Rookie Justin Stielstra has earned his Iditarod Finisher’s Belt Buckle coming to the finish line in 51st place. The young Stielstra is a Texas transplant with stops in Michigan along the way. Justin worked for his Uncle, Iditarod veteran Ed Stielstra helping to train the Nature’s Kennel Race team and realized that working with sled dogs was something he wanted to pursue. He then came to Alaska and worked for three years at a kennel outside of Seward but then returned to the UP in time to train a team of puppies for Iditarod.
Justin’s dogs were sporting red Royal Canin USA coats all along the trail that made it very easy to spot Justin’s team. The young musher was in awe of his Iditarod experience. Justin has ideas of starting his own kennel in the future. It will take all the rookies a while to process the whole experience of Iditarod but one day soon, it’ll sink in – I ran a dog team 1,000 miles across Alaska!
Quite handy for the Nature’s Kennel entourage, two of the kennel’s Iditarod teams came in back to back. The third kennel team and rookie Laura Neese arrived in 42nd place on Thursday. Iditarod veteran and owner of Nature’s Kennel, Ed Stielstra was very proud of the mushers who represented the kennel. Ed did mention that handling is hard work and he’s ready to be back on the runners.
Veteran Trent Herbst followed Stielstra to the finish line by an hour. Herbst who usually runs a Nature’s Kennel puppy team in Iditarod has a perfect 9 start, 9 finish record. Make that 10 for 10 if you add his 2012 Yukon Quest finish. Today he finished with a very happy puppy team led by Ayn and Blast. When asked about a dog that did a super job on the trail, Herbst called out Ayn. Herbst and Ayn have been on the Iditarod trail seven times together. Ayn is now 10 years old and is semi-retired. As of the Burled Arch today, Ayn is fully retired. Ayn has been the Herbst house-dog. When it’s time to take the dog team via dog truck to a race or a run, Ayn rides in the truck, not the dog box. Yet as a ten-year-old, Ayn is rock solid and trains the puppies well. Time will only tell if Blast will step into Ayn’s booties.
Trent and the pups from Upper Michigan finished the race in 52nd place with a time of 11 days, 2 hours and 51 minutes. In his Iditarod career, Trent has had only one faster finish – 10 days, 12 hours and 17 minutes in 2011. I believe that was the only year he didn’t run a puppy team but a Jake Berkowitz racing team. He ran that year to learn about racing and received the Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award and the most Improved Musher Award. In 2009, Trent was selected by his fellow mushers as the Most Inspirational Musher. Trent’s daughter Kali participated in the Jr. Iditarod and was honored with the Humanitarian Award. Kali ran dogs from her father’s Iditarod team. She’s a chip off the old block with dog care.
There is a logo on the upper left shoulder of the musher’s bibs – RU. Under the ownership of Rod Udd, Anchorage Chrysler – Dodge – Jeep – Ram has been a longstanding Principal Partner of Iditarod. Mr. Udd passed away recently. Iditarod chose to honor Rod, his loyalty and support by placing his initials on the 2017 bibs.