June 19, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Spirit of Alaska Award in McGrath

McGrath checkpoint welcomed Mitch Seavey as the winner of the Pen Air Spirit of Alaska Award. Seavey, wearing Bib 13, departed Nikolai at 12:49 followed very closely by Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Ryan Redington, Nicolas Petit, Aaron Burmeister, Wade Marrs and Ray Redington Jr. McGrath will be a busy place this evening, overnight and all through the day tomorrow.

It’s a short run to Takotna where many of the front of the pack prefer to take their twenty-four hour layover. It’s a peaceful quiet location with good team parking and excellent food provided in the checkpoint. Back of the pack mushers often prefer McGrath for the same reasons. Guaranteed somebody will pass through both the preferred resting spots for a rest at Ophir or Iditarod.

Mitch Seavey is a three-time winner of Iditarod Gold – 2004, 2013 and 2017. Is this his year to join the clan of four-time champions? Awards along the way aren’t any guarantee either way. Going back to 2004, Mitch didn’t win any of the checkpoint awards. In 2013 he won the Gold Coast Award at Unalakleet. In 2015, Seavey claimed the Spirit of Alaska award along the trail and in 2016 the First Fish Award but no Gold in Nome either year. In 2017, received the GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway award and never looked back on his way to his third Redington Bronze.

Seavey ran his first Iditarod in 1982. It was a family affair for Mitch, following in his father’s footsteps in running the first Iditarod in ’73. This is Seavey’s 25th Iditarod. He’s finished in the top ten fifteen times with three first place finishes. So speaking of family affair, three of the four Seavey sons have completed the JR Iditarod and the Iditarod. Dallas is a four-time Iditarod champ. The youngest, Conway, has claimed JR Iditarod gold in 2012 and 2014 but never attempted the Iditarod. In 2008, Mitch was the winner of the All Alaska Sweepstakes held to commemorate the Alaska Sweepstakes Races of the early 1900’s.

Danny Seybert, CEO of PenAir was on hand in McGrath to present the PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award. The award was created by Jon VanZyle and is a one of a kind piece of art. The award signifies the spirit of the dogs and the musher becoming one in Iditarod. Seybert is of Aleut descent and worked with Jon VanZyle to include the Aleut Bentwood Hat in the work of art.

As expected, Seavey who arrived at 17:18 stayed long enough to receive the award from Seybert and confer with the veterinarians before heading off to Takotna for his 24-hour layover. Seavey had thirteen dogs on his team.

Following Seavey into McGrath was Joar Leifseth Ulsom. Joar holds the record as the fastest rookie to have ever run Iditarod and is one of only two mushers to place in the top seven four times in as many years.   Joar arrived in McGrath with 16 dogs at 19:59. He’s parked and spreading straw.