November 14, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Nome Pre-dawn Friday

As temperatures hovered around zero in Nome, ten teams completed Iditarod XLVI. It started with the Master Musher Martin Buser at 00:02 and right now we’re waiting for Larry Daugherty to come in from Safety. Word from back down the trail indicates the temperature is well below zero in White Mountain.

Martin Buser completed his 35th Iditarod when making the Burled Arch early this morning. He owns the largest number of completed Iditarod runs without ever scratching. Over time, he’s certainly had reason to scratch with an ankle injury, a pre-race finger amputation and pneumonia to name a few. Buser says though that when there is only one payday in the year, you must show up for work. He also thinks of his dogs in saying they have worked hard and trained hard and this is their opportunity to show what they can do. The Happy Trail’s coach and athletes are a strong dedicated bunch. Martin was the first musher to break into the eight-day mark. He held the record of 8 days, 22 hours and 46 minutes for nine years before John Baker set a fastest time in 2011 of 8 days, 18 hours and 46 minutes. Buser’s dogs were lunging to leave the Burled Arch just as they were at the start line eleven days ago. The Happy Trails dogs were indeed happy and I think proud of their accomplishment over a tough trail.  

Martin has mentored many mushers over the years through his apprentice program. Last night when Martin arrived Matthew Failor and his family were in the chute to welcome the Master. Matthew’s first trip to Nome was with a Buser puppy team in 2012. Failor has since established 17th Dog/Team Matthew Failor with the purpose of breeding and training the greatest canine Athletes in the world. Matthew’s successful kennel has some Buser foundation but from the ground up, Failor has been the architect.

Cody Strathe arrived shortly after Buser. Strathe was greeted by his wife and kennel partner Paige Drobny.   Cody said there were a lot of challenges on the trail. Some the dogs did really awesome with and we also found some thing we need to work on. Finishing in 29th place Strathe clocked a time of 11 days, 9 hours and 26 minutes. Cody is a Yukon Quest veteran as is Paige. In 2016, they became the first husband/wife team to run both the Quest and Iditarod in the same year. That accomplishment is a real tribute to the strength of the Squid Acres Kennel as well as the breeding and training program. The dogs were extremely excited to see Paige. She was standing well in front of the leaders to keep then lined out in the chute. All the time during the check in process, the leaders were lunging and jumping with excitement toward Drobny. Between Cody and Paige, Squid Acres has seven Iditarod finishes.

Rookie, Andrew Nolan, was greeted by a small but enthusiastic crowd at 01:03 this morning. That’s the thing about Iditarod, it goes 24/7 with no regard to sunrise, sunset or circadian clock. Nolan claimed 30th place with a time of 11 days, 10 hours and 3 minutes. Andrew was the 2017 JR Iditarod champion. JR Champs running this race include Nolan, Noah Pereira, Rayn Redington and Rayme Smyth. With Nolan rounding out the top 30 place of 2018, I was curious as to the rookie times of the others JR champs in this race. As it turns out, Rayme Smyth finished in 21st place in his rookie Iditarod with a time of 12 days, 6 hours and 46 minutes. In the chute to greet Nolan was his family including his sister Grace (16) who earned Rookie of the Year Honors in the 2018 JR Iditarod. If I see Grace again, I’ll ask her if Iditarod might be in her future.  

Aaron Peck and Charlie Bejna occupied the Burled Arch together at 05:42 and 05:43 this morning. Except for the spotlights in the finish chute area, it’s rather dark on Front Street. The streetlights and overhead colored lights just don’t provide enough illumination to distinguish the number on a mushers bib from 6 block away. The announcer read Charlie’s bio but it was Aaron Peck who was setting his snow hook under the Arch. So as Charlie approached, Aaron’s bio was read.

Aaron claimed 34th place with a time of 11 days, 14 hours and 42 minutes. This is Peck’s fifth Iditarod run. He’s been absent since his 42st place finish of 2013. Peck says, “I’m very excited to once again have the opportunity to compete in this great race, and I hope to be competitive in the Iditarod for years ahead.” Aaron is a product of the Buser apprentice program. He ran his first Iditarod in 2000 with Martin Buser’s yearlings. Aaron and his wife, Eva, run Elevation Dogs providing boarding and day care services for dogs and also houses their racing athletes.

Charley Bejna was happy to see Nome. There were many times along the trail that the race seemed like it would win out over his teams best efforts to make Nome. With abrasive snow and ground blizzards and other equipment issues, Charley said there were daily challenges. There were problems – sled, runner and gangline. Add to that the challenges of the trail, being the slowest in recent history, and the best of teams and most optimistic of mushers were wondering when the good times would roll. Back in Unalakleet, Charley decided to add rest to every stop – eight hours rather than six. His plan worked and the Chicago Musher clocked a time of 11 days, 14 hours and 43 minutes for 35th place. Charley is a type 1 Diabetic who says, “I want to show other diabetics that you can still live a normal life, even with Diabeties, as long as you take care of yourself to the best of your ability.” Being able to run Iditarod is a real tribute to Charley’s perseverance and ability to plan and prepare. Good Job and thank you for the inspiration you provide others.

The newly weds, Kristi Berington and Andy Pohl came to the Burled Arch within 2 minutes of each other. Newly weds is a relative term as they tied the knot in July. The reporter for KNOM asked Andy if he enjoyed the honeymoon. Andy replied, “Yes and we’ve really been looking forward to the golden beaches of Nome.” Mind you, it was around zero at the time and there were a few stars in the pre-dawn sky. There was great promise for a beautiful sled-dog type of day for Nome. Kristi completed her ninth Iditarod in 36th place in 11 days, 16 hours and 8 minutes. Andy completed his rookie race in 37th place in 11 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes. Andy said there was nobody other than Kristi that he’d rather do his rookie run with. Kristi was proud of Anna for her excellent finish and proud of Andy for his performance on the trail and skill with the dogs.  

Twins Anna and Kristi Berington in Nome