January 17, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Finishers 26 to 33 in Nome

The 26th musher to cross the finish line in Nome was adventurer Lars Monson. Looking at his bio, adventure should be his middle name. His trademark is long expeditions. Iditarod, a native word meaning far distant place, certainly qualifies. Monson has spent 4,500 nights in a sleeping bag with more than half of that being in extreme winter conditions. So with completing Iditarod XLV in 9 days, 11 hours and 1 minute, make that figure 4,509 nights.   Monson has crossed Canada on foot, canoeing and by dog sledding in 947 consecutive days. Lars teaches survival skills to ordinary outdoors people and elite soldiers. This guy is meant for the Iditarod. Lars completed his rookie run to Nome in 2016.

Hugh Neff in Nome

Between the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, Hugh Neff has run thirty 1,000-mile races. He is a Yukon Quest Champion but Iditarod gold has been elusive. Neff’s best Iditarod finishes were in 2010 and 2011 at 9th and 5th respectively. This 27th place finish is the furthest down he’s ever been in the Iditarod pack. With a 2017 time of 9 days, 11 hours and 40 minutes he’s right in line with his top ten finish times a few years back. Since moving from Illinois to Alaska, Hugh has lived in a number of Athabascan villages.  Neff says, “I am one of the luckiest Alaskans ever. It’s been a difficult journey but the beauty of the dogs and the majesty of Alaska’s landscape, make it well worth the effort. I love doing the Iditarod each year, visiting with friends along the way is always a highlight of the experience, especially my native friends.”

Rick Casillo of Willow has finished his 7th Iditarod in 28th place. Previously his best finish was 26th.   Looking at Rick’s Iditarod career summary his time for the 2017 race is a personal best, 9 days, 11 hours and 56 minutes tops his previous personal best time of 10 days, 16 hours and 53 minutes. Do the math, that’s an improvement of more than a day. That’s testament to the relativity of the trail, placing further down the list of finishers with a better time than when he placed 26th. It’s the same line on the map but the trail is always different. When Rick came to Alaska, it was to be a fly-fishing guide. But after he watched the race, that goal changed to running Iditarod. After he ran his first race in 2004, he established Battle Dawgs Racing and returned to the race in 2014. The primary goal of the kennel is racing Iditarod and raising awareness for combat veterans.

Returning to his home town of Nome last night was Noah Burmeister. He crossed the finish line in 29th place with a time of 9 days, 14 hours and 29 minutes. He’s started and finished 4 Iditarod races with his first being in 2004. Noah’s best finish was 11th place in 2016. At the arch Noah said the race was long and a little rough at times. He praised his leaders and was exceptionally happy with how a couple of younger dogs turned into very adept leaders. Noah was greeted at the finish line by his fiancée who he met through the Iditarider program in 2016. Burmeister was named as the most improved musher of 2016, improving from 55 in 2006 to 11.

Cody Strathe finished his second Iditarod in 9 days, 14 hours and 34 minutes. Strathe and his wife, Paige Drobny own and operate Squid Acres Kennel. Strathe and Drobney are the first husband and wife team to complete the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest in the same year (2016). The Squid Acres team split the races this year with Paige doing the Quest and Cody doing Iditarod. Cody started Iditarod with eleven dog’s from Paige’s Quest team. In his rookie Iditarod, Cody made the finish line in 42nd place. This year he improved to 30th!

Ketil Reitan has claimed 31st place in Nome with a time of 9 days, 14 hours and 34 minutes. Reitan has started and finished six races to Nome. He’s broken into the top ten only once with a 10th place finish in 1992. Ketil was born in Trondheim, Norway. He has a degree in Fisheries Science. He came to Alaska in 1987 to do fieldwork on Inuit whaling. He settled in Kaktovik and has established a business of taking people out to photograph polar bears. Reitan is the only musher to have done the five longest sled dog races in the world – the Iditarod six times, the Yukon Quest, La Grande Odyssee, the Hope Race from Nome to Anadyr, Chukotka and the Finnmarksløpet.

Martin Buser of Big Lake, Alaska crossed the finish line in 32nd place. Buser brought a smart looking team of eleven dogs to Nome in 9 days, 15 hours and 14 minutes. Buser has started 34 Iditarod races and has finished all of them. The guy has a special bond with his dogs – he knows them and they know him. He says he knows 500 dogs by name and that’s probably not an exaggeration. Buser is part of the elite group that owns four Iditarod Championships. His first victory came in 1992 then ’94, ’97 and 2002. He’s placed in the top ten 19 times. Martin has pushed through some challenges to keep his “scratchless” title intact. There is no quit in this man.  There was the year he amputated part of his finger a few days prior to the race, there was last year when he had pneumonia and his mind was in Seattle with his son Nikolai who was recovering from an automobile accident, a couple years back the trail was very rough and Martin injured an ankle while on the trail and the year he dislocated his little finger prior to the race. While he’s not indestructible, he certainly is tough and perseveres through physical challenges.

Melissa (Owens) Stewart Back Home in Nome

Melissa (Owens) Stewart rolled into Nome as a very happy musher with a very happy dog team. Melissa was born and raised in Nome. She relocated in Wasilla after graduating from high school and earned a degree in Criminal Justice. Living in the Mat-Su Valley. she and her husband, Jason have established their racing kennel with blood lines from the Nome family kennel. Melissa says she’s been mushing since birth. He father, Mike Owens, ran Iditarod the year Melissa was born. Stewart ran her first Iditarod in 2008. She’s also a four time Jr. Iditarod finisher and earned Jr. Iditarod gold in 2005. Melissa called her run from Fairbanks to Nome awesome. She praised her dogs saying it was such a privileged to work with them, especially a little leader named Loyalty. It was minus 16 degrees in Nome this morning when Melissa crossed the finish line, the same temperature it was in Fairbanks at the start nine days ago.   Melissa has started Iditarod 5 times and has completed 3 of those races. Her best finish was 30th. Today Melissa finished in 33rd place.