Before Kaylin Davis, one of the final four to leave White Mountain departed the checkpoint, she answered a few questions for Insider. Without a doubt, the most important question and one that was on everyone’s mind, “How did she feel about heading out of White Mountain to Topkok and beyond after mushers needed to be rescued the day before.” With some confidence she responded that they’ve waited for the wind to blow itself out and I’m taking it one segment at a time – 25 miles to the Nome Safety cabin, 25 miles to Safety and 25 miles to Nome. Three runs of twenty-five miles sounds infinitely easier than one long run of 77 miles. The final four descended on Nome late Saturday evening, in plenty of time to attend the Finisher’s Award Banquet scheduled for Sunday evening.
Eric Kelly was the first of the final four to make Nome. Helping Newton Marshall train for Iditarod is what brought him to establishing his own kennel, learning the trade of mushing, completing the qualifiers and tackling the Iditarod itself. Kelly arrived in Alaska from Arizona and established Day Break Kennel after handling four years for Kathleen Frederick.
Eric will receive the coveted finisher’s belt buckle at the Finisher’s banquet held at the Nome Recreation Center over the supper hour on Sunday. Kelly was one of the four mushers to have an extended stay at White Mountain while waiting for the winds on Topkok to lay down. When race officials deemed the trail safe, Kelly departed White Mountain at 11:55 and arrived in Nome at 21:11 for a total race runtime of 13 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes, claiming 34th place.
In the arch interview, Eric described crashing his sled in the gorge, zip tying it together and making it all the way to Galena with the sled where scratched musher Josh McNeal lent him his sled. He also mentioned adding a few miles to the race with a wrong turn at Galena so the extra rest for himself and the dogs in White Mountain worked out for the best. He said it was still very windy in Topkok but clear. He described tipping a few times and said you really had to hang on. He was proud of his team for facing challenges saying, “We came through it, I’m a different person and my dogs are much stronger.”
Davis completed her rookie Iditarod run in 35th place with a time of 13 days, 6 hours and 49 minutes. She arrived at the burled arch in tears, tears of both joy and relief. Race Marshal, Mark Nordman greeted Kaylin saying, “I know Wade Mars is proud!” Davis was running Marrs dogs. She expressed how lucky she was to be running such amazing dogs saying , “They surprised me around every corner. Every challenge, they were ready to get through it.”
Kailyn found her way to Iditarod through an innovative teacher who used Iditarod as a theme for education. Add to all the exciting Iditarod learning activities a visit by musher John Baker and Davis decided right then and there to become a musher and someday run Iditarod. Being a teacher herself, she was asked what she will take back to her classroom. Davis replied that she would tell her students to keep going, push through anything that challenges you if what’s on the other side is worth it.” That’s certainly what Kailyn has done in Iditarod 50.
What were the most memorable parts of the race? Kaylin said they were both good and bad. She mentioned how beautiful it was seeing places that are only accessible by dog team and a few other modes of transport. She called the run intense, with many challenges along the way, getting through each challenge thinking it can’t get worse but then it did. On Topkok she said her sled flipped and she had to untangle the dogs. Then to get back to the sled she crawled on her hands and knees up the gangling all the while thinking this can’t last forever, it has to be sunny in Nome. Sure enough, although the sun had set, the sky was clear with very little wind. Her optimistic attitude played a big role in getting her the finisher’s belt buckle.
Following Davis to the finish line was Yuka Honda. Both of these women wear smiles nearly all of the time as does scratched musher, Bridgett Watkins. Big effervescent smiles like Aliy Zirkle and Kristin Bacon. Coupled to those smiles is a deep thread of optimism that allows each of them to dream big and accomplish their dreams. The big smile reveals something deeper in all of these women, an essential core value that no matter how bad things are at the moment, they will improve.
In her rookie Iditarod run, Yuka finished in 55th place with a time of 12 days, 8 hours, and 32 minutes. Now is her first run as a veteran Yuka finished in 36th place with a time of 13 days, 8 hours and 28 minutes. She arrived at the arch smiling and after planting her snow hook she did a little dance of joy. Yuka said the wind was the worst she’s ever seen and at times she felt as if she was flying.
Yuka Honda was born and raised in Japan. While attending university in Japan, she traveled to Yellowknife, YT to view the northern lights. Where there are northern lights, there are also sled dogs and sled dog races. She later moved to the Yukon Territory in Canada and took a job as a dog handler. After watching the Iditarod on television she began dreaming of running the race. Honda established Ginga Express Kennel with bloodlines from Zirkle, Burmeister and Holmes. She considers the dogs in her kennel to be family. Yuka has since moved her kennel from Canada to Healy, Alaska.
To close out the final four and the 50th Iditarod, veteran musher Apayauq Reitan had a symbolic task to take care of. Tall Joar Leifseth Ulsom reached the Widow’s Lamp, suspended from the cross piece of the burled arch and handed it to Apayaug to snuff out. The Widow’s Lamp is a tradition brought forward from the old days when roadhouses were spaced a day’s travel apart along the trails of Alaska. The lantern symbolized a warm place to rest and also served as a beacon for travelers in the darkness of Alaska. When the last musher was off the trail, the lamp was extinguished. As the final musher arriving in Nome, Apayauq extinguished the lamp and also received the Red Lantern, a symbol of perseverance. Reitan finished in 37th place with a time of 13 days, 8 hours and 39 minutes.
Apayauq Reitan calls herself a photographer, dog musher and polar bear guide. She is making history as the first out trans woman to compete in the Iditarod. She was born in Norway and has spent summers in Alaska working as a guide in the family business giving tours to view the majestic polar bears near Kaktovik. Apayauq who is also a veteran of the Yukon Quest said it was great to be in Nome and that she really appreciated the large number of people who came out to greet her as the red lantern recipient. Barbara Moore the Red Lantern recipient in 1980 was in the crowd and personally congratulated Apayauq.