Moments with Mushers: What’s Important for People to Know…


For me, Interviewing the mushers was one of the greatest highlights of the past year. Talking to these great men and women and hearing their take on the race and sport they love so much was surreal, and the depth and breadth of their responses made it even more incredible.

Next year I look forward to bringing you a different perspective of The Last Great Race; that of the volunteers. These interviews will provide a more “behind the scenes” view of the race that the average fan doesn’t normally get to experience. At the end of this post you will find a few  previews of volunteer interviews that were actually done earlier this year. Be sure to check  them out here and then come back next year for even more posts like these. 

And now it’s time to bring this year to a close. For my final “Moments with Mushers” post, I thought it appropriate to share their responses to the question “What do you think is most important for people to know about the Iditarod race, your role as a musher, and the sport of mushing itself?” Below you will find their responses, as well as the Volunteer previews I mentioned earlier. I look forward to sharing more with all of you in 2022!


As told by Martin Buser:

“I don’t think most people have an understanding of how dedicated we are to our dogs. How much we really think that they are part of our family. How much we do for our dogs before we ever consider ourselves. And that is the way it should be of course. We are pretty dedicated to our animals.”

As told by Dick Mackey:

“Well, when the Iditarod first started, very few veterinarians knew anything about sled dogs, didn’t want to, weren’t interested. The money was in little household pets, so probably the main reason, at least in Joe Redington’s eyes, was sled dogs were being replaced by snow machines, and we wanted to show that snow machines are fine, but machines break down. Dog teams don’t. And even though you have to fish and take care of them year round in the villages, you need to have both sled dogs and snow machines. So we do this long distance adventure race going to Nome, through the villages, showing them that you still need to keep dogs. I think that if it comes right down to it, we have saved the Alaskan sled dogs. And then the care of the dogs. They used to just get fish in the villages, and if they ran out sometimes the dogs got pretty hungry. Today the dog foods they have developed, just are the top nutritional value, we have more vets that know about these dogs, because they are a different kind of dog.”

Volunteer veterinarian Steven Shipley examines a Rick Casillo dog at the Nikolai checkpoint during the 2018 Iditarod race. Photo by Jeff Schultz/ (C) 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

As told by Jeff Deeter:

“Something that is really important for people to understand is that not all dogs finish the Iditarod. But, just because a dog does not finish the race one year, that does not mean they won’t finish the next year. Our team is really similar to any human sports team, and players can sustain minor sports related injuries, knocking them out of the “game.” These injuries are often very minor, and include sprains and strains. The dogs will fly home, rest, and then try out again the next season, often with great success.”

Returned dogs look out the window of Wes Erb’s plane as they prepare for a flight back to McGrath at the ghost-town checkpoint of Iditarod during the 2018 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Photo by Jeff Schultz/ (C) 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

As told by Aliy Zirkle:

“People might think they know how truly remote we are when we are out in the wilderness in Alaska but it is hard to comprehend if you haven’t been in a situation like that. There are few parts of our world (and especially in the USA) that are as wild as where the Iditarod Trail travels. In a world that is very used to lights and technology and instant gratification… living in wilderness Alaska for 8, 9, 10 days is probably unfathomable. When I stop my dog team along the trail in a camp spot, there are no lights, no electricity, no heat, no engine noises. Everything that I have at my camp spot is what I brought with me. Here is a Camp Spot video from my 2020 Iditarod Anyhow, the sounds and sights that a musher sees and hears out in the wilderness is very different from being in a town or even in most parts of rural America. There are no roads, no traffic, no phone calls, no music, no stores.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom runs in Ptarmigan Valley on his way to the summit Rainy Pass in the late afternoon on the way to Rohn in the Alaska Range during the 2019 Iditarod. Photo by Jeff Schultz/ (C) 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

When you sit in your room in your house right now… listen to all of the noises that you hear. You might hear your TV or radio. You might hear your family talking or someone on a phone. You might hear cars driving by your home or airplanes flying over your head. But when you are out in the Alaskan wilderness you hear very little or even none of that. Try to imagine just hearing just the wind, the trees and maybe one of your dogs barks, or howls. The silence is very overwhelming. It can even create a loud “humming” in my head. I think that’s because my ears and mind are so used to hearing the constant noises of the “real world” that my brain is working hard to just hear somethinganything. So in the end, I hear a quiet humming which is probably just the humming of my body being alive.”



Teachers and Iditarod fans: 

Check out these “Voices of the Volunteers” preview for next year…