Iditarod XLIII is almost history, all but one award has been announced, all but one musher has publicly offered their thanks, and Dallas Seavey’s lead dogs, Hero and Reef, have been introduced. Just as the festivities of the finisher’s banquet came to a close an announcement was made that the final musher was on Front Street. In her third rookie attempt, Cindy Abbott was within a mile of the Burled Arch in Nome. Folks bolted from the Rec Center and made the finish chute (a distance a little over a mile) in time to celebrate Cindy’s arrival and the closing of the 2015 Iditarod. When Cindy and team arrived at the arch at 21:19 she not only had to complete mandatory gear check and sign off the trail but she also had to extinguish the Widow’s Lamp that has been burning, awaiting the arrival of the final musher.
Earlier at the Nome Rec Center, the meal was prepared and presented by the Millennium Alaska Hotel. The menu included halibut, roast beef, chicken, fresh salads, fresh fruit, garlic mashed potatoes, roles and a dessert buffet. Oops, one thing I didn’t mention, sleds full of huge delicous strawberries, some dipped in white chocolate, some dipped in dark chocolate and some plain. I sat acrosse from Becca Moore and family. Her two youngsters really liked those strawberries.
Awards Presented by Principle Sponsors
PenAir Spirit of Alaska – Mitch Seavey – Ruby
GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award – Aaron Burmeister – Huslia
Millennium First Musher to the Yukon – Jeff King – Galena
Bristol Bay Native Corporation Fish First Award – Aaron Burmeister – Kaltag
Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award – Aaron Burmeister – Unalakleet
Wells Fargo Red Lantern for Perseverance – Cindy Abbott
Awards Determined by Statistics
Jerry Austin Rookie of the Year – Thomas Waerner
Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time from Safety to Nome Award – Wade Marrs
Horizon Lines Most Improved Musher Award – Travis Beals
Awards Voted Upon by the Finishers or ITC
Donlin Gold Sportsman Award – Lance Mackey
Exxon Mobil Musher Choice – Jason Mackey
Norther Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Award – Aaron Burmeister
Golden Clipboard Award – Huslia
Alaska Airlines Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award – Nicolas Petit
City of Nome Lolly Medley Golden Harness Award – Reef (Dallas Seavey leader)
Aaron Burmeister who received the GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award commented that a mile away from Huslia he could hear cheering. There was so much excitement in the village, it felt like the finish in Nome. The trail had never gone through the Huslia, not even in 2003 with the other Fairbanks restart. The late George Attla, legendary sprint musher, was mentioned often by the mushers. It may have been a two way street with Huslia enjoying the presence of Iditarod to honor George’s memory and the mushers felling honored to be where George had lived and mushed. Hugh Neff even found his way to Attla’s residence just to be close to the great man.
There were so many inspirational stories told tonight including the stories about the Sportsmanship Award and the Musher’s Choice Award. Lance Mackey was selected by his peers to receive the sportsmanship award for helping a musherless team. Scott Janssen had been stranded in a storm short of Koyuk. Janssen was brought by rescuers into Koyuk for medical attention for hypothermia. Rescuers planned to return to drive the dog team into the checkpoint. Before that could happen, Lance Mackey came upon the musherless team. He had no idea what the situation was but knew the team should go to Koyuk. Lance who was dealing with his own set of problems of poor circulation and frostbitten hands untangled Janssen’s dogs and drove both teams to the checkpoint. In accepting the award, Lance humbly said, “This award should go to my brother.” But then on a lighter note said, “Twenty-one dogs is the biggest team I’ve ever driven in Iditarod.”
The Musher’s Choice award went to Jason Mackey for giving up his own race to stay with Lance to encourage him, get him through the peaks and valleys of the trail and help him with chores that required finger dexerity. Lance was waiting for Jason just off the award platform to say thanks with tears and a brotherly embrace.
After dinner each musher came to the podium to offer their perspective of the journey. Some took the opportunity to tell an amusing story. One thing that rang true for everybody was the cold in the northern portions of the route, the winds between Shaktoolik and Koyuk and the winds of the blow hole. Hands down, the most frequent thanks went to “the dogs” then the volunteers. Many mushers praised ITC for the work they did in relocating the trail out of Fairbanks and just as many praised and thanked the northern villages new to the checkpoint list for providing true Alaskan hospitality.
Three mushers used their time at the mic to make announcements regarding their Iditarod future. Kelly Maixner, the father of three young children announce to his wife and all in attendance that it was time for him to focus on family and let Iditarod go for awhile. Kelly has started Iditarod six times, completing five. Aaron Burmeister made a similar announcement about taking a break from Iditarod specifically and racing in general and handing his team over to his brother. Aaron has started and finished Iditarod 16 times with four top ten finishes. Cindy Gallea said this would be her final Iditarod, it was a retirement announcement without saying the “r” word. She talked about what she loved about the race and how much she’d miss the Iditarod family. In fourteen Iditarod starts, Cindy has completed twelve.
To summarize the whole evening and the 2015 race, I’ll share a quote Jodi Bailey read from the platform. “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome and dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” From Jodi herself, ‘Anything worth doing is hard.” While each musher followed the same trail from checkpoint to checkpoint, each journey was exception in its own way. Iditarod XLIII is history, the Red Lanten has been awarded and all musher have publicly offered their thanks.