March 23, 2017

Eye on the Trail – Final Four of 2017

The final four mushers of Iditarod XLV have arrived at the Burled Arch, the Widow’s Lamp has been extinguished or at least they tried and the Red Lantern has been awarded.   The last official event of the 2017 Iditarod is the Sunday afternoon Finisher’s Banquet.

Paul Hansen on the Bering Sea Outside of Nome

Paul Hansen of Kotzebue made his way off the sea ice and down Front Street to the Burled Arch in 61st place. Hansen finished the race with 12 dogs on his gangline. Paul commented during the Insider interview that his dogs did very well. He said while he didn’t really know what to expect in Iditarod, the experience exceeded all his expectations. He said, “I wanted to do Iditarod, it was the great unknown. I was uncertain as to how it might turn out but it was an awesome experience. The race is well organized. I saw all of Alaska behind a team of huskies. Pretty cool.” He also mentioned it was a great honor running with all of the greatest sled dogs and mushers in the world. Paul earned his Iditarod Finisher’s Belt Buckle with a run time of 12 days, 2 hours and 39 minutes.

Al Eischens Runs Off the Bering Sea up to Front Street

In 62nd place to the Burled Arch was Al Eischens. Al finished the race with 16 dogs. He commented that there were ups and downs during the 1,000-mile journey. Al said, “We got back on track with extra rest, love and patience. There were times when I wondered if we’d have to scratch but thinking about the cause, Pediatric Disease, and the kids I run for, kept me in the race.” Eischens is 3 for 3 in Iditarod. His best finish was 53rd place in 2016. With his 16 canine athletes, Al covered the thousand miles in 12 days, 2 hours and 39 minutes.   It’s not all that often that a dog driver gets all 16 dogs to Nome. Congratulations Al on setting that goal and achieving it.

Peter Reuter Running on the Bering Sea Outside of Nome

Claiming 63rd place was rookie Peter Reuter. Peter stood under the Burled Arch with an icy beard and mustache. He made it look colder than it actually was outside. Peter said it was good to be in Nome. He found the race to be everything people said it would be. Reuter called it an incredible journey. He was very proud of his dogs saying, “They showed incredible grit.” Peter finished his rookie trip to Nome in 12 days, 2 hours and 45 minutes. Before the race Peter said, “I am running Iditarod for the challenge of running 1,000 miles with incredible dogs through amazing terrain.” Peter accomplished his goal.

Cindy Abbott runs on the open expanse of the Bering Sea near Nome

When the siren sounded announcing the first of the final four mushers, it looked like the Red Lantern would not be claimed until later in the afternoon. Not far behind were the second and third mushers of the final four but the 4th  and final musher was six miles back.  Eischens and Reuter were under the Arch when the siren blew again announcing the fourth musher of the final four. Behind her big leader, Banana, Cindy Abbott’s canine athletes switched gears and made up some ground. Teams 1, 2 and 3 of the quartet had hardly cleared the Burled Arch when she ran into the chute.  

Abbott runs along the Nome shore of the Bering Sea.

Abbott commented that even though the red line on the map for 2017 was the same as it was in 2015, the experience was completely different. First she said there was no pressure to succeed as a rookie, as she earned the coveted belt buckle in 2015. Next she mentioned that she knew the route, had a really awesome dog team, the trail was better and the weather was nicer. She praised the big blonde dog called Banana saying, “Banana led the whole way, ALL the way!” Banana is a Martin Buser dog Cindy purchased last summer.

Abbott praises leader Banana.

Nome’s Mayor, Richard Beneville, welcomed Cindy to Nome and called her a hero. She is a hero and symbol of perseverance. There is the fact that she’s finished at the back of the pack twice, 2015 and 2017. There’s the fact that Cindy has a rare disease and runs for awareness of rare diseases. There’s also the fact that Abbott scratched from her first two attempts at Iditarod with trail-sustained injuries. There’s also the fact that Cindy has stood at the top of the world when she summited Mt. Everest. Abbott is the only woman to climb Mt Everest and also run Iditarod. Abbott personifies perseverance and is worthy of Iditarod’s Red Lantern.

Cindy Abbott receives the Red Lantern for perseverance.

Abbott carried a banner for Rare Disease awareness with her to Nome.  The banner summited Everest and completed Iditarod 2015 with her.  Cindy also carried the ashes of Susan Gardner from Fairbanks to Nome.  Gardner was a teacher who made Cindy’s acquaintance at iditarod’s Summer Teachers Camp.

The final musher of Iditarod has a duty that comes from age-old roadhouse tradition. The final musher is asked to extinguish the Widow’s Lamp that’s been hanging on the burled arch.  In the days of Roadhouses when mushers traveled from one roadhouse to the next, a lamp was lit and hung out for all to see until the last musher was off the trail.  Extinguishing the kerosene lamp should have been easily accomplished by turning the wick into the holder until the flame went out. Well, today it didn’t quite work that way. The globe had to be lifted to blow the flame out.

Rather than photograph the mushers as they checked out under the Burled Arch, I chose to walk out onto the Bering Sea and take some photos to show spectators the vast and wide open expanses the mushers experience on their way into Nome. Today was a bright sunny see for miles and miles type of day. Yesterday was a windy blowing snow type of day that created white out conditions. What a difference a day can make as to what the mushers experience on the trail. Enjoy the photos and the wide open expanses that your favorite mushers experience in Iditarod.