8PM Nome—Beach weather, relax in Nome—by Joe Runyan
Finding the weather balmy, my work station stuffy, and desperately needing a contemplative walk, I put on my parka to retrace the trail for several blocks to a slip which communicates the mushers from a well used trail following the Bering sea beach to Main Street.
The stroll should be solitary, having been informed that this is not the beach season in Nome. To my surprise, sun bathers are enjoying the afternoon sun and waiting for a sunset on the Bering Seas. I ask two beautiful girls, who I later discover are sisters, on a snow dune , chatting leisurely as one is apt to do in the Bahamas or Key West. Angela Jansen Worthy and Chelsea Jansen freely volunteer, “Gus Jansen is our Dad, and we’re waiting for him. He should be in tomorrow” as they readjust their cardboard beach mats on the shifting snow.
They tell me they have been following their Dad, who turned 51 on the trail, that they are extremely proud of him. He has been mushing for only two years and this is his second Iditarod. Initially, he was a sponsor of Paul Gebhardt, a perenial top ten finisher. When Paul said, come down to the Kenai and try driving dogs for fun, their Dad’s interest suddenly blossomed. A short time later he leased a team from his sponsored musher.
“Is it his new found passion?” Oh yes, they told me and just in time to keep him active in his fifties. The girls have been following their dad with the insider gps, and occasionally receive updates with phone calls from checkpoints. His goal, I’m told, is to finish ten places higher than his rookie year.
Finding he might not finish as planned, they told that he had slowed down to help Tom Thurston, a trail mate who had helped him in his first Iditarod. The two travelled together, changing leads, to rest their leaders. (Mushers sometimes travel together so that they can rest their leaders by being the following team for a while, then change duties.) As it turned out, Tom’s team weakened and he scratched, allowing Gus to pick up the pace. Commenting further, the girls told me that their DAD stayed in Unalakleet for 20 some hours, on the advice of officials who told him wind at Shaktoolik had stacked mushers in the checkpoint to overflow. He is presently moving towards White Mountain, the last major checkpoint on the trail.
Anjanette, who we met in Takotna, arrives Nome this late afternoon in 26th, met by her top 5 Iditarod musher husband Zach, and her two boys. To her surprise, she is a couple of hours faster than her Husband’s rookie time to Nome. Anjanette, a brilliantly enviable red head, told me she was among the mushers stacked in Shaqtoolik with Ric Swenson and lance mackey. Taking their word for it, she stayed in the checkpoint for 20 hours, finally deciding to move when locals predicted the wind would lay down somewhat. She told me, “The wind on the ice with absolutely no protection” was the challenge of her first Iditarod.
Honestly, I have been in some really bad winds in Shaktoolik, in fact, you almost expect it. However, Long time Iditarod musher Jin Lanier (remember Jim with the team of white huskies and the guy that ploughed through to Cripple for the half way prize of gold nuggets?) told me the winds were ferocious, and definitely a show stopper. He was caught halfway on a slick ice slough to shaktoolik in a ground storm that left him unable to see the next trail marker. His lead dog, who should have known the trail into Shak, took him out on the sea ice. Jim realized the false move after a while, but had an adventure getting his team pointed back in the right direction. A ground storm at Shaktoolik can be vertiginous at best, and downright dangerous. Experienced mushers have been pinned down for a day, unable to move in any direction.
In the checkpoint, “Mushers, maybe 20 of us, were literally wall to wall in area smaller than a normal living room.” Even after a long rest, Jim told me, most mushers were reluctant to go out in the wind to Koyuk, but pressured into a move as dog food supplies diminished.
Asked if this was his last Iditarod—-“I have always asked why, but never said I wouldn’t do it again!” quipped Jim Lanier.
A call from Paul Ellering, Iditarod veteran, the former World Record Holder weight lifter and professional wrestler, was full of praise for Dallas Seavey’s win. Paul was a regular TV personality when he wrestled with the Legion of Doom, always maintaining a tough guy made for the screen persona. “Remind him what I told him in 2005. I was running the race in his rookie year and bantering a little with him about our wrestling careers. “It will take a good man to beat me, but it won’t take him long.” Paul followed Dallas’ race closely, and praised his tough conditioning and all out athletic effort in his Iditarod victory.
Doug Swingley, the 4x champion from Montana, also called and commented that he admired Dallas’ demonstration of patience and rigid discipline to a schedule. “He probably beat some better dog teams, but he ran the better race,” said the champ.
The Media, still working
In some ways the routine of mushers now regularly coming under the Burled Arch in Nome is repetitive, although I am not discounting the individual adventures of each musher. Still I was interested to find what piqued other media and found writer Kyle Hopkins and Norwegian media agent Trudy Paulson in the Iditarod headquarter busily REPORTING.
Kyle, who is a mule of a reporter bearing onerous loads of information, said he was filing numerous human interest stories and focusing occasionally on a canine personality. He was working on a lap top that looked like a table top slab of marble. The carrying case for his computer was probably worth about $3,000. I hid my Wallmart mini computer that I bought in the discount bin, behind my back so he couldn’t see it.
Trudy is a true Norwegian Warrioress (female for warrior, I just made it up to be politically correct) because she flew from Norway to the race with a budget big enough to buy a tricycle in Anchorage and pedal around a shopping mall.
Honestly, I don’t know how she did it. Somehow she hitch hiked, bought a couple of commercial flights, slept on floors, ate anything that was edible and never complained, hiked two miles to find a Ethernet port for her computer, and still managed to file reports of Sigrid Ekran to her media outlets in Norway. She always looked equisitely coiffed, with her beaming smile, and relaxed, despite incredible deadlines (Norway is ten hours ahead and she had to file for printing.)
Trudy told me, “Logistics were very challenging (an understatement) but viewers in Norway went through the roof on our site. Sigrid is very popular in Norway. She said she would definitely do it again if she could find funding.”
Our insider crew began post race interviews with selected mushers to get a good back looking perspective. I sat in on a few, including Dallas Seavey. Afterwards, my colleagues and I had a little chat and were all in agreement that our young 25 year old champion had nicely seasoned in a philosophical way. “I think the experience of winning humbled him,” a comment that no one debated. When I told my friend, Paul Ellering ( the former World Record weight lifter and no stranger to the world of athletic excellence), he said, “Oh yeah, that’s a good thing. You have to be humble about your gifts.”