Eye on the Trail: Red Lantern Race Was Close

Two Seconds Separate Hardwick and Schlosser (photo k. Bogan)

The last two mushers were waiting in SKW-WM for their required 8-hour rest to expire.  Victoria Hardwick of Bethel took to the trail at 14:57.  Dakota Schlosser of Willow was released at 14:59.  The two mushers were competing for the honor of perseverance -THE RED LANTERN and a Jon Van Zyle original painting.  It wasn’t two minutes that separated them at the finish; it was just two seconds!  There’s a pattern there for Victoria – two minutes, two seconds and winning two red lanterns.

In addition to receiving a symbolic Red Lantern, Jon and Jona Van Zyle will be honoring the perseverance of the Red Lantern winner by awarding an original framed 5″x7″ painting by official Iditarod artist and two-time Iditarod finisher, Jon Van Zyle. 

Truly, every single musher on the Iditarod Trail perseveres and pushes on when staying put might be easier.  They are there for a reason, to finish the race with healthy happy dogs.  If it’s a competitive team, they also want to earn a spot in the top twenty where the purse pays out the most.  Really every one earns a Red Lantern for perseverance but it’s the final finisher, the final winner who takes a Red Lantern Home.

Thanks to Insider, viewers watched the two teams contending for the Red Lantern as they entered the finish chute.  Dakota held a slight lead.  As they progressed to the un-burled arch Victoria’s team gained on Dakota.  Then the moment of truth – whose lead dog’s nose broke the upward plane of the finish line first for 35th place.  It was Dakota’s leader by just two seconds.  Hardwick finished in 36th position.  Race Marshal, Mark Nordman shook their hands and welcomed the final pair of mushers saying, “You two are something!”

Dakota Schlosser Wins 35th Place (Insider Video)

Schlosser, age 22, was the youngest contestant in the race.  Dakota works as a diesel/heavy equipment mechanic for Knik Construction. He owns/operates a competitive race kennel with mostly dogs that he has raised from puppies.  The Schlosser family moved to Alaska from Wisconsin almost 10 years ago.  That’s when he switched from sprint racing to distance racing.  Today fulfilled a dream Dakota has held since the age of 10.  

Dakota was Jr. Iditarod rookie of the year in the 2014 for the race that was run on the Denali Highway out of Cantwell.  He returned to run another Jr. Iditarod taking the traditional route out to Yentna Station in 2015.  The family owns Sled Dog Systems Racing and manufactures sleds and sled bags geared toward sprint racing.  In 2014 Dakota was driving a sled he had built himself.  Some of the dogs on Dakota’s 2021 Iditarod team were from his 2018 litter named for candy bars.  Congrats to Dakota and Butterfingers, Snickers, York, Hershey, Reese’s, 100 Grand and Joy as well as the other older dogs that made up the team.

Hardwick Accepts Red Lantern and Extinguishes Symbolic Widow’s Lamp (photo k.Bogan)

As the final finisher to complete the race, Victoria had a special duty to perform at the finish line.  It’s an old roadhouse tradition to hang a lighted lamp at the roadhouse to guide mushers on the trial to the roadhouse.  When the last musher of the day arrives, the lamp is extinguished.  So as the last musher of the race, Victoria put out the Widow’s Lamp.

Every Iditarod is brought to life by a plethora of stories from the trail.  Many of those stories we fans never hear but we are privileged to some.  Maybe it’s a “you have to be there” thing in order to really understand the event, but Insider shares an incredible number of those “inside the race” stories.  They caught up with Victoria in McGrath to see her switching to a different sled after hers was trashed when meeting a tree on the Steps.  The extent of the damage didn’t become apparent until getting to Rohn.  There’s still a long way to go to a waiting sled in McGrath from there.  Many hands and minds put Hardwick’s sled back together using ski poles, a snowshoe and lath held in place by yards of duct tape. 

Victoria Hardwick Receives Red Lantern From Iditarod Veteran Howard Farley in Nome 2019

Victoria will receive her second Red Lantern Award at a later time.  She received the first in Nome after completing the 2019 race as the final musher.  That was back in the day when a banquet could be held to celebrate the accomplishments of all.  Victoria and Kristin Bacon arrived in Nome after the Finisher’s Banquet but as is the custom they were applauded at a Finisher’s Dinner held later in their honor.

Victoria shares the distinction of winning two red lantern awards with musher Cindy Abbott.  Cindy claimed the honor and extinguished the Widow’s Lamp in 2015 and 2017