December 19, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Mitch Seavey Leaves Huslia Behind Dallas

The Sunny Side of Huslia

It’s been nearly 24-hours since Mitch Seavey rolled into Huslia. His team has been basking in the sun all day. Adding Mitch’s start differential to the 24-hour rest, he’ll be eligible to depart Huslia at 22:12 Friday evening. That’s a prime departure time for a cool nighttime run. Mitch still has to take his 8 hour Yukon rest so don’t put him in the lead just yet. Mitch completed his first Iditarod in 1982. He has 23 starts and 22 finishes. He’s been in the top ten 14 times with two championships.

It’s tricky business deciphering the leader board until all teams have taken the Yukon rest and the 24-hour rest. The required rest at White Mountain is really equalized between all teams as it’s at the same distance from the finish. From here to Nome it’ll be a chessboard. Who makes what move when. There’ll be lots of strategy, some speed play and tweaking of rest times. Above all, don’t forget that Mother Nature can and will play her trump card. The best planned strategy, the fastest dogs and the most perfectly executed race plan can become irrelevant very quickly when Mother Nature takes over.

Other teams currently doing the 24-hour rest in Huslia include Nicolas Petit, Jessie Royer, Michelle Phillips, Ralph Johannessen, Jason Mackey, John Baker, Katherine Keith, Hugh Neff, Noah Burmeister and Hans Gott.

Nicolas Petit is fresh off that wonderful 5-course meal served by the Lakefront Anchorage executive chef for being first to the Yukon. Nicolas has probably thought of 100 ways to spend the $3,500 freshly minted $1 bills he received with the award. Petit ran his first Iditarod in 2011. He’s has six starts with 5 finishes. He’s been in the top 10 three times. Sixth is his highest finish.

Royer Leaders and Swing Dogs Enjoy the Sun

Jessie Royer who just finished the Yukon Quest has completed 14 Iditarod races with no scratches. Her best finish has been fourth place. She’s been in the top ten five times. Along with sled dogs, Jessie has worked extensively with horses as a wrangler and horse teamster. She started learning about dogs from 4-time Iditarod Champion Doug Swingley. Jessie won the Montana Race to the Sky at the age of 17. She’s also won the invitational La Grande Odyssée in France in 2005. She’s scheduled to depart Huslia at 05:08 on Saturday morning.

Michelle Phillips can depart Huslia at 06:52. Michelle has been running Iditarod sine 2010. She’s started seven races to Nome and finished seven. Her best finish was 16th. Michelle was born and raised in Whitehorse of the Yukon Territory. She traveled extensively for ten years before she met her partner Ed Hopkins who introduced her to the sport of dog mushing. Phillips says, “I immediately fell in love with the sport. Growing up in an athletic family and training for many years as a figure skater, I enjoyed challenging myself and working with such an elite and talented group of athletes. After running my first Yukon Quest, I was hooked on long distance mushing.”   Michelle has completed the Yukon Quest six times. Her best finish was 4th and she received the Vet’s Choice Award.

Ralph Johannessen can pull his snow hook to depart Huslia at 07:07. Earlier today Ralph was exercising a pair of his dogs. Ralph said he was pleased with how his dogs were running. His focus is not so much on a championship but on running the best race he can with his dogs. He said, “I’m not as hungry as I once was. I’m a little older. I can’t keep up with Mitch or Dallas. I will run my own race in the best way possible.” He came to sled dogs through hunting dogs. Ralph has raced at the top level in his homeland of Norway. He is the reigning Norwegian long distance champion. He brings his own dog team from Norway and enjoys the challenge of the Iditarod Trail. Ralph ran his first Iditarod in 2014. He came out of the Dalzell Gorge with some broken ribs and a pair of black eyes. He finished the race and returned in 2016 to finish in 8th place.

Jason Mackey is in Huslia until 06:51 on Saturday morning. Mackey likes the position he’s in and he’s very happy with the performance of his dogs. Jason ran his first race in 2004 and since then he’s represented the Mackey name very well. His son Patrick is his right hand man in the kennel. Jason has 6 starts and 5 finishes. His best finish is 26th. Two years ago, on this same route, Jason received the sportsmanship award. When temperatures dropped to 50 and 60 below, his brother Lance frostbit his hands. Jason interrupted his own race plans to help his brother. It wasn’t completely selfless as he told Lance that if I help you, you have to teach me how to come from the back of the pack and win. Jason says, “I grew up with sled dogs. It’s what I know and what I love.” Mackey’s mushing career began in 1983 when he started running junior races. He’s competed in four Jr. Iditarod races and four Jr. World Championships. During construction season, Jason is a heavy equipment operator.

John Baker will depart Huslia at 07:28. Baker was the first Iditarod Champion from Northwest Alaska when he won in 2011 and also the first Inupiat Champion. John was born and raised in Kotzebue, Alaska. John ran his first Iditarod in 1996 and has been in every race since. He’s had 21 starts and 21 finishes. He has finished in the top 10 thirteen times. After following the early Iditarod races, John was inspired to run the race. Baker and Katherine Keith, also in the 2017 race are kennel partners.

Katherine Keith finished her rookie Yukon Quest in early February and now she’s in Huslia taking her mandatory 24-hour layover in Iditarod. Keith has 11 of her Quest dogs on her Iditarod team. She is a firm believer in the concept of training for a 1,000-mile race by doing a 1,000-mile race. She remarked that her Quest veterans have the routine of the trail down. They are the example the other dogs are learning from. Keith has had 3 Iditarod starts and 2 finishes. Her first race was in 2014. Her best finish is 31st place. Keith is an athlete herself. She has her sights set on two Ironman events before fall. Katherine and the dogs share a unique bond as ultra distance athletes.

Hugh Neff Leaders are Best Sunbathing Buddies

Hugh Neff can leave Huslia at 10:21 on Saturday for the 86-mile trip to Koyukuk. Neff, a former Yukon Quest Champion finished second in the 2017 Quest. Neff first ran Iditarod in 2004. He’s finished 11 of the 12 Iditarod races he’s entered. Hugh’s best Iditarod finish is 5th and he’s been in the top ten twice. Neff moved to Alaska in 1995 and has lived in various Athabascan communities. Lew Freedman’s book “Iditarod Classics” is what ignited Hugh’s interest in the Iditarod. Since the year 2000, Neff has competed in 16 Yukon Quest races and 12 Iditarod races. That must be some sort of record for the number of 1,000 miles races.

Noah Burmeister is taking the Wildstyle Racing dogs to Nome for the second year in a row. Burmeister ran his first Iditarod back in 2004. His father, Richard, is an Iditarod veteran as is his brother, Aaron. Noah is taking over the runners for the team while his brother spends a couple of years with his young children. Noah has started 3 races, finished 3 races and placed 11th in 2016. Noah says, “The Last Great Race on Earth™ is one of the best events in the world. It brings together the state of Alaska and thousands of volunteers every year to make it happen. It is exciting to be part of it all.” Noah will finish his 24-hour layover at 10:12 Saturday.

Hans Gatt was the last of the Friday arrivals who stayed for 24-hours. Gott will take to the trail at 12:49 on Saturday. Hans has finished 13 of his 14 Iditarod starts, the first of which was in 1998. He’s claimed 5 top ten finishes with the best being 2nd place. Gott is a four time Yukon Quest Champion and the current record holder.   Hans is a sled builder. Gattsled is a top quality sled that is seen often on the trail. Dogs in the Gatt kennel come from bloodlines that include Lester Erhart, Harris Dunlap, Roxy Wright, George Attla and other old time mushers.

Wade Marrs Takes Straw and Heads to Koyukuk

While all of the above named mushers are completing their long rest in Huslia, three teams who’ve taken their 24’s in Ruby have passed on through Huslia and are heading to Koyukuk. Wade Marrs, Dallas Seavey and Joar Leifseth Ulsom. The thing to remember is that Marrs, Ulsom and neither of the Seaveys have taken their required Yukon rest. They are running out of checkpoints to do that so it’ll be coming up soon for all of them. That adds two hours of rest time to what might be considered a normal rest. Those who’ve already completed both rests will challenge those in the lead right now. Watch the stats to see how the picture changes over the next 160 miles.

Dallas Seavey Goes Through Huslia at the Blue Hour

Mitch Seavey, Nicolas Petit and Jessie Royer are still running with 16 dogs. Wade has 14 while Dallas and Joar have 13. Some of the children at the checkpoint thought for sure Dallas would be coming in before Wade. One Little girl kept asking Wade questions that were meant for Dallas like “Are you going to beat your dad.”   While Wade was strapping a bale of straw onto his sled to leave, he finally said, “I’m not Dallas, I’m Wade.”