Eye on the Trail: More Mushers and Another Record

Josi Thyr and Leaders in Nome – Rookie of the Year (Photo: Insider Video)

The top ten teams have arrived in Nome lead by Dallas Seavey.  Accomplishing his sixth victory was celebrated by family, friends and the Iditarod Nation.  As Jessie Royer rounded out the top ten, another record was entered into the books.  This is the first time in race history that four women have finished in the top ten – Paige Drobny, Mille Porsild, Amanda Otto and Jessie Royer.  As reported by the Anchorage Daily News, Jessie Royer said, “This has been a year of women.”  Sixteen year old Emily Robinson won the Knik 200 and the Jr. Iditarod.  On the sprint mushing scene, Anny Malo captured the Open World Championship at the Fur Rondy. 

Josi Thyr claimed 15th place and also Rookie of the Year Honors late yesterday and it looks like Gabe Dunham and Jessica Klejka will also finish in the top twenty.  That would be seven women in the top twenty.  This milestone comes fifty years after Mary Shields (23rd) and Lolly Medley  (24th) finished the 1974 race twenty-nine minutes apart.  Ten women entered the race in 1983.  Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the race in 1985.  Susan Butcher followed with a string of three then added a fourth in 1990.  Thus a t-shirt saying, “Alaska where men are men and women win the Iditarod”  was produced.  In recent memory, nineteen women entered the 2019 race and five finished in the top twenty.  Mushing is a sport where men and women compete against each other.  The trail is perceived as equal for all and the dogs are the athletes.

Wally Robinson Finishes in 11th Place With McNeal Dogs (Photo: Insider video)

Getting back to the burled arch, Wally Robinson or as he introduced himself, Emily Robinson’s father, placed eighth driving a team of Josh McNeal dogs.  McNeal injured his shoulder in an earlier race so he recruited neighbor, experienced dog man and Iditarod veteran Wally Robinson to drive his team to Nome.  Robinson said yes and was pleased to have the opportunity to drive McNeal’s talented team in Iditarod.  Wally did add three of his daughter Emily’s dogs to the race team.  Wally ran his first race back in 2001, placing 40th with a time of 12 days 23 hours and 36 minutes.  Twenty-three years later he claimed 11th place with a time of 9 days 23 hours and 22 minutes.  It’s simple subtraction, that’s an improvement of 29 places and a few minutes short of three days!  Not everyone is in but so far, 29 days is the greatest improvement of any finisher.  

When asked if he’d do the race again, he said there’d be a Robinson in the race but it would likely be Emily or her younger brother Stanley.  Wally recalled some of the rookies he was on the trial with in 2001 – Ryan Redington, Jessie Royer and Lance Mackey.  He also shared a piece of advice received from Jeff King a few years back – treat your dogs like fine china.  While sled dogs are the greatest athletes on earth, they do like to be pampered.

Nicolas Petit 12th place in Nome (Photo: Siri Raitto)

Arriving in twelfth place was Nicolas Petit.  His time was 10 days 1 hour and 32 minutes.  This is Nic’s 13th run.  He’s finished ten with 6 finishes in the top ten including 3rd in 2017 and 2nd in 2018.  His best previous northern route time came in 2016 with 8 days 23 hours and 30 minutes.  This race, Petit went all the way to Ruby, first checkpoint on the Yukon River before taking his 24 hours rest.  He received the First Musher to the Yukon Award presented by Top Chefs from Locally Grown Restaurants.  Nic enjoyed a gourmet meal with village resident and longtime Iditarod volunteer Nate Titus.  Petit has a long string of awards starting with being Rookie of the Year in 2011.  In addition he received the Humanitarian Award in 2015, has 4 First to the Yukon awards and 4 Fastest Time Safety to Nome Awards.  He may be adding a fifth with his amazing run of 2 hours and 18 minutes from Safety to Nome this race. 

Matthew Failor Claims 13th Place in his 13th Race (Photo: Insider video)

In the lucky 13 spot was Willow musher Matthew Failor in his thirteenth race.  Matthew, like Travis Beals, was excited to get the finish line to see an infant son.  Liz Raines, Failor’s wife held Theo who was clad in a warm parka complete with protective ruff, stood at the arch anxiously awaiting Matthew.  Failor has finished 12 races breaking into the top 10 in 2023 at 8th place.  His best northern route time was previously recorded back in 2014 at 9 days 16 hours and 42 minutes.  This year his run time was 10 days 2 hours and 35 minutes.  He has been honored by his peers with the Sportsmanship award and the most Inspirational Musher Award in previous races.   Matthew thanked fellow musher Nicolas Petit for waiting at the safety cabin located at the beginning of the blow hole.  Failor said the wind was howling and visibility was terrible.  We could see the length of the dog team but the trail markers were lost in the blowing snow.  Going through that with another team was far easier than going it alone.  Failor carried the ashes of a very special sled dog, Angel, during this race.  He spread Angel’s cremains at all the cool spots along the trail.

Ryan Redington in Nome With Wildfire (Photo: Insider video)

Ryan Redington had hoped to defend his championship of 2023 with a better run but with training as it was in Wisconsin, he was happy to finish in the top half of the race with a healthy happy team of dogs.  Redington splits his time between Wisconsin and Alaska.  It was a non-winter in Wisconsin.  Shortly after Christmas there were five days that were in the fifties, the trees were starting to show leaves and there wasn’t any snow.  That’s when he left to train in Alaska.    Ryan claimed 14th place in a time of 10 days 5 hours and 48 minutes.  On his magic carpet in 2023 Redington traversed the southern route in 8 days 21 hours and 12 minutes.  Redington was very excited to have Wildfire in the team at the finish.  Back in January of 2022, a snow machine collided with Ryan’s team during a training run.  Wildfire’s leg was broken in three places.  After multiple surgeries and thorough rehab Wildfire is back doing what he loves to do.

When Aaron Burmeister scratched in Unalakleet, he needed to find someone to carry his special cargo, the ashes of Iditarod co-founder Howard Farley, Sr. the rest of the way to Nome.  Who better than the grandson of Joe Redington, Sr.?  Ryan who knew Howard was honored to carry Farley’s cremains for the final 260 miles of trail.   

Initially Joe Redington thought the race should go out to Iditarod, turn around and comeback to the Anchorage start.  Back then, nobody knew where Iditarod was so the idea didn’t really catch on.  It was Nome resident Howard Farley who encouraged Joe to make it a big race and go 1,000 miles to Nome.  That idea caught on.  Howard and his wife were the “committee” of Nome residents that took care of the Nome end of the race details.  Howard ran the first race in 1973, placed 20th and received $500 in price money.  While Howard was on the trail, his wife took over organizing things for the finish.

Rookie of the Year in 15th Place – Josi Thyr (Photo: Insider video)

Rookie Josi Thyr Is the highest placing rookie at 15th place with a time of 10 days 6 hours and 43 minutes.  Josi’s dream of doing Iditarod started back in Idaho where she grew up and raced as a kid.  As a teenager she came to Alaska and handled for Aaron Burmeister.  Eventually she worked for Jessie Royer in Montana and completed her qualifiers.  She moved to Fairbanks in the spring of 2023 to continue racing.  Coming to the burled arch in Nome is the realization of a 20-year dream.  At the arch Thyr said the race was challenging with tons of really special memories.  She had four dogs from her race horse litter in lead and swing position.  One very special point of the trail for Thyr was coming over Cape Nome and seeing the city of Nome in the distance.  As Rookie of the Year Josi will receive a trophy and a $2,000 check.