Eye on the Trail: The Shelter Cabin Crew

When Riley Dyche left White Mountain at 20:06 on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, he fully expected to be in Nome within 12 hours.  The same was true for second year rookie Sebastien Dos Santos Borges, veteran Jeff Deeter and his wife, KattiJo Deeter, a first year Iditarod Rookie who departed White Mountain in the wee hours of Friday, March 18th.  They had heard the wind was bad thru the blow hole but wasn’t that pretty normal?  It was abnormal for the winds to be reasonable on that section of the trail.  They were soon to learn how small humans are when pitted against the furry of Mother Nature.

As Riley tells it, the further he went the worst it got.  It was all icy side hill trail with the wind screaming.  Eventually he made it to the Nome Kennel Club Shelter cabin.  He thought he could go on but in only a short distance he was blasted by the wind and cartwheeled so he decided to return to the cabin to wait it out.

Eight hours later when the Deeters and Dos Santos Borges left the wind was even worse through Topkok and down through the blow hole.  About five miles short of the shelter cabin, the threesome came together and decide to hunker down for better weather.  It was hours later when snowmachiners guided the three teams to the shelter cabin. 

At the same time, but a good ten miles back, a snowmachiner, Iditarod Trail sweeps and White Mountain Search and Rescue were assisting Gerhardt Thiart, Bridget Watkins and Sean Williams along with all three dog teams back to White Mountain where they scratched from the race. Thiart and Watkins were flown out for medical evaluation and care.

Riley Dyche called the cabin a big dog party.  Between the four teams, there were four mushers and 32 dogs in the shelter provided by the Nome Kennel Club for this exact purpose.  Not having endured the length of exposure the late comers had, Riley waited for the wind to lay down then headed to Nome.  He made the burled arch at 10:30 on Saturday the 19th,   38 hours and 16 minutes after leaving White Mountain.  His three cabin mates chose to scratch.

Second year rookie Sebastien Dos Santos Borges made his first Iditarod attempt in 2019.  He scratched at Unalakleet, mile 737 of the southern route.  Sebastien is from Chazey-Bons, France.  He is an adventurer reporter with twenty-seven years of mushing experience.  Some of his kennel’s forty dogs are shelter rescues.  He has added bloodlines from Dean Osmar, John Baker and Michelle Phillips. 

Earlier this year, Sebastien participated in the Yukon Quest 300 in the Yukon of Canada.  He’s a veteran of the Copper Basin 300 and also the 2017 1,000 mile Yukon Quest.  He says, “My dogs guide me daily.  They are not the strongest or the greatest but they are my family, my friends.”

Jeff and KattiJo Deeter own and operate Black Spruce Dog Sledding, a tour and racing kennel.  Jeff ran his first Iditarod at the young age of nineteen.  He took a ten year break to do domestic things like get married, build a house and start a business.  He studied successful race strategies to become more competitive himself.

KattiJo grew up in Wisconsin then took a summer job at a dog sledding tour company in Juneau where she met Jeff.  She fell in love with him, sled dogs and Alaska.  She said the interest in running Iditarod evolved over time.  At first it just seemed like too much and she wasn’t sure she’d ever have the skills or the desire to do a 1,000 mile race.   KattiJo is passionate about educating people on the subject of dog mushing saying, “The modern world has moved so far away from this sort of human and animal connection.  I want to remind people of what is possible.”

Jeff is a five time Iditarod veteran.  He placed 59th in his rookie run.  Ten years later he improved to 43rd.  In 2019 he climbed up to 15th place, dropped back to 16th in 2020 and took 12th place on the Gold Trail Loop of 2021.  He says, “More than anything, what matters to me is experiencing the trail with my dogs and living this unique dream.”