Eye on the Trail: Dinner Duet Thursday

Two more teams completed Iditarod 42 during the dinner hour on Thursday. That brings the total to 38 teams that have run the course. This group of mushers tells a different story about the coast. Shaktoolik is the first word out of their mouths when asked if there was a particularly difficult part of the last half of their run. The winds at Shaktoolik, a village located on a spit, were virtually crippling. Mushers told stories of it taking an hour to go the distance of a block. They had to lower themselves to the ground and make progress on all fours, like their dogs. Mother Nature has challenged every musher. It’s been a race of survivors.

Twice he’s finished Iditarod in 37th place! Travis Beals came jogging down Front Street next to his wheel dogs with a tug line in his hand. Beals had nine dogs on the line but with the force he was adding by pulling with the dogs, you might say there were ten or even eleven. Beels had been running with his team for quite a long distance. Beals was met at the arch by a small group of enthusiastic fans including Mom, Dad and his fiancée and kennel partner Sarah Stokke. In describing the race, Beals talked about the Gorge, the Buffalo Tunnels and Shaktoolik as the portions of the trail that were extremely challenging. He’s been driving a very distinctive sled with a red/white sled bag since Willow. He dropped his trailer so it’s a little shorter but still in one piece in Nome and that’s way more than some mushers can say. Beals heaped praise upon his leader, Boston. Beals credits the dog in single lead at the finish with getting him to Nome, “If it weren’t for Boston, I wouldn’t be here.” Was it Sarah or was it Travis that added, “Good things come from Boston.” Sarah is from Boston. Travis has been mushing since before he was born. His mother tells me that he could say gee and haw before he said Mama or Daddy. She also talked about Travis and his uncanny ability to nurture and work with dogs and bring the best out of each animal. From start to finish of Iditarod 2014, Beals maintained an average speed of 3.61 mph. Beals and Stokke operate Turning Heads Kennel in Seward.

The final musher under the burled arch for March 13th was Christian Turner running a team of Seavey Puppies. Growing up in Dorrigo, Australia this musher never experienced snow as a youngster. He’s been working winters with Dallas Seavey, has completed his qualifiers and is now finished Iditarod. Turner is taking a bunch of two-year-old dogs on their kindergarten experience along the trail. They’ve run 40 miles and then rested five hours for the whole journey. Turner said this race was much harder than he ever expected it to be but it makes him feel better that it’s been hard for everybody not just him. Asked how he managed the challenging technical portions of the trail he replied that he ran his entire team except for the leaders on their necklines. That strategy cuts their power immensely. He was also quite pleased with controlling the sled in the Gorge. He said he really didn’t crash and the only real difficulty he experienced was when his gangline broke and the front half of his team went looping down the trail. No too far though as the fast dogs will catch up to the slightly slower dogs and they’ll get slowed down soon enough as was the case with Turner’s wayward team. Turner also talked about the wind on the coast, an experience he could never have imagined. Turner’s job with the Seavey pups was to give them an enjoyable learning experience. Judging by how spirited the pups were coming into the chute I’s say he was very successful. Turner earned the coveted finisher’s belt buckle with a time of 11 days, 14 hours and 15 minutes. His average speed was 3.50 mph and finish position was 38th.

We’ll see what happens overnight but there is a winter weather warning for four to seven inches of snow and winds that could create whiteout conditions.