October 22, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Friday Afternoon Arrivals

For me, it’s a welcome sight to see two, three or four mushers close together on the GPS tracker as they approach Nome. Granted, the chute might get a bit crowded with more than two teams but multiple teams make it worth the effort to walk out on the Bering Sea toward Cape Nome to capture profile pictures of the teams with some of Nome’s unique skyline.

Late this morning, a trio was approaching Nome, so with camera in hand, I walked out to meet them. At that point, Brett Bruggeman was leading Monica Zappa by less than the length of a dog team. Some twenty minutes later, Larry Daugherty came into sight.

Monica Zappa, with Blue Steal in the lead, claimed 38th place on Friday morning. Growing up in northern Wisconsin, Zappa mushed as a kid but started in earnest with an eye on Iditarod when she moved to Alaska and began to train with former Iditarod Champion, Dean Osmar. Zappa has completed four of her five Iditarod attempts. For three years running Zappa finished in 47th position. Each year though, her time improved by roughly twenty-four hours. This year, it was her place that improved. Her time of 11 days, 20 hours and 20 minutes is her second best time for Iditarod. Zappa exhibits a very positive attitude that is reflected in her dogs. At the finish, Monica said, “The race was good in general but there was definitely some weather with lots of snow and super soft trail. The Blow Hole was really tough today, maybe blowing at 50 or 60 miles and hour. We saw some northern lights last night. The clear sky was very welcome.”    

Bruggeman finished his rookie run to Nome and will receive the coveted finisher’s belt buckle at the awards banquet on Sunday afternoon. Brett finished in 39th place. Bruggeman told the Insider crew during his interview that it was a real struggle to get to Nome, but we did it. The dogs did a wonderful job and it’s great to be here. Bruggeman is especially grateful for the friends he’s made along the trail. Brett is a resident of Great Falls, Montana. He’s a veteran of Montana’s Race to the Sky and Oregon’s Eagle Cap Extreme. Bruggeman very much appreciates the help of mentors, Doug Swingley and Jessie Royer as well as Chris and Terry Adkins. The dogs of Bruggemans’ kennel, Skinny Leg Sled Dogs, are based on Swingley bloodlines.

Larry Daugherty finds himself in Nome today rather unexpectedly. Larry took over Jason Campeau’s team after Jason was injured in the Yukon Quest. Larry is proud to be running the Atka Kennel race team. Larry now has three consecutive Iditarod finishes. In 2017, Daugherty completed Iditarod then climbed the South Summit of Mt. Everest on April 17. He is the only human to accomplish this in the same year. The next time I see him, I’ll ask which was more difficult, Iditarod or climbing Everest. I suspect he’ll answer the same as Cindy Abbott who has also accomplished both but years apart. Abbott says, without hesitation, Iditarod. On Everest you’re taking care of yourself but in Iditarod you’ve got your dog team to care for as well as yourself and that multiplies the magnitude of responsibility. Larry practices medicine at the Alaska Cancer Treatment Center in Anchorage. He carried prayer flags on the side of his sled to honor his cancer patients. They symbolize hope, strength, and well-being, a message the Doctor send to all afflicted with cancer anywhere in the world.

Willow musher, Lev Shvarts, claimed 41st place with a time of 11 days, 22 hours and 12 minutes. Other Willow mushers gathered to greet Lev at the Arch – DeeDee Jonrowe and Joar Leifseth Ulsom along with Linwood Fiedler. Lev was born in the Ukraine but has lived in the US since 1989 and is a citizen of the United States. He has a degree in engineering and currently works as a carpenter. Lev found his way to Iditarod through a Siberian husky named Ollie who Lev calls the best dog ever. Iditarod was a dream but a very distant one. Lev and his wife made the big move to Alaska to nurture his dream of long distance mushing. Lev’s dogs looked very chipper coming into Nome today, their tails were flagging and heads were high. After equipment check and a snack, the dogs were on their feet and ready to move. This time, the distance between checkpoints (Burled Arch and Dog Lot) was only two blocks. In his previous Iditarod finish of 2015, Shvarts claimed 54th place with a time of 12 days, 6 hours and 3 minutes. Even with the slow trail of 2018, Lev’s time and place improved significantly. Lev said he watched his young team grow up on the trail. His pride was obvious as he spoke of how well his young dogs did in a difficult race.