March 22, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Meet the Rookies at Finger Lake

It’s getting on toward suppertime on Monday evening, a little more than twenty-four hours into the race. The frontrunners are climbing over the Alaska Range through Rainey Pass, the highest point of the trail at 3,200 feet.   The challenging Dalzell Gorge awaits the frontrunners before they reach the beautiful tranquil checkpoint of Rohn. At last count, twenty teams are on the trail between Puntilla Lake (often called Rainy Pass Checkpoint) and the Rohn Safety Cabin. The Insider crew will be in Rohn to interview mushers arriving fresh off the run down the gorge.

Right now I’m on the ground in McGrath, far ahead of the pack. I’ve been doing some research on the rookies that I thought I’d share. Let’s begin with those that have already enjoyed the hospitality of the Dixon’s of Winter Lake Lodge. I’ll group Tara Cicatello with them as she’s soon to arrive. Finger Lake checkpoint is located on a finger shaped lake right in front of Winter Lake Lodge. The lodge is a premier wilderness destination known for its cuisine.

Tara Cicatello, a rookie from New York, found her way to Iditarod through KNOM in Nome, Alaska. Tara graduated from college with a degree in English. With degree in hand she turned toward her adventurous inner self and applied for a volunteer position in Nome, Alaska with KNOM radio. While working at the radio station she covered many sled dog races and saw the Iditarod finish. She worked with a local musher and competed in the Kuskokwim 300 and other qualifying races. She became acquainted with Iditarod finisher Kristin Bacon. Tara has been on board at Bacon’s Acres for two years and looks forward to taking Kristin’s incredible canine athletes to Nome, a place she considers to be home. Tara is a few miles short of Finger Lake. Once she cooks for her dogs and beds them down, she’ll head to the lodge for their musher meal.

Rookie Peter Fleck was born in Southwest England but now calls British Columbia, Canada home. Fleck has always had an unquenchable thirst for the out-of-doors. His desire for adventure brought him to Alaska. Peter met Iditarod veteran GB Jones and began his journey with sled dogs that brought him to Iditarod 46. Fleck will be running Mitch Seavey’s two-year-olds to Nome. Young dogs represent the future of every kennel. Their experience as puppies on the trail is equivalent to completing grade school, middle school and high school. Peter hopes that the race this year sets the young dogs up for a successful future. The Seavey’s use a spreader type harness. And gangline. It’s relatively easy to identify Seavey teams.

Also in resting on Finger Lake is Tim Muto. He holds a degree in Recreation, Park and Tourism Recreation. He hails from Illinois. Before moving to Alaska, Muto was a kayak guide on Lake Superior. Muto has worked for Iditarod veterans Karin Hendrickson and Brent Sass. His love for mushing is a result of catching the “bug” from Karin and Brent. He completed his qualifiers in 2016. He’s now on the trial for the big race he’s dream about and planed for since 2013. Muto’s team is a combination of his own dogs acquired for Sass and other Sass Athletes. Tim is focusing on a healthy happy dog team and living intentionally as her moves down the trail.

In the early years of the race, the Finger Lake checkpoint was located on the far side of the lake and there wasn’t much, if any interaction between the race and the former owners of the hunting lodge. When the Dixon’s purchased the lodge, that changed. The checkpoint moved across the lake and the now Dixon’s invite mushers and volunteers to the kitchen for a musher meal.

Kirsten Dixon and her daughter Mandy are world famous professional chefs. Mandy explains the meal that mushers look forward to after their dogs are cared for. It’s a high protein meal that’s tailored to the time of day and musher’s preference. Black beans, basmati rice and reindeer sausage are wrapped in a freshly made corn tortilla that’s topped with two fried eggs or sliced chicken breast. Add some freshly made Pico De Gallo and it’s a meal most mushers won’t pass up. With Mandy’s specialty being pastries, she adds her special touch with apple spice crumb muffins. Beverages include FRESHLY squeezed orange juice, coffee and hot tea.

Brett Bruggeman from Montana has had a chance to enjoy his protein packed musher meal courtesy of the Dixons earlier today. Brett comes to Iditarod through a great story of coincidence. Brett who has practiced dentistry for twenty-years is the father of three sons. The youngest boy, Spencer, was born with a birth defect that caused one leg to not develop muscle. He participate in traditional sport but was really seeking a sport that better fit his abilities. After reading Jack London stories, he told his folks he wanted to try dog mushing. Now the coincidence is that Brett had been thinking about mushing but hadn’t shared his thoughts with anyone until his son made his wishes known. Living in Montana, there were many excellent mushing resources – Jessie Royer, Doug Swingley and Terry Adkins. The Bruggeman’s named their kennel Skinny Leg Dog Kennel. Spencer believes his skinny leg has no limits. Perhaps the Bruggemans have seen “Spirit of the Wind,” the movie that shares legendary sprint musher and Iditarod veteran George Attla’s story of how one of his legs was affected by a childhood disease but mushing turned out to be his liberator.

Emily Maxwell was born and raised in Iowa. While she’s an Iditarod rookie, she’s a veteran of many adventures including running with bulls, sky diving, working as a long haul trucker and racing in triathlons. Emily holds degrees in Spanish, Journalism and Literary Translation. She teaches Pilates. Five years again, Emily sustained a severe burn injury. She came to Alaska looking for the therapy that nature and the wide-open spaces has to offer. Maxwell met Nicolas Petit and decided to try her hand at mushing. She’s volunteered for the Iditarod as dropped dog volunteer.  Maxwell is currently resting at on Puntilla Lake.  

Rookie, Meredith Mapes knows the Yentna Station Checkpoint. It’s a checkpoint she’s become familiar with through participating in and volunteering for the Junior Iditarod. Mapes learned about mushing through Girl Scouts. Her first races were with one dog. At the age of twelve, she received her first dogs and Fun on the Run Kennel was born. She trained her own team for the 150 mile JR Iditarod in 2008. An unfortunate accident with a snow machine side-lined her from the sport. She announced her early retirement prior to going off to college to earn a degree in Theater and Dance. While working with Seavey’s Iditaride Sled Dog tours, her heart and ambition turned to the dogs once again. She earned her degree in 2016 then began to concentrate on mushing and doing the Iditarod qualifiers. Meredith is running her first Iditarod with athletes from her own kennel. Her hobbies include hiking, biking, kayaking and camping. Mapes like Maxwell is also resting at Finger Lake. When will they pull the hook and tackle the most technical miles of the trail?  

Stay tuned to meet more of the rookies and learn more about the checkpoints. Follow the race with the exciting Insider video clips and check the GPS Tracker often.