June 22, 2018

Eye on the Trail: JR Champs and Others in McGrath

Two former JR Iditarod champions are resting in McGrath. Andrew Nolan claimed the JR Iditarod crown in 2017. Noah Pereira became the first non-Alaskan to win the JR Iditarod in 2013. Other JR Iditarod champions that are on the Iditarod trail in 2018 include Ryan Redington (1999 & 2000) and Ramey Smyth (1992 & 1993).

Noah began mushing in 2009 and finds himself in McGrath for the second time in as many Iditarod runs. This year his team consists of young dogs that are seeing the trail to Nome for the first time. Pereira is proud of his dogs. He’s enjoyed the trail so far even if it has been slow and a bit punchy. Pereira carefully massaged and checked his dog’s shoulders and wrists. Both musher and dogs will enjoy the long break. Adding 38 minutes for start differential to his 24-hour rest, Noah will be eligible to depart McGrath at noon on Thursday.

Andrew Nolan started mushing 10 years ago and became interested in doing Iditarod after watching Wade Marrs. He’s been training with Marrs for several years. Nolan was happy to be in McGrath and looking forward to the long rest. He was busy massaging feet and wrists as his dogs enjoyed straw time. Nolan is just 18 years old, the youngest musher in Iditarod XLVI. Wade Marrs happens to be taking his twenty-four hour rest in McGrath too.

Earlier today Scott Janssen rolled into McGrath. As usual he was smiling and happy to be out with his dogs on the trail. Scott completed his first two runs to Nome in ’11 and ’12. Janssen ran into some bad luck and scratched in four subsequent runs to Nome. Medical issues in 2017 kept him sidelined. He’s extremely happy to be back in the race and he’s looking forward to making it to Koyuk and beyond.

Brett Bruggeman came to town with a team of happy dogs. The trail from Nikolai may have been slow but they sure didn’t seem to care. As Brett was being checked in and the vets where checking the dogs, his canines erupted into a canine chorus. Singing and howling about what they like to do best – run and pull. Brett pulled the hook for Takotna and the team trotted to the river chute, pulled down the bank and they were on their way with tails and heads high.  Katherine Keith’s huskies added to the harmony of the chorus.

Al Eischens is camped on the high shore of the Kuskokwim River. His dogs enjoyed the afternoon sunshine, as did Al. He lay in the straw next to the dogs and snoozed right with them. Al dedicates all the miles he runs whether racing or training to awareness for Pediatric Disease and Disability. Al is a three-time veteran of the Iditarod. In 2016 and 2017 he’s finished with sixteen dogs. Al has a little red chicken perched on the top of his sled bag. One of the kids he represents asked him to take it on a race a couple of years back and Chicken has been guiding Al down the trail ever since. Thanks Al for bringing so much sunshine and hope to these kids who deal with challenges on a daily basis.

Lev Shvarts is in McGrath and planning to stay for his long rest. Lev’s first attempt at Iditarod was in 2014. Conditions were bad through the gorge and the Farewell Burn. Many mushers scratched, including Lev because his sled broke in too many places to fix it. He returned the next year and finished in Nome. Lev has a degree in Electrical Engineering. He left a very lucrative job and turned to mushing. Shvarts is coming back to the race with a young team. His goal was to be in McGrath within 24 hours of the leader. He set his snow hook with two hours to spare. Lev had an interesting runner addition on his sled. It was a wider piece of runner material known as a floater. It’s specifically designed for trail that is soft and sugary. The wider shorter ski is designed to improve floatation at the front of the sled. Lev felt it served its purpose well.

Meredith Mapes came into the checkpoint during the blue hour, a time around sunset when pictures turn out with a blue cast. Mapes was wearing her usual bright smile showing her optimistic personality. Her dogs displayed the same attitude. She said, McGrath was a welcome sight as the run form Nikolai was one of the most boring she’s ever experienced. Her dogs are running well and she’s having fun spending time with them on the trail. Meredith began mushing in Girl Scouts long ago. She’s run the JR Iditarod and attempted the Yukon Quest 300. Mapes is very active in the JR Iditarod organization, giving of her time to put the race on. Mapes is one of the very brightly dressed mushers on the trail wearing an orange parka fashioned by fellow musher, Jamie Kinser High.