Tuesday, March 11, 2014

This is the country where legends are born.

Dallas Seavey was not supposed to have ANY chance of winning. He'd waited "too long" to try and overtake the leader. Jeff King had a consistent lead over Aliy Zirkle, who had a consistent lead over  Dallas Seavey, who had a consistent lead over Mitch Seavey. When the runs began out of White Mountain I was still hopeful that Dallas could run down Aliy and come in second, but there was "no way" that he had enough mileage between White Mountain and Nome to run down Jeff.

It literally took an "act of God" to make it possible. Jeff's team was blown - literally - off course three miles from the checkpoint of Safety. He was 25 miles from the finish and the dogs basically told him to take a flying leap, they weren't going anywhere. But with the winds and cold it was unsafe for him and the team to stay out in it all curled up, so he went and got help. His race ended 25 miles from the finish (after travelling nearly 1,000).

Aliy kept a nice cushion between herself and Dallas. He made up *maybe* 10 minutes on her over two days. He was racing to keep third place and maybe get close enough to make a move on second. Aliy made it to the final checkpoint, with 65-75mph windgusts going on outside, she talked to some snowmachiners who told her not to go back out. It was going to get worse. Aliy stayed for 2.5 hours. She gave up her entire cushion. There was no power in Safety, there was no way to know where Dallas was or when he would be coming into the checkpoint.

Dallas showed right on time. He’d battled the winds too, but his dogs kept going. They were trained for adverse conditions. They believed in their musher and trusted him. He signed in and out of the checkpoint in three minutes. He saw Aliy’s name, but in his hazy state he thought she was gone. He didn’t see Jeff King’s name and figured his name was on a different piece of paper. He was running for third. He told his team of seven to hike up and out into the winds they went. Joe Runyan had blogged just a few minutes before that any musher who dared to venture out from Safety that night was “foolhardy”. They could get injured, they could get frostbite, they wouldn’t make the 22 miles to Nome.

Fifteen minutes of going back and forth deciding what to do, Aliy Zirkle gave chase. Her indecisiveness meant she would be the 2nd place finisher for a third straight year. Aliy had the faster run time from Safety to Nome. She ran it fifteen minutes faster than Dallas. If she’d left just after he did instead of sitting there weighing the options, she’d be champion.

When Dallas came across the finish line with 6 dogs on the line and one in the sled – he was completely confused with the crowd and fuss. He came in third, why all the pomp and circumstance?! It took him a good minute or two for it to sink in. The whole time he ran with a light following him to Nome he believed his Dad had caught up and was running him down. He truly believed he was outrunning Mitch Seavey. Dallas dazed and confused asked Race Marshall Mark Nordman, “Where’s Jeff?! Where’s Aliy?!” Two minutes after Dallas came under the Burled Arch, Aliy Zirkle finished her race.

The last time the winner was decided on the race from White Mountain to Nome was in 1991. Rick Swenson passed Susan Butcher and the other frontrunners to come in first during one of the worst snowstorms in race history. Dallas had just turned four years old around the time of the race start.

This is the second closest race finish in the history of the sport (the fastest less than a minute separated 1st and 2nd place and was decided by the nose of the first dog. Dick Mackey beat Rick Swenson in 1978 for that one). It SMASHED the previous fastest time finish so much so that the next 3 teams also finished faster than the previous record.

Dallas came into Nome in 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes, and 19 seconds. Over five hours faster than John Baker’s record setting pace in 2011. It was 3 hours slower, though, than what had been predicted for Jeff King.

This race will be one for the history books. Little to no snow on much of the trail, the farewell burn that destroyed sleds and mushers alike. Monster run times. Happy healthy dogs in what appears to be record  number. And in the final leg of the race, when it should’ve been smooth sailing, hurricane force windstorms blow the leaders away.

In the words of Hobo Jim: “This is the country where legends are born.”