Thursday, March 31, 2022

2022 Kobuk 440 Musher Roster

Haven't had enough of mushing? We're in luck! We have one more premiere mid-distance race kicking off next week in Alaska. The Kobuk 440 is always a fun time for fans to follow along - especially since they have a killer crew of social media volunteers keeping us all entertained and informed. This year's roster looks full of exciting teams and it's a not want to miss event for any type of mushing fan. I'll have an actual preview post up later this week, but figured now is a good time to get the musher roster linked up for all of you! As always, the teams are in alphabetical order. I've added kennel names where I know them. Don't forget to comment below with any thoughts about the roster, or any corrections. If you like what you see and want to support my addiction (I mean HOBBY) of following these races and stalking (I mean cheering on) the mushers, you can buy me a slice of pizza (that really goes to paying for my internet/web expenses).


Cim Smyth (Perserverance Springs Farm) - Facebook
D.J. Starr (Dakli Flats Kennel) Facebook 
Deke Naaktgeboren (Nautique Sky Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Dempsey Woods Sr. (Miss Haley Kennels) - Facebook 
Ebbe Winstrup Pedersen (Sivo Racing Kennel) - Facebook
Eddie Burke Jr. (Alaskan Wildstyle Racing) - Facebook / Instagram
Hugh Neff (Northern Whites Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram 
Jeff King (Husky Homestead Kennel) - Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
Jessie Holmes (Team Can't Stop) - Website / Facebook / Instagram
Jim Bourquin (Orion Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram
Kevin Hansen (Hansen Kennel) - Facebook / Instagram
Martin Early (Husky Homestead Kennel) - Kennel Facebook / Instagram
Miriam Osredkar (Racing Beringia Kennel?) - Facebook
Richie Diehl (Real Diehl Racing) - Facebook 
Ryan Redington (Redington Mushing) - Website / Facebook / Instagram

*Cim Smyth has withdrawn from the Kobuk (April 5, 2022).

Who are you cheering for? Predictions for who will cross the finish line first? Comment below!

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Final mushers are into Nome

The Final Four have made it to Nome! After what seemed like the most dramatic finish ever for the back of the pack, the Final Four made quick time into the finish. An always bittersweet moment as we celebrate the final teams crossing the finish line and watching the final team extinguish the Widow's Lamp because we know this means no more Iditarod for a whole year. Still, the accomplishment will be celebrated and to top it off ALL TEAMS ARE OFF THE TRAIL in time for the Finisher's Banquet on Sunday!

First in of the Final Four was Eric Kelly at 9:11pm followed a few minutes later at 9:49pm by Kailyn Davis. Then it was over an hours wait before Yuka Honda came charging into the chute. Red Lantern followed soon after as Apayauq Reitan completed her journey once again on the Iditarod Trail.

With the extinguishing of the Lantern signifying all teams were off the trail, the 50th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race officially came to a close. 

Forty-Nine teams started the race in Anchorage/Willow. Of those were thirteen rookies, and thirty six veterans. There were Americans, a Swede, a South African. The first transgender woman completed the race this year. They battled deep snow, no snow, overflow, and insane winds. Though this race may not have looked like the races of old with its NASCAR like speeds, technology, and-well-sponsor logos everywhere you turn... over all I think ol' Joe Senior would be proud to see his race continue for so long after him (over twenty years without our Joe). 

Thirty seven mushers completed Iditarod 50.

Tomorrow night is the Finisher's Banquet where stories will be shared, they'll all say never again... but come summer they'll all place their names in the ring (so to speak) once again to run the Last Great Race On Earth. This one was for Joe, they may call it the Iditarod Trail but it's truly Redington's Run.

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Trackers and Rescues

Borges, Deeters scratch from Iditarod 50

We finally have confirmation of what many believed would be the case hours ago. Jeff Deeter and rookies KattiJo Deeter and Sebastien Dos Santos Borges have scratched from Iditarod 50. The three received Search and Rescue assistance to get to the shelter cabin last night and that is considered outside assistance. There's no doubt that the mushers all knew what the help would ultimately mean, still it's a sad end to their race.

You can read the Iditarod's press release in full:

"Iditarod mushers Sebastien Dos Santos Borges, KattiJo Deeter and Jeff Deeter scratch between White Mountain and Safety checkpoints 

Anchorage, Alaska –– Iditarod mushers Sebastien Dos Santos Borges (bib #44, rookie), KattiJo Deeter (bib #19, rookie) and Jeff Deeter (bib #34, veteran) have scratched from the Iditarod between the checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety. 

In the late evening on March 18, 2022, Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman was notified that all three teams had accepted assistance between the checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety. Due to the ground storm and high winds, all three teams received snowmachine assistance by White Mountain search and rescue to the Nome Kennel Club shelter cabin, where they stayed until improved weather conditions allowed for Iditarod volunteers to assist with transporting the mushers and their teams to Nome. 

The mushers have been in direct communication with the race marshal while at the shelter cabin and the race teams are reportedly in good health. Upon arrival in Nome, the race teams will be given a full veterinary check."

Borges' facebook page confirmed the scratch, as well, as say that once the musher returns to Nome the focus will go fully towards finding missing dog Leon in Ruby. So far Black Spruce Kennel's social media remain silent on the scratch. I'm sure once the mushers and their teams are safely into Nome and better rested/recovered we'll get more of the story.

This leaves the Final Four out on the trail. Two are nearing the checkpoint of Safety, while the other two are coming up on the shelter cabin. All look to be on schedule to come into Nome before the musher banquet Sunday evening. 

Kailyn Davis first to leave White Mountain

Iditarod Rookie Kailyn Davis popped the snowhook at 10:50am Alaska Time on Saturday to head out on the final 77 miles to Nome. The musher and her team of eight dogs will soon enter the treacherous trail in the Topkok Hills. Just yesterday this section of trail claimed three mushers - forcing scratches and a couple trips to the medical clinic. Today the weather has improved - winds aren't quite as strong - and race officials have deemed the trail safe to travel.

During yesterday's drama of scratches and stalls, those mushers already in Nome spoke on trail conditions. Both hardened trail veterans and past Iditarod Champions Mitch Seavey and Martin Buser (both of whom had puppy teams out in the storm - and would end up scratching by day's end) noted that the trail in the Topkok Hills had been the worst they remember seeing. No snow, just thick ice and wind gusts so strong they easily picked up a sled and dog team and threw them about the trail. With no way to pick in on the trail due to the ice the teams were at the mercy of it all.

In an interview/trail update given last night to Insider, Mark Nordman described the trail as the "worst possible conditions" and noted that teams currently in White Mountain would stay in White Mountain until he was assured they would be safe out on the trail. That basically meant until the winds died down (they were to reach 60mph overnight) everyone in the checkpoint was in stay put mode. That was lifted around 9:30am this morning.

It won't be long until she comes to the area that it all went wrong for teams yesterday. We're about to know if the trail truly has improved.

Teams in White Mountain prepare to leave

The final four are currently in the checkpoint of White Mountain packing up and prepping their teams to head back out on the trail. The teams have been held longer than their mandatory 8 as race officials determined when weather and trail conditions had improved enough to safely send teams down the trail. The mushers got the go ahead about an hour ago, and are taking their time making sure everything is set with their dogs and sleds before they head out.

Jeff and KattiJo Deeter and Sebastian Dos Santos Borges remain at the shelter cabin between White Mountain and Safety. The cabin provides shelter from the wind as well as a wood stove and the cabin was well stocked with firewood. After a harrowing 24 hours, you can't blame them wanting to take it easy. Perhaps they are also getting set to head out, just waiting to hear how Riley Dyche's run to Nome went. We won't know until someone contacts the outside world - or until they finish their race and tell their stories.

Speaking of Riley Dyche, he finished Iditarod at 10:30am Alaska time this morning after more than 35 hours after he left White Mountain. Talk about a crazy finish! 

Riley Dyche on his way to Nome

The first to stop during yesterday's windstorm looks to be the first one to make it to Nome. Riley Dyche ran in the early morning hours, making it to the checkpoint of Safety just before 8am Alaska time. Dyche is now climbing his final mountain of Iditarod 50 and it will hopefully be a straight shot and easy ride from there on out. 

Winds have died down a bit in Nome and Safety, but look to have picked up in White Mountain. Dyche's shelter cabin buddies are all still hunkered at the shelter, and it's anyone's guess when they decide to make their move. The three teams sat for most of Friday in the Topkok Hills in the wind and it could be that they need a little more time to recover from their ordeal. As we know, three teams scratched yesterday in the Topkok Hills. Gerhardt Thiart and Bridgett Watkins scratched due to injury, and Sean Williams tapped out several hours later deciding that with the winds set to pick up to a reported 60mph he did not want to risk injury or worse. All three are reportedly doing well and all of their dogs are happy and healthy in White Mountain (dogs do so much better in this stuff).

The four teams that made their way to White Mountain are still there even after completing their mandatory 8 hour rest. Mark Nordman announced last night that no teams would be allowed to continue until the race determined trail and weather conditions were safe to do so. At this time, winds are keeping everyone settled.

This may be the first time in a long while that the red lantern doesn't come in until after the banquet starts on Sunday. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Red Lantern Award

Bridgett Watkins suffers frostbite and broken clavicle

Kennel on the Hill gave us a photo and an update tonight on Bridgett Watkins' condition after having to scratch due to musher injury today.

Thiart out with suspected broken foot

 Insider Fans got to watch some drama unfold as a helicopter touched down in White Mountain this afternoon and watched as several volunteers helped someone walk across the snow to the waiting lift. The person had their right leg extended out in front of them as they were hobbled/carried. The confirmation came soon after from the Insider cameraman saying it was Gerhardt Thiart who had to be airlifted to Nome.

Gerhardt was stopped in the Topkok Hills when he managed to crash with his sled and injure his right foot. The musher suspected his ankle was broken. Thankfully someone came up on a snowmachine and stopped to see how he was doing. Gerhardt told him he needed help so they went a half mile back to where Bridgett Watkins was camped to have her take a look. It was decided Gerhardt was definitely in need of help so they left him with her dogs and they went back to get his. 

Once they got back with the dogs, Gerhardt reported he was feeling hypothermic. The SOS button was at some point hit, but the snowmachine carried the musher back while search and rescue assembled to meet up with Watkins. 

Gerhardt was running Mitch Seavey's puppy team.

BREAKING: Bridgett Watkins has also returned to White Mountain via snowmachine and was taken to the local clinic. No other information on her condition is known. Search and Rescue are with the dog team.

Gerhardt Thiart's race is probably over

As expected, it looks like the rookie from South Africa's time on the Iditarod Trail has ended prematurely. Fans watched most of Friday as his tracker rested with several other teams in the Topkok Hills waiting out a massive windstorm, and then Thiart's tracker started moving backward with speeds that typically mean snowmachine "rescue". 

The trackers weren't straightforward, however, as it bounced around the trail with sometimes normal dog team speeds and other time snowmachine speed. However, at last look, his tracker shows in White Mountain going at a speed of 377mph (which signifies air travel). His race is most certainly over, we just need to wait for the official announcement.

BREAKING: (AK 2:32pm) reports are now coming out of Nome that a helicopter was dispatched to rescue a musher off of the trail who has suffered broken leg(s). Judging by the speed of Gerhardt's tracker is a good assumption we know which musher it was that needed the medical support.

Winds stall teams out of White Mountain

Just when we all thought the winds would play nice after what they put the top twenty through, well... we were wrong. Currently, seven teams are hunkered down on the Topkok hills buried into the local topography and in shelter cabins hoping they can start moving in short lulls promised to them by weather reports being texted to them from Nome. Behind White Mountain the final four are still able to move, but judging by their speeds being so inconsistent it's easy to assume that the wind gusts are hitting along Golovin Bay as well.

Riley Dyche was out first of White Mountain and is currently holed up in the shelter cabin at the top of the blowhole (where winds are typically even worse than the hills). He's been there most of the morning and it doesn't look like he's moving any time soon. There is some talk that he'd lost his GPS tracker and that he would be coming into Nome any moment... but those moments have turned into hours and there's no indication that he's ever checked into Safety.

And, as if watching trackers not move at all for over 12 hours isnt enough stress, let's throw in a few wonky what the heck is going on trackers into the mix. Gerhardt Thiart's tracker keeps jumping back and forth to where he had been resting with several other teams out of White Mountain to zooming backwards down the trail, only to bounce back. It would suggest that Thiart's race is done just 70 miles from the finish, but right now his tracker sits at yellow in a very random spot.

And in the back of the pack we have to wayward souls running the wrong trail out of Golovin. Eric Kelly and Yuka Honda show as way off course and it's a 50/50 right now if they are truly off course or if Aliens are just really enjoying messing with our technology today. 

No matter what the final 11 teams will all have some wild stories to share if they ever make it to Nome. Could this be our new Elim 11?

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Fancy Sweaters

Buser minutes away from completing his 39th Iditarod

Martin Buser is currently on the home stretch of his 39th Iditarod. The musher has never scratched from a race and has been a constant of this race for nearly 4 decades. Always a fan favorite, the four-time Iditarod champion hasn't challenged often for a top placement, but it's clear he runs Iditarod for the love of the race and the dogs. More often than not Buser becomes a mentor out on the trail and an encourager to the rookies he runs with during the thousand mile race.

He's about to come off the beach and onto Front Street in the next few minutes where he will be greeted by his wife Kathy and many friends under the burled arch. Congrats on another fantastic Iditarod, Martin.

Lisbet Norris scratches in Unalakleet

As many guessed, Norris' Iditarod ended prematurely in Unalakleet. The all Siberian team struggled to maintain a speed that kept them in with the back of the pack, and most fans knew it was just a matter of time before she would be asked to withdraw. While her stats show scratch and not withdrawal, it was circulated earlier in the week that the musher had been put on notice to get caught up or face a withdrawl. While not information from official sources, it came as no surprise and most speculated she would end her race where she did.

Her team of 10 dogs at the time of the scratch will fly back to Anchorage in the next day or so. The musher was met with 4 gifted Pizzas in the checkpoint. Better luck next time, Lisbet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Mushergrams and Sportsmanship

Top 20 are into Nome

It's been a busy day on Front Street in Nome. Teams have come in two and three at a time since Tuesday afternoon. Stories from each musher shared over loudspeakers as they were checked in. Well known names mixed with new. Some surprises, some expected.

Dan Kaduce, the fourty place finisher, made it to Nome with a full team of fourteen dogs. This is not common for top teams and the only other time someone in the top five managed a finish with a full team was Jessie Royer in 2017 when she finished fifth with all sixteen dogs. Dan credited luck, but the argument could be made that Kaduce is an excellent dog musher who did everything right by his team. He should be at the top of the list of nominees for the Humanitarian award.

Peter Kaiser, the fifth place finisher traveled the Iditarod with Dick Wilmarth's ashes. Wilmarth was the first ever Iditarod Champion in 1973. Kaiser was asked to carry some of the legend's ashes to Nome and he obliged. Wilmarth was from the Kotzebue area of Alaska, and Kaiser was a very deserving of the honor.

Chad Stoddard was a somewhat surprising seventh place finisher running Dallas Seavey's B-team. The musher ran a team split 50/50 between veteran dogs and "puppies". Chad benefitted not only from a really great line of sled dogs, but also from a wind storm that clustered the 3rd-15th places in Shaktoolik. Chad was one of the last of those teams to reach the Sound, but also one of the first to go out into it (right on schedule). It helped sling shot him into a top ten placement. He may end up winning most improved musher jumping 16 places from last year's 23rd.

Aaron Burmeister ran a master class in mushing in this race and managed eighth after running in third for most of the race (dang ground storm on the sea ice). Burmeister announced after last year's Iditarod that this race was going to be his last. This year he's added "for a while" to the end of that statement. He's been running a very emotional last leg of the race as he meets with fans and friends at each checkpoint. He loves this race, and it shows. That the crowd in Nome chanted "one more year" as he spoke shows just how important he is to everyone.

Mille Porsild and Michelle Phillips spent a long time in a shelter cabin outside of Koyuk. Before that Porsild dealt for a ridiculous amounts of miles with a very broken and unrepairable sled until Mitch Seavey offered his to her in Unalakleet. In her post race Q&A Mille said she wouldn't be at the finish without Mitch's help, but that she also believed he was secretly trying to kill her. Apparently Mitch's sled had a steep learning curve (sounds like a mushing version of a Batmobile?) Mille sounds very happy to have managed fourteenth place.

Mitch Seavey came in happy and chatty in sixteenth place. He wasn't sure (and this blogger isn't either) but he thinks he's the only musher in the field that was also at the first one. Granted he didn't run it, but he was there to see his dad run the first one. He helped Dan train that first Seavey Iditarod team and was immediately hooked on the spirit of Iditarod. Mitch was running an advanced puppy team of sorts and after having a difficult first leg decided to take it easy and make sure his team was preserved for next year. He stated in Nome that "I found out this year that as much as I love racing, and I love running the Iditarod, I just love mushing dogs even more." Mitch also answered a question about what he thinks about being here at the 50th after being at the first, "I think it means we're getting really old."

Hanna Lyrek locked in her Rookie of the Year status with her nineteenth finish. She came in just ahead of Paige Drobny who rounds out the top twenty. Drobny conceded a competitive race back in Ruby, and met up with Hanna around Shaktoolik. Hanna confided in Paige that she was afraid to run across the sea ice in the wind thinking she could get blown out to sea. Paige offered to run with the rookie and then they continued all the way into Nome. 

These are just some of the stories already coming out of Iditarod 50. More will no doubt come as mushers catch up on sleep and come back to the land of fast internet. We're about halfway through the race. Many more will be headed in late tonight and tomorrow. Our current red lantern is almost into Unalakleet. Keep watching those trackers, more stories are about to be made and shared.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Wild and Free

Bethel's Boys race for fifth

Okay, well, Richie is really from Aniak, but that didn't have quite the same ring to it. 

Equally as exciting as the race for third is the race for fifth. This is made even more fun - in my not so humble opinion - because the two racing for that prize are the two Kuskokwim Champions and hometown heroes Richie Diehl and Peter Kaiser. Kaiser, as you know, is also the 2019 Iditarod champion. 

The two Native mushers (making up 50% of this year's race's Native Alaskan mushers) are close friends as well as close rivals. They've often said they push each other to be better dog men as well as competitors. To see them go head to head for that final top five spot should be entertaining. 

Richie Diehl was out of White Mountan first at 12:50pm Alaska Time, Peter Kaiser was out eleven minutes later at 1:01pm. A quick look at the tracker shows the teams having less than two miles between them. 

Meanwhile the race for third has seemed to open up as Jessie Holmes is going full throttle thru the Topkok Hills. Holmes is headed for the blowhole which we know gave Iditarod Champion Brent Sass a whole lot of trouble last night (adding over an hour to his total time into Nome). Jessie has outrun Dan in most runs physically but time wise Dan has posted the faster run. This may come down to one of those classic runs for the finish line where the musher runs with the team to give them some extra speed.

Next out of the chute will be Aaron Burmeister at 1:57pm followed eleven minutes later by Chad Stoddard who is running Dallas Seavey's B+ team (7 Iditarod finishers, 7 "puppies"). Chad's run a heck of a last run with an unproven dog team and will be very happy with a top ten finish, but don't be surprised if he challenges Aaron for the 7th place.

Who do you think will take the winning spots out of these duels? Comment below with your predictions!

The race for third is about to get underway

Dan Kaduce at the Ceremonial Start
of Iditarod 50. March 5, 2022.
Anchorage, Alaska.
Jessie Holmes can leave at 11:35am Alaska Time Dan Kaduce will leave at 11:48am Alaska Time

With just thirteen minutes between them speed will be key in final placement. It will come down to how well they managed their teams throughout the race to get to this point and how much gas is left in the tank. Jessie's driven hard this last half (or more), Dan's taken a more conservative approach and found himself more than within striking distance of his highest placement yet.

Dan said in an interview earlier in the race that he has no desire to push another team or go faster than his team needs to, but with it being the last 77 miles of the race (give or take, Meredith Christine Mapes says it's actually 69) I would hope he'd punch the gas if he was in range.

It took Brent 10 hours and 32 minutes from White Mountain to Nome (if I did my iditamathing correctly). Dallas took 9 hours 1 minute. Of course, we know Brent was hit with wind gusts to where he was blown over and off the trail. Depending how the run goes today teams in the chase pack may have an easier go.

Dan also had a much faster time to White Mountain than Jessie did and is running a full team of 14 (which we have yet to find out if he will continue with all 14, but it seems likely that's his goal at this point). Jessie has 9 dogs coming into White Mountain and, again, we don't know if he will return more dogs off the trail before heading to Nome or not. It's doable with less. Dallas just completed the race in a windstorm with 8 very strong looking dogs in the finish (and in previous Iditarods he's finished with 7). 

Gear up, Iditarod fans, this race is far from over. While Dallas and Brent gave us a show in a windstorm, there's nothing quite like a nailbiter finish even for third!

*I'm still hoping for ski-pole jousting in No-Man's-Land (yes, I know they say that's against the rules, but it would make me happy).

Wild and Free

Legend has it that Hobo Jim's song "Wild and Free" inspired a young man named Brent Sass to build a sled dog kennel and win the Yukon Quest. The kennel was going to be named after the song by Alaska's Balladeer.

That young man did build his kennel, and did win the Quest (several). But he didn't stop there. Soon after setting his sights on the Quest, he turned his attention to the "more Hollywood" race of Iditarod. His rookie year he was 13th.

Sass would have a somewhat infamous Iditarod career soon after. In 2015 he was disqualified for having a two-way communication device, which at the time was against the rules. It was a wifi capable ipod and fans and other mushers alike disagreed with the ruling but the musher graciously accepted the decision and vowed to come back strong the next year.

In 2016 Sass was poised to take a top placement when in White Mountain his team stopped on him. He had pushed them too far and even after 8 hours of rest they didnt budge. He finally coaxed them to Nome, winding up 20th, but he was met with harsh criticism for how his race ended.

Faced with the humiliation of having done what no musher worth their salt ever wants to do, Brent vowed to do better. The musher from Eureka, Alaska stopped racing. He took the time off to rebuild his kennel and mindset. He got back to just mushing for the fun of it while developing a healthier training program.

He returned to racing three years later running the Quest and winning in 2019. He returned the following year to the Iditarod where he finished 4th after winning the Quest the month prior. In 2021 he came in 3rd for the Iditarod. It seemed the wake up call of 2016 worked.

And worked it has. Brent has completed what many call a magic run. Early in the race he told Insider that his team was scary fast. Faster than he had planned to go, but they were staying on their schedule. When pressed about the competition of faster teams behind him he pointed to his arm where the words "run your own race" are tattooed.

Brent's magic run was still hard fought, though. The 50th Iditarod was going to make him earn it. In his run from White Mountain the 20mph winds from the North turned into 40-60mph gusts as he came out of the hills and into the infamous "Blowhole". He stalled for at least 40 minutes just shy of a known shelter cabin as fans watched anxiously.

As Brent and team hunkered down, Dallas Seavey and his merry band of 8 still charged through the wind. They took a 22 mile gap down to 10 miles. Brent was again on the move but stopped again as wind raged around him. Race fans knew they had seen this before. The same section of trail blew Jeff King so off course he had to scratch just miles from his 5th Iditarod win in 2014. Dallas Seavey won that year. Was history repeating itself?

 Either the winds died down, or Brent's team proved to him they could do it because they started up and took off for the final checkpoint of Safety. From there the continued up over the final mountain, across the beach and up onto Front Street.

Brent's redemption story is complete. Sass now joins a very elite club of champions of both the Quest and Iditarod. As if winning one wasn't hard enough, it is very rare for a Quest champion to win the Iditarod. Brent is the latest champion to accomplish that feat and he did it with style and grit.

This team has truly been Wild and Free.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Sass and Seavey both headed for Nome

Brent Sass took off right on time at 7:05pm Alaska time.
Dallas Seavey just left right on time at 9:42pm Alaska time.

Depending on trail conditions and what have you we should have a winner between 4am(Danny Seavey's guess) and 6am (my guess) Tuesday morning.

Tomorrow will be a doctor pepper day for me.

The chase pack is still too close to call, but it looks like Dan Kaduce has conceded 3rd place to Jessie Holmes. A lot of the chase are in Elim, but Jessie is going straight to White Mountain it seems. 

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Onward to Nome

Brent Sass poised to take win

With just a few miles until White Mountain and a final mandatory 8 hour rest, Brent Sass looks poised to take his first Iditarod Championship. The three-time Yukon Quest champion is about to become a member of a very elite club of mushers who can say they've won both long distance races. 

Now, before you think I'm getting cocky and calling a race before it finishes - we do have to remember Brent's had some not so great moments in White Mountain in the past. In 2016, Brent found himself sitting in White Mountain for far more than 8 hours as his dogs decided to play Forrest Gump and just stop running. The incredibly humbling experience as many analysts talked about the reasons behind it saw Brent take time off from long distance racing to focus on a breeding program as well as change his training and racing habits.

In Sass's return first to the Quest and then to Iditarod he's found himself to be more consistently in the top five, and has won several Quest races. It looks like, to most, that whatever he needed to learn - he did. He is having that once in a lifetime, magical run and he deserves to enjoy it. If all things go according to plan and he is first on front street.

Still, Sass has lead for over half the race, and riding that fine line can be arduous. If there's 2014 like storms who knows what could happen, or if Sass has tricked us all and his dogs stall in White Mountain like 2016... both years Dallas Seavey won. Dallas is currently over two hours behind Brent. Many are expecting Dallas to pull some magic trick out of his sleeve and challenge Brent, but even the five-time Iditarod Champion has noted multiple times that unless Brent makes a major mistake he won't catch him.

The Chase Pack had to wait out the storm in Shaktoolik and so there's an even bigger gap between second and third now as they are just now crossing the Norton Sound. Currently in third place is Chad Stoddard (wait, how?!) who is running Dallas's B-team. I don't have the history of puppy teams in front of me, but I'm pretty sure this would be the first time the A and B team of the same kennel come in 2nd and 3rd if Chad manages to hold his position. 

That probably won't be the case as this chase pack just keeps leap frogging over one another.

With the championship nearly set in stone it's truly time to focus on the chase pack and the human interest stories. They're far more exciting in most years, and this year is proving no different.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Sea Ice and Ugly Dogs

Sass nearing Shaktoolik

Brent Sass was first into Unalakleet a little bit before midnight Saturday night and is now closing in on Shaktoolik. Sass has a lead of 15 miles on Dallas Seavey, and it does not look like his team plans to slow down. Brent is having one of those once in a lifetime runs so far. Perhaps if DSeavey's dogs hadn't been slow to get in race rhythm perhaps the gap would be smaller. Still, the coast can change even the best teams out flat.

While Seavey has gained some time/miles on Brent since the Yukon, there's still a wide margin that right now seems insurmountable. While anything could happen (let's not forget 2014 and Jeff King having a similar run until a freakishly strong windstorm knocked him out of his 5th win completely, had Aliy hunkered down and further back third place Dallas Seavey ended up winning his 2nd Iditarod Championship) it will have to take the lead team making some very big mistakes for Dallas to catch Brent and take off ahead of him.

Meanwhile the chase pack has an amazing among of leap frog going on that will probably continue even past White Mountain. As each team jockeys for position their different strategies have fans finding it impossible to understand who is running in which position. As with many Iditarods the excitement is really third through tenth at this point. 

For those watching Jeff King's race intently, after finishing his 24 in Ruby he made it onto the Yukon and he currently sits in Galena - where he may decide to take his 8. He is currently in 32nd place, which I'm sure he is happy with, but his dogs are probably ready to keep going. He has done amazingly well without too much warning or preparation, using Nic Petit's drop bags as well as his team, and while he's still recovering from surgery (from back in October). As always, Mr. The King is inspiring multiple generations of mushing fans and mushers.

For the back of the pack they are all out of Cripple on the standings, and the GPS shows no one back tracking to the checkpoint to suggest a scratch is forthcoming. Lisbet Norris is solidly bringing up the rear at this point with her team of all pure-bred Siberian huskies. Soon all teams will be on or past the Yukon. 

And, for those wondering about the middle to back of the pack, Insider has heard our pleas and while they cannot follow them through the length of their race they do plan to have live cams in Koyuk and White Mountain until all teams have made it safely through those checkpoints. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Toward the Coast

Sass and Seavey finish their Yukon 8

 Brent Sass and Dallas Seavey have finished their mandatory 8 hour rests on the Yukon and are back on the trail. It's not exactly a cat and mouse game at this point, and they both seem to be solidly in the first and second positions with not a lot of room or threat of shake up without some of Mother Nature's intervention. Dallas took his mandatory in the Yukon Village checkpoint of Nulato, coming in at just after Midnight. Brent Sass, right on script, ran all the way to Kaltag and declared his 8 there, getting in just after 2:30am AKST. 

Sass has picked up all of the "first to" awards as he travels down the trail and looks to be the first to the Coast as well. Dallas is a good 3 hours behind him, not completely insurmountable... but not likely without Brent making a mistake and pushing the dogs a little too hard to where they slow or stop completely. All indications point so far to Brent managing his race extremely well, he's learned quite a bit since his team's premature stop in White Mountain in 2016.

The chase back began arriving in Nulato as Dallas was taking off. Jessie Holmes was first in and is running impressive speeds, but even the musher acknowledges that he can't keep up his pace forever. He's cutting rest and that never helps a team maintain the speed it would take to overtake and pick off the lead teams. It will be interesting to see how Holmes plays his cards from here on out. Richie Diehl was next followed by Ryan Redington and Aaron Burmeister. A quick glance at the GPS as I get ready to post this shows them all resting in Nulato except Burmeister who has chosen to continue (it looks like anyway).

In the back of the pack there's a little shake up in standings with Kaylin Davis leading the trio of ladies and Yuka Honda bringing up the rear. Lisbet Norris and her team of Siberians rests between them. The teams have run together most of the race helping each other through blizzards and other hazards. 

Greg Heister just reported on Insider that the winds are so strong between Kaltag and the coast that flights are grounded and Insider can't get to Unalakleet. A storm was supposed to blow in on the West Coast last night and it sounds like it's on schedule. The race ain't over.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Returned Dogs

The chase is on

Brent Sass and Dallas Seavey have been mostly alone today as they've run down the Yukon, but they're about to get company. The chase pack of Jessie Holmes, Richie Diehl, Ryan Redington, Aaron Burmeister, and Mitch Seavey are all out of Ruby and onto the river after taking their mandatory 8 in the first Yukon checkpoint.

While Mitch Seavey has all but conceded the race and is "planning for the future" (according to a post by Danny Seavey on facebook today), the other teams are hoping that should Sass or DSeavey stall, they will be in striking distance and take advantage. To this point Burmeister has run the most conservative race of the chase pack, and Jessie Holmes is the one who seems most in control with a lot of speed. 

The way the two in front have taken their rests on the river,  it looks like Dallas will 8 in Nulato while Sass will push to Kaltag. There's a big gap between the two teams and right now in order for Dallas to overtake Sass, Sass has to make a mistake or his dogs have to decide to pull a Forrest Gump and just stop running. That's happened to Sass before, but he's shown he's learned that lesson as his team has come back stronger than ever and he's won two more Quests since then. 

Both Seavey and Sass are very happy with how their teams are doing. Dallas was concerned going into his 24 that his dogs were not interested in eating enough, but that's switched up now and he says he can't give them enough food. Sass's team has been steady and fast, with the musher noting earlier this week that it was "scary" how fast they were going while staying on their schedule. That sounds a lot like Mitch Seavey talking about his record breaking finish time when he won in 2017 with a team that he "could not slow down" even going into the finish.

It's not time to call the race, but it definitely looks like the chase pack will be the more exciting race. I seem to recall saying that in 2014 though as we all wondered if it'd be Dallas or Mitch coming in 3rd. Jeff King was solidly in control of the race, and Aliy finally pulled away from the Seaveys to beat them to the finish - only to both have trouble in the final stretch due to a freak windstorm. King would scratch, Aliy would come second, once again, to Dallas Seavey.

Neff scratches in Ruby

Hugh Neff came into Ruby this morning pretty happy with how his team from Jim Lanier's Northern Whites Kennel looked coming onto the Yukon. He chose to rest his team in the checkpoint and as hours ticked by fans believed the musher had declared his 8 hour mandatory rest that must take place somewhere on the Yukon. As the countdown ticked down and Neff didn't leave, folks began to grow concerned. A zoom in of the tracker showed Neff's flag near the airport, which could only mean one thing. Scratched.

The press release read in full:
"Veteran Iditarod musher Hugh Neff scratches at Ruby checkpoint 

Anchorage, Alaska –– Veteran Iditarod musher Hugh Neff (bib #50) of Anchorage, Alaska, scratched at 11:40 a.m. today at the Ruby checkpoint. In conjunction with Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman, Neff made the decision to scratch due to their concern for his race team. Neff had 11 dogs in harness at the time he made the decision to scratch."

The press release's wording is peculiar as it's not the normal "best interest of the team". We'll have to keep and eye out to see if anyone gives more detail once the team is back at home. 

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: The Mighty Yukon

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Heading to the Yukon

Sass is on the Yukon

Brent Sass pulled into Ruby, the first stop on the Yukon River, at 5:57 this morning. Brent did not stay long. The Wild and Free team took off down the river just five minutes later and has picked up speed as they are now on Alaska's "super highway". At this point only one other team has made it into the checkpoint of Ruby, but no one has truly given chase to the musher from Eureka.

At this point it looks like Brent Sass has a solid win on his hands, they've gotten through the hard part of the trail and now are on what is typically the best groomed section of the entire race. That being said, there's still another third of the race to go after the River, and we've seen teams have issues after dominating early.

Behind Sass are Hugh Neff, the only other team currently in Ruby, Dallas Seavey, who reported in Cripple that his dogs weren't eating like he'd like, Jessie Holmes who made his move to get into the chase pack yesterday, and Richie Diehl the only musher from the Alaskan coast in the mix. Each team has their own strategy, and it will really start to play out today. The race is on. Many of those that were confident they could catch the leader a day or two ago are now less confident. Sass says he's playing it conservative, and he's running like he's trained all season. 

Expect the lead teams to pick up speed today as they hit the fast trails along the Yukon. At some point they will all have to decide where they will take their mandatory 8 hour rest.   

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ryne Olson second musher to scratch

Ryne Olson chose to scratch just after 5pm Alaska Time today in the best interest of her team. The Ryno Kennel team was seemingly having some trouble when fans noticed that the musher was down to 9 dogs, having flown 5 back to Anchorage, and not even halfway through the race. While teams are only required to finish with five dogs in harness, you don't typically see teams return so many dogs this early in the race.

Ryne's social media team posted on her page after the press release stating in part: "We’ll leave the details up to Ryne for later on. But over all, for the health of the dogs and the musher herself, it’s the best decision for the team. Making these tough decisions and top notch dog care is what mushing and racing is all about. And if we’re not having fun, it’s time to rest up and try again another time."

Ryne has run the Iditarod three times (this being the fourth), with her best placement coming last year when she finished in 18th place. This is Ryne's first scratch in Iditarod.

Anja Radano scratches in Nikolai

Overnight the Iditarod reported that Anja Radano of Swamp Dawg Kennel chose to scratch in the checkpoint of Nikolai. The press release stated that she made the decision in the best interest of her dogs. Fans had been concerned much of Wednesday when they watched her tracker leave Nikolai only to return, with some faithful tracker followers noting that her tracker posted speeds closer to snowmachine than dog team on the return back.

This morning the folks running her kennel page while she is away confirmed she has scratched but said they would not comment further on the scratch or make  more posts on her behalf - that they would let her choose when to tell her trail stories when she returns in the next day or two.

Trail continues to be impacted by heavy, wet snowfall near McGrath as teams are in the midst of taking their 24s.

Radano had 12 dogs on the line when she scratched and is the first team to end their race early in this year's Iditarod.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Brent Sass first to Cripple, again.

 As in 2021, Brent Sass is first to the halfway mark of the Iditarod. The musher received 3000 dollars worth of gold nuggets as his prize. Brent should take his 24 in Cripple after what one can only imagine was much of a slogfest of snow and not well packed trail in the heat of the day. His dogs will no doubt need at least a little break before continuing on, and the musher has yet to declare and take his 24hour+differential rest in the race.

Dallas Seavey is running about 20 miles behind Brent, picking up a little bit of time off the front runner who most likely had to break trail. Behind Seavey are Hugh Neff (9miles behind Dallas), Mitch Seavey (3 miles behind Hugh), and Ryan Redington (4 miles behind Mitch). All of the teams on their way to Cripple have yet to take their 24.

Meanwhile back in McGrath Aaron Burmeister is counting down to when he can take off after taking his mandatory 24+. He should be out of the checkpoint sometime after 5:40pm Alaska Time (I didn't do the math to get exact time). The conditions in McGrath are wet, heavy snow and a lot of it. Teams behind those in McGrath are having slow yucky go of it. 

Still no scratches in this year's Iditarod which is a huge feat and I'm not even sure this has happened before. 

Hope everyone's enjoyed a much more relaxing day today. Tomorrow will run about the same as we wait for Burmeister to slingshot past those who are up ahead miles wise now but don't have their 24s completed.

The race will truly start from there.

Brent Sass on the trail to Cripple

As teams begin taking their 24 hour plus differential rests, the leader and the chase pack continued up the trail Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. Brent Sass is currently running to Cripple - the half way point of the Iditarod in the Northern Route years - where as Redington, Neff, and Seavey Squared are all camped out further back and just outside of Ophir. With snow hitting the trail and the storm on the way it could be teams are trying to get out ahead of it before breaking trail slows them down. It could also be their strategy set weeks ago.

It's a good bet that these teams will twenty four in Cripple before hitting the Yukon River where they will have to choose a checkpoint to take their first of two mandatory eight hours. For the next day and a half fans need to get in their own mandatory rest. As teams stop along the trail to take their 24s there won't be much to follow, and so catching up on sleep, work, chores, etc should be the priority for those sitting at home.

Sass reported to the Insider earlier that he was surprised and "a little scared" of how fast his team is going, but he says he is taking the same amount of rest at this point as he did in both 2020 and 2019 so he feels his team is just very strong and fast this year. 

As I get ready to post this very short update - it looks like Dallas Seavey has popped the snow hook and started his run to Cripple now. He was camped near his dad Mitch, and will pass by where Neff and Redington are camped shortly. The race to the 24s is on.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Mushing Radio - Iditarod 50: Into McGrath

Burmeister looks to be first to McGrath

With just twenty miles to go, it looks like Aaron Burmeister is set to be the first into McGrath. With that will come the "First to McGrath award", according to Iditarod this year's prize consists of "a pair of musher mittens made of beaver fur and moose hide handmade by Loretta Maillelle of McGrath as well as a musher hat made from beaver fur and beaded velvet made by Lucy Miller of McGrath.  Alaska Air Transit will also be providing hand-made awards in Nikolai." This is the first of the "special awards" given out on the trail. 

Aaron Burmeister has had a solid, strong race to this point having kept right with Seavey and Sass as well as Redington. He narrowly missed beating Dallas Seavey for the top prize in last year's Iditarod and he is hungry to bring home the championship to Nome, his hometown. If he can continue as he is, he'll be right in the mix for first to the finish line.

Behind Burmeister are Richie Diehl, Ryan Redington, and Dallas Seavey. Brent Sass is camped out on the trail. Mille Porsild looks to getting nearing to passing where he's stopped.

The Insider live feed went down I assume they are getting ready to move up the trail, and hopefully they'll have the McGrath feed up soon.

Nikolai is about to get busy

The front teams are making their way into Nikolai as the sun comes up (though it's overcast in much of the State today, including on the Iditarod trail). First three teams of Burmeister, Redington, and Diehl are already in and bedded down their dogs for a nice rest while at least three more teams should be coming in within the hour.

The biggest concern by race fans has been where is Brent Sass? Sass' tracker hasn't updated in almost twelve hours and shows him still near Rohn, however chatter overheard on the Iditarod Insider live view of the checkpoint of Nikolai has volunteers discussing the next order of teams coming in and Brent Sass is somewhere in the mix. They theorize it will be Dallas Seavey next in, followed by Brent Sass, and Michelle Phillips. Hopefully they will be able to reset the musher's tracker in Nikolai.

Trackers not working is pretty normal especially when they are running in areas where the signal is not good. If they can't get a connection for too long, they go into sleep mode. Then there's also factors like where it is positioned in/on the sled bag, if it was damaged coming down the trail, if it was lost, or if it's too cold.... or if someone forgot to change/charge the batteries before race day. A quick swap out or reset button push is typically all that is needed to get it going again, but that is not the musher's job - as they don't know if it's working or not.

Once that trio gets into the checkpoint there will be a short wait for Travis Beals to come in followed by Jessie Holmes and Mitch Seavey. Rounding out the top ten should be either Hugh Neff or Paige Drobny.

Nikolai is about to get very busy. If you are an Insider video subscriber get to the live feed!

Thursday, March 3, 2022

International Federation of Sleddog Sports bans Russia and Belarus

The International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) announced Tuesday that they are following the recomendations of the IOC to ban all athletes from the countries of Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine. As more sport federations continue to join in solidarity against the Russian's unprovoked attack on neighboring Ukraine, the IFSS's decision comes as no surprise and is a welcome announcement.

You can read the full statement here:

There are also reports coming out of Ukraine from the sled dog associations/clubs stating many teams have evacuated from the cities under the most severe attacks and for the most part are doing well (one musher reported some dogs have passed due to stress). We'll keep our eyes open and ears to the ground if there are ways to help the mushers and their dogs in the days and weeks to come. 

We stand with Ukraine.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The part of Nicolas Petit will be played by Jeff King

Late last night Nicolas Petit took to social media to announce he was out of Iditarod 50 due to a positive Covid test. While, the musher stated, he had been careful and was vaccinated Covid still managed to find Nic. After a mild panic Nic made a short list of mushers he'd trust running his dog team 900+ miles to Nome. Top of the list was four-time Iditarod Champion Jeff King.

King, of course, was not planning on running Iditarod this year - instead choosing to send his A-team with rookie Amanda Otto. Jeff revealed in an interview with Anchorage Daily News part of his reasoning for sitting this race out was due to having surgery in October - his third, after his emergency surgery in 2020 days before the start of that Iditarod. 

Now, Jeff King is headed to Nome in the historic 50th Iditarod pretty much unprepared. Food drops for dogs and musher were sent out over a week ago - that means Jeff is at the mercy of what Nic packed. Any extra clothes or equipment Jeff would normally send out on the trail won't be there (and he and Nic aren't the same size.) King noted he plans to run a slower race than what Nic would normally run, so the decisions for where he will take his mandatory breaks may be an issue as well (though most of the top teams send extras to several stops where they *might* take a mandatory).

This is not the first time a late swap has happened. In 2020 there were two memorable swaps that happened before the race began. Sean Underwood went from handler to Iditarod rookie in the blink of an eye when Jeff King fell ill after a special Q&A just a couple of days before the musher banquet. Underwood had qualified for the race that winter but was not scheduled to run the race until 2021, he was given permission by the race to take Jeff's team to Nome. Underwood wouldn't make it all the way - being one of three teams that got caught in the overflow near Elim - but was nearly there (he made it the following year). 

The most bizarre one happened at the ReStart in 2020 when Zoya Denure (oops, I used her name on my blog) took ill and so her husband, Yukon Quest champion turned outdoor editorialist John Schandelmeir was allowed to go in her place. The change didn't happen until the team was at the starting line. Talk about issues with drop bags, how John managed to find anything worth using is still a little bit of a chin scratcher.

In 2014, Danny Seavey was tagged to take the Seavey puppy team to Nome after handler Matt Giblin injured his foot in a late training run. Danny flew in from a Florida vacation to run dogs he hadn't worked with - after being basically retired as a handler for several years. Seavey would write in a race recap that the hardest part of dealing with drop bags that weren't really for him was he and Matt ate very differently (a lot of diet and powder foods). He also couldn't fit into the clothes sent in the drop bags.

Even with all of the challenges, don't expect Jeff King and the team to do anything less than finish if at all possible. Jeff is a hardened veteran of the race and trail, and even though he won't know the dogs well he will be able to coach them along in a finish. The pups deserve the chance after having trained for this adventure. Look for Jeff to have a solid run, but don't expect them to break any records. Still, if Jeff finds himself in good position he could very easily bring these dogs in for a win.