Have arrived in Nome so switching from Unalakleet gear to Nome gear. I’m very happy to have been in Unalakleet to speak with the final musher to make the coast from Kaltag. From Unalakleet to Nome, the trail is anything but down hill. Upon leaving Unalakleet for Shaktoolik the teams have to climb through the Blueberry Hills. Further down the trail they climb 1,000 feet to crest Little McKinley. Closer to Nome they climb Cape Nome. From there it IS down hill to Front Street.
For those who think the mushers stand on the runners and let the dogs do all the work, you’re wrong. Some mushers are running along with the dogs, some are poling, some are pedaling and some are poling and pedaling. Not only do the mushers put the dogs first, they do everything they can to help the dogs. It’s like a dance when the musher and dogs are in synch in propelling the sled.
On Front Street in Nome at the Burled Arch, Jason Mackey was the first musher I could photograph. Mackey just completed his fastest Iditarod in 21st place with a time of 9 days, 6 hours, 19 minutes. At the finish line, Mackey said he learned a lot about race strategy while running this race. Prior to this race, Jason has attempted six trips to Nome and completed five. His previous bet finish was 26th place in his rookie run in 2004. In 2015 Jason received the Musher’s Choice award for putting his own race plans aside to help his brother Lance who experienced severe frostbite.
Robert Redington was next to occupy the Burled Arch. Robert is the grandson of race founder Joe Redington, Sr. Robert earns his Iditarod Finishers Belt Buckle with this trip to Nome. Redington scratched from the 2016 race. Robert was very happy with a young two-year old leader, Cassette. Yes, that’s the litter that was named for electronic and music devices. Robert said that coming into Nome was very emotional for him. He’s in awe to think that he’s the newest of the Redington’s to complete the race his grandfather started. Robert is the first rookie to make the finish line of Iditarod XLV claiming 22nd place in 9 days, 7 hours and 33 minutes.
French born Sebastian Vergnaud claimed 23rd place with a time of 9 days, 8 hours and 27 minutes. Vergnaud moved from France a long time ago to train dogs in Scandinavia, Canada and Alaska. As he handed booties to people in the crowd, most people thanked him with “Merci Beaucoup.”
Richie Diehl from Aniak, Alaska is the 24th musher to finish Iditarod XLV. This is Richie’s sixth race and sixth finish since 2013. Richie place 12th in 2016. Diehl praised a little black lead dog by the name of Willy. He went to great lengths to describe the job little Willy did after he dropped his other faithful leaders. After a bit, Diehl just stopped and said, “You’d have to see it to understand.” Richie said that having run the same trail in 2015 from Fairbanks was helpful in planning strategy and the run/rest schedule. In 2014 Richie received the most improved musher award improving from 36th place to 14th place.
Swedish long distance mushing Champion, Mats Pettersson has finished his 4th Iditarod. Pettersson crossed under the burled arch in 25th position with a time of 9 days and 10 hours. He has tied his previous best finish of 25th place. Mats finished his rookie race in 2014 in 29th place. Mats says he has a passion for wildlife and meeting passionate dog people from all over the world. Pettersson has played semi-professional ice hockey as a goalie.