December 14, 2018

Eye on the Trail: Rohn Rookies

Reaching Rohn officially places teams in the Interior of Alaska. The weather pattern is different on this side of the range – wind, precipitation and temperature. The Rohn safety cabin is located near the remains of the old roadhouses that served the Historic Iditarod Trail mail carriers.

Traveling from Puntilla Lake to Rohn the mushers cover a distance of 35 miles. They don’t leave the challenges behind upon departing Rohn for Nikolai. Initially the mushers will encounter some sharp hills and steep grades. Dense stands of spruce create a tunnel effect that is known to mushers as the Buffalo Tunnels. Buffalo were introduced in the area years ago. The herd is doing well. Unlike moose, buffalo don’t tend to be aggressive. The final twenty miles to Nikolai cross the Farewell Burn. The burn occurred in 1977. Seven years later, the BLM cleared the trail of windfalls. Granted there are still tussocks that contribute to uneven ground but the trail improvements are much appreciated by the mushers.

Biker’s, skiers and walkers are on the Iditarod trail right now. A biker just finished the 311 miles to McGrath. She commented that there’s plenty of snow but in some places, the trail isn’t well packed. Her description was, “It’s like mashed potatoes.” It’s just easier to push the bike than pedal the bike. It was still soft even after the trailbreakers went through. More snow has fallen but with colder weather coming the trail will set up. Nobody expects any records to be challenged this year due to the softness of the trail.

Bradley Farquhar is out of Rohn heading to Nikolai. The movie, “Iron Will” brought Bradley to the sport of mushing. The rookie from Nova Scotia saw the movie with his grandmother at the age of eight and was inspired by the young boy’s drive and determination to learn the sport and overcome the challenges to win the big race. Bradley connected up with Sebastian Schnuelle and enjoyed his first experiences of mushing so much he decided to set his sight on Iditarod. Veteran musher Ken Anderson coached Farquhar and prepared him for qualifying races required of all Iditarod rookies.

Matt Hall is resting at the Rohn Cabin. Hall is fresh off the Yukon Quest Trail. While Hall is an Iditarod Rookie, he’s a veteran of five Quests and the 2017 Champion. Iditarod and the coastal challenges will be something he’s yet to experience. In the 2018 Quest, Hall followed Allen Moore to the finish line in second place. He was six hours short of defending his 2017 Quest title. From the Quest News page in a story called “Stars of the show: the dogs,” Hall talks about the bond between musher and dogs, “Making these connection is what builds loyalty and trust between dogs and musher. It’s every bit the dogs that win the race but if you’re not there with your dogs and for your dogs the whole time, then you can’t expect them to do the same for you.” Matt began mushing at the age of two. Living in Eagle, Alaska on the Yukon River he later used his dog team to work his trap line. He also guided weeklong expeditions. During the summer, Matt currently works for Alaska Icefield Expeditions on the Denver Glacier.   After completing his rookie Iditarod in March, Matt will have his own opinion as to the differences between Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.

Michi Konno is another rookie experiencing the trail out of Rohn to Nikolai. When Joe Redington suggested he run the Iditarod, Michi Konno listened. Konno was born and raised in Japan. Twenty-five years ago he began mushing and then moved to Alaska to pursue his interest in the sport. Early on, sprint racing was his preference. Using a team of Joee Redington sprint dogs, Michi finished first in the 1998 North American in Fairbanks. Michi maintained a kennel of mainly sprint dogs until he decided to focus on work as a tour guide in the National Parks of Montana, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. Its taken Michi a long time to do as Joe Redington suggested but today the rookie has 200 miles of the Iditarod trail under his belt. At his side on the runners going to the start line in Willow was Joe Redington’s son, Raymie. This was a very proud moment for Konno and the Redingtons in living the dream Joe Sr. sparked.

Jessie Holmes, another rookie resting in Rohn, moved toward Alaska from Alabama seventeen years ago. On the way to the Last Frontier, Holmes spent three years in Montana working as a carpenter. He finally arrived in Alaska thirteen years ago. He was looking for adventure and wanted to become a mountain man. He lives a subsistence lifestyle and has made a name for himself in a TV series featuring Alaska’s hardy bush residents. He still works as a carpenter. Holmes has run dogs since 2004. After winning the Kobuk 440 in 2017 he became interested in the Iditarod.

Resting with the other rookies in Rohn is Andy Pohl. Pohl is an Iditarod rookie but not a rookie to ultra-distance cycling competition or the Iditarod Trail. Pohl has explored the trail on bike during the winter. Andy met Kristi Berington at the Ophir Checkpoint when riding from Willow to Galena. Pohl has also ridden from Fairbanks to Nome on fat bike. As a life-long Alaska resident he’s now pursuing Alaska’s official sport – dog mushing. Pohl has a degree in mechanical engineering and has worked on projects from Ketchikan to Barrow. It will be interesting to hear from Andy in Nome about his experiences of riding bike on the trail and running dogs on the trail. In one, he’s the power.   In the other the athletes provide the power. Caring for a large team of sled dogs is much more demanding than caring for a bike. Which will he prefer?

The final rookie resting in Rohn is Shayne Traska. Shayne had a very special day at Iditarod signup in June of 2017. At the end of the day, the ITC awards two free entry fees to mushers that signup in person. Shayne’s name was drawn! That was a welcome surprise and put some cash back into the checkbook for other expenses. While growing up in Michigan, Shayne’s aunt and uncle met Joe Redington, Sr. Through them, she learned about Iditarod and the amazing sled dog. For five years she dreamed and prayed about running sled dogs then at the age of fourteen, she obtained her first dogs. This was the first step of many in achieving her dream of running Iditarod with sled dogs she’d raised and trained. She competed in Michigan races and at the age of 19, she began her own breeding program. In the spring of 2012, she loaded up her Twenty-five dogs and drove 4,000 miles to Alaska. During the first winter, I trained by myself in the Two Rivers area and learned the trails. Her first race was the two Rivers 200 in which she earned the Vet’s Choice Award. Shayne is looking forward to traveling across the Lord’s beautiful country and meeting the wonderful people in the villages along the way. After twenty-years of hard work, Shayne is about to realize her dream.