part of. I have been an official photographer for local triathlons and marathons (the only way you will see me at a running event. I don't run!), and of course I've been an official photog for sled dog races (mainly the Tustumena 200). I've also been hired by a few major Iditarod teams to take photos of their four legged athletes. I've also had several photos of mine featured on Alaska blogs, magazines, and websites.
  • Speaking of mushing, I LOVE the sport even though I have never actively participated in it. Growing up in Alaska, Iditarod was a normal part of the vocabulary, but it wasn't until 2007 that I really started to understand and have a great appreciation for what these teams do. I got an inside look while working for an Iditarod Champion kennel as a summer job. I worked for them for 4 summers. It was fantastic. I never trained the dogs (didn't really do much with them at all), but I worked as support for the mushers and their handlers. It's still one of my favorite jobs of all time, and has allowed me many opportunities. (And those that hired me have no one to blame but themselves for creating, in me, an "obsessive Iditarod fan". You know who you are.)
  • I live for Disney - this is no surprise if you've followed me for any length of time. I love the films, the history, the Parks, the merchandise. I am a total Disnerd. Since 2001 I've been to Disney World six times, and since 1990 I've been to Disneyland five times (with a sixth trip planned early next year). I own every animated classic on at least one medium, and have many on multiple (VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital). My walls are adorned with Disney photos and posters. I don't have kids, and I don't need them to justify being a Disney fan. What is the magic cut off age that suddenly it's "not okay" to be a fan. You don't just age out of a fandom. Lose interest, sure, but it's not an age thing.
  • I am a dog person - if the being obsessed with mushing wasn't enough of a give away. I've never had a time in my life where I didn't have a dog in my family. Maybe short blips as the loss of one meant grieving time for another, but it wasn't long before another four legged bundle of awesome wiggled its way into our hearts. Pugs are my breed of choice, we currently have two in our family. My parents have a fawn pug named Sushi, and I have a black pug I've named Stitch. Word of advice: that saying that "names give power" really works. If there was a live embodiment of a Disney alien character, my dog is it. He is SO NAUGHTY! But I love him. Pugs just have the best personality... and their squishy faces are just so kissable!

And a photo of Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland, because I can.

Just a few bullet points to give you an idea of what makes me, me. Hello to all my new followers! If you have a question or an idea for another blog post just ask! You can get ahold of me a multitude of ways, but leave me a comment on this post and I'll answer it either in the comments or create another blog post. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Just 77 miles

Mitch Seavey at the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage, Ak. March 4, 2017
Mitch Seavey pulled the snow hook at 7:36am after his mandatory 8 hour rest in White Mountain. From there it's a mere 77 miles to the finish. If he keeps his pace what it's been this entire race he will be in sometime after 4pm, crushing his son Dallas's record for fastest time. It's just 77 miles until "Seavey the Elder" wins his third Iditarod championship. Just 77 miles.

But don't declare him the winner just yet. While it looks like it will take an act of God for any team to overtake him, it's happened before. Many times. Susan Butcher in 1991 lost her chance to win when a storm blew in - Rick Swenson kept going and won. In 2014 an insane windstorm caused Jeff King (who had such a lead over the rest there was "no way" he wasn't going to win) to scratch, and Aliy Zirkle to hunker down in Safety while Dallas Seavey pushed through to win. Today's forecast shows no sign of anything like that happening this time around, but it's Alaska. Weather is sometime unpredictable.

It's just 77 miles. Mitch and his team of 11 superstar dogs will run to the final checkpoint of Safety where he will put his bib over his parka, call up his dogs, and make the short jaunt to Nome. He'll have to climb one final mountain (which in normal years would be more like a hill compared to what they ran through, but this year is the biggest one). He's run along the coast until he pops over the seawall and runs down Front Street. He will stop to snack his dogs along the way. He will give them all a quick rub down and a bunch of "good boys!" as they munch on their snacks and hydrate.

There will be no more resting on the trail. Aside from the stops to snack and water the dogs, they're just going to run. It's just 77 miles, and then their race is done. They'll get all the rest they could ever want after they run under the burled arch. Their musher will also get the rest his body so desperately needs. The dogs have been pampered this past week, the musher not so much.

Dallas Seavey just left White Mountain with a 13 minute head start on Nicolas Petit. It's hard to imagine either will run down Mitch's team. It's possible, we know that, but it's highly unlikely. It's just 77 miles, and Mitch has an hour lead on them. It's just 77 miles before Mitch Seavey gets to stop racing and just admire what his team accomplished. It's just the 77 miles this team of dogs has trained for all year.

It's just 77 miles until someone, most likely Mitch Seavey, wins Iditarod 45.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hello from Sunny Nome

We made it yesterday. I am saving the story for a blog post I hope to send over to The Alaska Life. They asked me to be a guest Idita-blogger (because they're awesome!) and so I've decided to have some fun and give it a go with a "what to know before you Nome" theme for the next one I do. Hopefully. If I can stay awake long enough to shoot one out.

But here's a little taste at what I've done so far... more to come eventually. Internet is slow here at the Polaris hotel (which isn't as horrible as we'd heard so yay!)

Anywho, gotta edit some photos, tweet, and write a blog post.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Mitch Seavey running to Huslia

Mitch Seavey at the Tustumena 200
January 29, 2017
It's not normal. Nothing about this race seems to be normal. It's odd to think that three days in everyone is on the Yukon. It's odd to see certain teams run a conservative race, while others break with tradition and head off down the trail. It's odd that we're even on the route we're on.

Now we're seeing Mitch play rabbit and head to Huslia ahead of the other front runners. At this moment he is still the only team out of Galena. Seavey is normally not the team being chased this early in the race. Past Iditarods Mitch has stayed with the pack, but never wanted to jump out in lead. However, Mitch is a man with a plan and he revealed he'd planned to take his 24 in Huslia, and that his team had given no indication that they needed to alter that plan. So now he's half way there and the rest of the teams are sitting in Ruby and Galena taking at least one of their mandatory rests. Just took a gander and Mitch is now resting on the trail, guess that answers if he took straw or not.

Meanwhile Wade Marrs is hanging out in Ruby taking his 24. He led the way into the checkpoint last night and his team looked peppy and strong. Wade had insiders scratching their heads as he was doing long runs on what is considered short rest. It didn't seem to affect his team too terribly, and now he's looking at charging up the trail and chasing the leaders just before 7pm Alaska time. Dallas will follow nearly an hour behind. Then it's onto Galena before they head to Huslia.

It's taking me too long to write up this blog post - both Michelle Phillips and Jessie Royer are now headed for Huslia as well. Michelle, you will remember, won the Yukon Quest 300 beating out Aliy Zirkle. Jessie Royer was on fire on this trail two years ago.

Dallas told insider that he's a little concerned that Ruby is too early to take his 24 - Mitch took it in Ruby in 2015 and lamented the rest of the race that he'd made a mistake - but Dallas seems to think this is best for his dogs. He is planning to drop two dogs (that means leave them in the good hands of the volunteers and vets in the checkpoint so they can be flown home), but that he may drop a third who has "questionable stool". This is concerning, we don't normally hear Dallas worry about his team (ever, but certainly not this early in the race). I wondered last night when he declared his 24 if there might be "trouble". It could be I'm just reading into things, but something just seems off, but as always Dallas isn't giving anything away.

With everyone taking their 8s and 24s, it's a good time to get other things done. I'm home sick with a cold (I know, right before I head to Nome!) but I do need to do a bit of packing to feel prepared for my first time at the finish! Just a couple more days since I head out! Yikes!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Let's hear it for the ladies!

Kristin Bacon is one of 17 ladies running
Iditarod 45.  
Today is International Women's Day, so let's give a little shout out to the ladies of the trail. Since the second running of Iditarod, women have been a focus of fans and media alike. In the early days of marathon mushing, it was thought that the women wouldn't have what it takes to be a champion. In 1985, Libby Riddles squashed that notion when she won the race. Some called it a fluke, but then the very next year Susan Butcher began her dominance of the sport winning the first of four championships. The 80s and early 90s seemed to be the peak of women winners. Once Butcher retired, the men once again had no "worries" of being beaten by a girl.

Until recently when a surge of lady mushers has grown to include at least a dozen up and coming super stars. Aliy Zirkle's lead the charge, winning the Yukon Quest (the only woman to do so) in 2000, she then set her sight on winning the Iditarod. Aliy's only nemesis it seems these days is any musher by the name of Seavey. After last year's ordeal of being attacked by a drunken snowmachiner, she still managed to come in third. One has to wonder if the drunk not only stole her feeling of safety but also her win.

Also kicking butt in mid to long distance races is Michelle Phillips. The Canadian musher has been steadily climbing the ranks in the last few years, and is right in the mix (currently running with Aliy down the Yukon) in this year's race. Michelle won the Yukon Quest 300, beating out Aliy Zirkle. She's a seasoned veteran of racing. I didn't have her in my top 10 teams to watch, but seeing her team this past weekend I'm starting to second guess leaving her off.

Jessie Royer is no slouch on the trail. In 2015 she made a statement with her 4th place finish on the very trail the race is running this year. Royer splits her year between her homes in Alaska and Montana which probably helps condition her team to all types of weather and trail. She's a sweetheart with a competitive edge. She's holding back a bit right now on the trail but we're sure to see a move soon from Royer.

And let's not forget DeeDee Jonrowe - the elder stateswoman in the race these days DeeDee was right in the thick of it with Butcher in the 90s. Coming close but never winning Jonrowe was supposed to be the one that was going to keep the ladies drive alive. She was a runner up several times, and is beloved by race fans everywhere. She's easy to spot in her all pink get up. She's had hardships. She's battled cancer. She watched her mother battle cancer twice. She lost her house in the Sockeye Fire, losing all her cherished memories along with it, and her mother to cancer in the same year. And she's still going.

There are 17 ladies total this year. The represent women mushers everywhere. They're as tough as any guy on the trail - probably tougher (I mean Karin Hendrickson got hit by a car two? years ago and broke her back and she's still out there racing!). Will a woman win this year? Odds have never been more favorable. Instead of one or two that *might* there are at least 3 that can and quite possibly will in the next few years. Watch out boys, the women resurgence is only beginning.

*I'd say more, but I have to get to work. I'm not one of those crazy women on strike.*

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

First to the Yukon!

Nicolas Petit at the finish of the
Tustumena 200. January 29, 2017
Just over 32 hours into the race, we have the First to the Yukon award winner - Nicolas Petit of Girdwood ran his team into the checkpoint of Tanana at 6:44pm. Several other teams have followed, including Martin Buser, with Mackey and the elder Seavey unofficially also into the checkpoint. As part of the "winnings" for the First to the Yukon, Petit will reportedly dine on King Crab, clams, shrimp, smoked duck, lamb chops, mango sorbet & Dom Perignon. Hopefully the musher isn't allergic to anything.

Further down in the race, there are plenty of teams just miles from the the Yukon. It's about -15 below tonight, but it looks like for the next few days the cold will pass and while still not the balmy temps they're more used to in the first couple of days of Iditarod racing, it's closer to it than what it's been the last 30+ hours. (Seriously, -35 at the start?! Who does that?!)

There are only 3 teams who haven't made it to Manley Hot Springs. Ellen Halverson is not the current red lantern so if she keeps up her pace and can keep the other two at bay (and they aren't DQed/Withdrawn) she should finish this year.

So where do the teams go from here? This is where the strategies will begin to take shape. The Yukon trip is broken up on the Fairbanks route when it detours further north to the Mushing equivilent of the Holy Land known as the village of Huslia. We saw the run from Tanana to Huslia (yes there are checkpoints in there, but I'm just talking this section) really separate the teams. Strategies blew to pieces, others allowed themselves to second guess and they lost just enough ground. In 2015 the Huslia trail was completely new. Not used in 2003. This time it's fresh in the memories of most of the front runners. They've got their plans in place. They know what they did wrong and what they did right last time.

It's still far too soon to tell who will win (if we're lucky we'll see the winner a week from tonight), it's still too soon to predict the winning strategy, but we're starting to see statements made. Will it be another "perfect schedule" from the teams like the Seaveys, where a monster is built and released at the opportune moment? Or will we see a more throwback winner in someone like Nicolas Petit who makes it up as they go along? Waiting in the wings and making sure they aren't forgotten are King, Buser, and Zirkle. Familiar names - two, like Dallas, are gunning for the fifth title... the other trying desperately not to be runner up yet again.

Most teams will bed down for 6 hours or so. Get some sleep. It'll probably be the last day before the 24s that we can sleep and not miss something important.

*since starting typing this blog, the top 10 are all into (or just about into) Tanana*

How much do the first days matter on Iditarod?

Ray Redington Jr's dogs at the Ceremonial
Start of Iditarod 45. March 4, 2017
You'll hear it often: the REAL race doesn't start until after the front runners take their 24s. The REAL race doesn't start until they hit the Coast. So if it doesn't start until then, what can fans learn from the start of the race? Is it important at all in deciphering how the teams will shake out when all is said and done?

While it is WAY too early to tell who is going to win in the first 24 hours of the race, you can begin to gauge what teams are ready and have their routines down. You can also drive yourself crazy wanting to know what's happening in between checkpoints and refreshing the tracker. Slow down, take a breath. There's still 7 or so days of race to go before it becomes a nail biter. 

The teams have made it through the first checkpoint of Nenana. The only Iditarod checkpoint on "the road system" it's different than any of the others as it's easily accessible to everyone. This is the only checkpoint teams can get help from family and handlers. Last time the race came through here it was disorganized and chaotic, they got it right this time, though. No sleds backed into by dog trucks. 

Trail reports from teams coming in all agreed on one thing - the trail was better than what they thought it would be. Deep, punchy snow for the later teams seemed to be the theme of the reports, which is not surprising. The further back one is this early in the race, the more chewed up the trail becomes. The first day of racing mushers ride the brake which means a once packed trail can become just deep nasty snow by the time 30 or so teams churn it up. That means another 40 or so teams are essentially breaking trail all the while churning it up for the next team because of the brake.

An interesting note is that the Seaveys are leading the race early. Like Martin Buser, they've headed out ahead of the rest and are not taking it easy like in years past. A lot of theories go into the reasoning. Anything from it being a River trail this year so the running is a little less taxing than running up and over mountains like the traditional route would be. My theory is they planned to get out ahead of teams because of the reports of a lot of snow on the trail. Trail breakers go ahead of the race to lay down a trail using snow machines (on the traditional route most of this is done by the Iron Dog). The trail wouldn't be very nice once 30 or so teams went over it, my guess is they'd rather churn up the trail than run in it.

The most attention has gone to Dallas Seavey's new carbon fiber and kevlar sled bag. It looks like one of those old fashioned Olympic Bobsleds. I'm waiting for the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled team to pop out of it. Most fans have said they don't like where the race is headed if this is the direction he's taking it. It remains to be seen if this sled gives him any advantage. Dallas needed a way to carry dogs and rest them (another strategy some fans are complaining about) and this is what he's come up with. There's no mistaking it's not your average sled. It makes enough noise to scare even the most seasoned moose away that's for sure. There's no way he can play a successful cat and mouse game with that racket. 

Also leading the pack in the first day of the race are Martin Buser, Nicolas Petit, and Wade Marrs. Not overly surprising. Not overly troubling. It's the first day. The race won't really start for another 4.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Bib Numbers

2 Ryan Redington Veteran
3 Otto Balogh Rookie
4 Misha Wiljes Rookie
5 Cody Strathe Veteran
6 Linwood Fiedler Veteran
7 Laura Neese Rookie
8 Ryan Anderson Rookie
9 Michelle Phillips Veteran
10 Roger Lee Rookie
11 Ketil Reitan Veteran
12 Joe Carson Rookie
13 Sebastien Vergnaud Rookie
14 Ray Redington Jr Veteran
15 Martin Buser Veteran
16 Mitch Seavey Veteran
17 Kristin Bacon Veteran
18 Dallas Seavey Veteran
19 Gunnar Johnson Veteran
20 Karin Hendrickson Veteran
21 Richie Diehl Veteran
22 DeeDee Jonrowe Veteran
23 Mark Selland Veteran
24 Nicolas Petit Veteran
25 Peter Kaiser Veteran
26 Nicolas Vanier Rookie
27 Rick Casillo Veteran
28 Jodi Bailey Veteran
29 Wade Marrs Veteran
30 Ellen Halverson Veteran
31 Cindy Abbott Veteran
32 Hans Gatt Veteran
33 Mats Pettersson Veteran
34 Jeff King     Veteran
35 Alan Eischens Veteran
36 Allen Moore Veteran
37 Jessie Royer Veteran
38 Joar Leifseth Ulsom Veteran
39 Ralph Johannessen Veteran
40 Thomas Rosenbloom Rookie
41 Aliy Zirkle Veteran
42 Zoya DeNure Veteran
43 Jimmy Lebling Rookie
44 Ramey Smyth Veteran
45 Lars Monsen Veteran
46 Charley Bejna Veteran
47 Paul Hansen Rookie
48 Justin High Rookie
49 Justin Stielstra Rookie
50 Hugh Neff Veteran
51 Seth Barnes Veteran
52 Katherine Keith Veteran
53 Peter Reuter Rookie
54 Geir Idar Hjelvik Veteran
55 Matthew Failor Veteran
56 Melissa Stewart Veteran
57 Paul Gebhardt Veteran
58 Monica Zappa Veteran
59 Ken Anderson Veteran
60 Dave Branholm Veteran
61 Michael Baker Rookie
62 Nathan Schroeder Veteran
63 Noah Burmeister Veteran
64 Jason Mackey Veteran
65 John Baker Veteran
66 Anna Berington Veteran
67 Trent Herbst Veteran
68 Mark May Veteran
69 Scott Smith Veteran
70 Robert Redington Rookie
71 Larry Daugherty Veteran
72 Dave Delcourt Rookie
73 Kristy Berington Veteran

Friday, February 24, 2017

Keep up with the Last Great Race

With the world's technology ever improving, there are more ways than ever to follow along with Alaska's greatest race. I've listed my favorite sources below, but you can also follow the race with ME! Not just here on the blog, but from time to time I will be broadcasting LIVE on periscope.

You can also chat along with me and other Iditarod enthusiasts on twitter, just follow the hashtags: #Iditarod and #Iditachat (just be aware there are trolls on the tags)! Follow me at @tonichelleak to keep up with all of the latest race updates. You can tweet me questions and I can answer them on twitter and depending on the topic it may prompt a blog post or who knows I may even use it on periscope! 
But, you don't want to just get MY take on the race, that would be crazy. So how should you follow Iditarod 45? - this is a no brainer. If you aren't an Iditarod Insider, I highly recommend it. (No, I don't get a commission on sales.) The GPS and videos give great insight into how the race is going. This is where all official releases are posted, as well as blogs by several experts, the teacher on the trail, and ITC leadership.

Facebook - There are several folks on facebook worth following during the race, most of them are mushers themselves, or are family members of the musher(s) on the trail. Normally I'd say follow Danny Seavey and you're good but he's not going to be available this season. So here's a few alternatives this go around.
  • Jake Berkowitz - He was a top ten finisher before he started a family and decided to get out of running dogs. Now he watches via the internet. He will be writing for the Alaska Dispatch but I believe is also planning on posting thoughts on Facebook. 
  • Dallas Seavey - This is Dallas's racing team page. It's run by his wife Jen. Jen is an Iditarod finisher, now she's super mom who manages her home, family, and the team. She manages to blog at least twice a day during the height of the race. She gives insight not just to Dallas' race, but to the rest of the field. While biased for Dallas, there's still some very fair reporting of what is going on done by Jen's blogging.
  • Sebastian Schnuelle - though I believe most of his posts will be done on the Iditarod website, he posts more photos to facebook when he has a strong enough internet connection. I'm not sure if he'll be out on the trail this year, though. But Danny Seavey said to follow him so I'm going to assume that Seb is doing what he's done the last few years and chasing the teams on his iron dog.
Twitter - Like Facebook, there are a few folks on Twitter you NEED to follow. (Aside from me and my friends, we're pretty amazing, but for news...)
  • KNOM - Nome media, their social media definitely keeps up with the race, and they seem to know what they're talking about. Makes for a good source of info.
  • ADNIditarod - The Iditarod specific social media for the Alaska Dispatch. Another fantastic source. 
  • Kyle Hopkins - he works for KTUU, but he worked for a long time for the Anchorage Daily News (now the Alaska Dispatch). He has covered the Iditarod for years.
  • Alex Stein - He directed a documentary on the Iditarod a few years back. He's one half of dog works radio podcasts about the Iditarod. 
  • Fairbanks News-Miner - They also post a lot of Iditarod stuff, especially when the race starts out of Fairbanks.

Alaska Dispatch - The official website of Alaska's largest newspaper. They have an Iditarod specific section (which is what I linked). 

KTVA - the official news channel of the Iditarod. (Personally I am not impressed with their coverage or their news casters having very little understanding of the sport/race. The only reason they're the official channel is they are owned by GCI which is a major sponsor of the race.)

KTUU - The best local news station in Alaska, IMO. The sports crew GET the Iditarod, love it, and it shows. I prefer KTUU, but they don't have access to the start, restart and finish.

Dog Works Radio - Robert and Alex have an Iditarod specific podcast during the race. They discuss it in depth. If you aren't into reading - this is one way to keep up with the race.

Or just follow along on my twitter and blog. Twitter I share from all of these people/sites throughout the day. And when I have a chance to blog, I do. 

We're a week a way, guys ONE WEEK! 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Iditarod 45: My Top Ten

It's that time again, time for me to pretend I know what I'm talking about and choose the top 10 teams that I think have a shot of winning. I'm going to try and keep it alphabetical again. These choices are strictly my own, I had no outside influence or help. I rarely choose the correct top ten, but have come pretty close.

Aliy Zirkle - She's been knocking at the door for the last few years, and we won't count last year against her. Aliy went through an ordeal that no one should have to go through, and if you aren't cheering for her this year I don't know what your problem is. Aliy's running her kennel's A team once again, and they just came in third on the Yukon Quest (driven by her husband Allen Moore). Zirkle's team looks strong, but she will once again be the weaker link of the team. One has to wonder about her mental toughness returning to the race that nearly cost her everything last year. Perhaps the reroute will be a blessing in disguise for the SPKennel leader.

Dallas Seavey - He broke Rick Swenson's record of being the youngest musher to win the Iditarod. He holds the record for fastest finish. If Dallas wins this year he TIES both Lance Mackey's 4 consecutive wins, AND Rick Swenson's five wins. However, Swenson hit that record in the early 90s, and there have been four 4-time champions since then that can't seem to break that fifth win. Dallas has youth and health on his side, and many armchair mushers pretty much have him winning without even starting the race. I'd actually be very surprised to see him win this year. There's something about that fifth win that is just so illusive. However, if anyone was to crack it, it'd be Dallas. He doesn't seem to believe in pressure.

Jeff King - Speaking of four timers trying to crack into that fifth win... King last won in 2006, but it wasn't from lack of trying. Jeff has come close many times to winning his fifth title. Had it not been for a freak windstorm that blew his team off course and became so violent King had to flag down help so that he could get his team to the safety of the checkpoint of Safety, he'd have won his fifth title in 2014 (Dallas won that one). King was poised to take control of the race last year before his team was viciously attacked by a drunk on a snowmachine. Jeff continued and finished the race, but momentum was lost and a win was out of reach (he did manage to stay in the top 10, however). Hopefully he can tear himself away from posting about how much he can't stand Trump to have another great run on Iditarod.

Jessie Royer - If Royer's not in your top ten, then you haven't been paying attention. The Montana-ite is eating up a lot of trail and gaining on the top contenders consistently year after year. Don't let the hiccup of 15th place last year fool you; Jessie is going to be in the mix. The last time the teams ran this trail (just two years ago) she came in 4th. She had some of the strongest, fastest runs in the Yukon Quest (though she was not the top woman finisher). She's learned tricks from a 4-time Iditarod Champion. Should she pull off a win, it'd be an upset, but she'd also become the first non-Alaskan woman to win. She's got the goods, she could pull it off.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom - Someone tell this dude that life is not a photoshoot! Doesn't matter what angle or who's shooting, chances are you get a nearly GQ photo of this guy on the back of his sled. But he's not just some wannabe pretty boy, he's got the goods. He has quickly made himself known on the Alaska mushing scene. He's serious about his dogs, and he seems to have it all together. His team looked strong in the races he's run this season, and he's consistently improving his standings. He was 6th last year, I expect he'll make a run to get a higher placement this year.

Mitch Seavey - "Da Man" Seavey. His motto is "just mush". When talking with Mitch all you'll ever get is "I'm just going to mush my dogs and see where we end up." That's like hearing a figure skater say "I'm just want to skate my best." It's a PR phrase. It's quoteable. And should the chips fall and you aren't first, well, at least you don't have to eat your words. That being said - do not let him fool you. Mitch is every bit as competitive as his son. He doesn't sit back and "let" anyone beat him. He does run his dogs to the best of THEIR ability, but they only get to the level they are because he is competitive in training and dog care. He's come in second to Dallas twice. He's won this thing twice. 2015 he was on a trail he was unfamiliar with. He knows it now. I don't expect him to not make that push to the front at the right time.

Nicolas Petit - Nicolas has run an aggressive race season this year. He's been aggressive in his race strategy. He nearly won the Tustumena 200, and had control of the Copper River Basin for most of the race before his dogs just had enough of breaking trail. I don't expect him to treat the Iditarod any differently. The question will be, will he push too fast and too hard too soon. He's done that in the past where his race looks very good only to have his team slow far too soon. Teams catch up and pass him. Nicolas seems to genuinely cares for his team, however, so they have yet to truly quit on him. They trust him. He trusts them. If they can make it come together, he can give those multi-champions a run for their money.

Pete Kaiser - He's a three time Kusko Champion. He's got a solid list of race stats. His team does better with wind and cold than those who have been in the warmer temps of South Central. Fans have been waiting to see Pete take a run at the championship for a while now. He has the goods to do it, he just has to make that magic happen. The Kusko is a tough race, Iditarod's just longer.

Ramey Smyth - He's back! After playing Mr. Mom while his wife could run the race, this year Smyth is once again driving the family team to Nome. The Smyth teams are known for their speed, especially in the last leg of the race. In 2012 when Ramey came in third he came out of no where to get there. I was working for the Seavey's then and the family was on their way to Nome when he made his move. I get a call from Dallas' family to ask how the GPS was looking and I said Ramey'd made a move and was gaining. Dead silence on the other end of the line. That's how dangerous a Smyth is to your race. Smyth's brother Cim just won the Tustumena 200 last month doing the same thing. Waiting for that opportune moment. You can't not have a Smyth on your list. They're just too dangerous to forget.

Wade Marrs - Who doesn't love Wade? I mean really! He's another younger musher who has consistently improved over his career. Some "experts" have said this is his year to make a move. Some have even said he's the only one with a real chance to out Dallas, Dallas. I don't know about all that, but he is doing a bang up job of getting attention with his team and driving ability. He's one of my dark horses as I'm just not convinced it's his time just yet, but anything is possible. Anything, especially when one considers the Fairbanks trail is a more equal playing field as no one really has the advantage of having run it over and over and over again learning every bump and turn.

Honorable Mentions:

I nearly put Noah Burmeister on my list, and honestly he probably should be on my top 10. He's another one of those mushers who just knows how to kick it into gear, plus he's got a great family history in this race.

Scott Smith is another musher that's on the rise. He's gained ground in the last couple of years. He cracked the top 10 last year. It will be interesting to see how he does this year. He's another one to watch. It's exciting to see names I don't automatically recognize come to the forefront. Makes me feel like this race is alive and well. Which seeing as how it's the 45th run of the race, that's a good feeling.

Hopefully I get to see all of these faces and more while I'm in Nome!

Which mushers do YOU have in YOUR top 10? Who are you cheering for? Agree/Disagree with my picks? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and check back as I continue to blog about the 45th running of the Last Great Race!