Once the ski race finished and the sun was setting, there was quite a crew of mushers and canines enjoying Unalakleet hospitality. As the sky grew dark the temperature fell and the winds grew calm. The population of mushers and canines rose and fell in Unalakleet from sunset on Monday to sunrise on Tuesday. If I count correctly, the veterinary team checked somewhere around two hundred dogs during the night. As the saying goes, no rest for the helpful!
Jim Lanier, who didn’t stay long, led the troops off to Shaktoolik. Before midnight, he was followed by six other teams including the Mystery Musher, Kelly Maixner and 2013 Yukon Quest Champ, Allen Moore. As Allen drives his own team toward Nome, he’s probably unaware of the intense race to the finish line between his wife, Aliy Zirkle and 2004 Iditarod Champion, Mitch Seavey. If Allen were in the Unalakleet checkpoint, he’d be able to watch the finish on big screen TV via Iditarod Insider.
A bunch of B’s rolled into UNK during the very early hours of Tuesday morning, the Berington Twins, Jodi Bailey and Travis Beals. The Beringtons are the first set of identical twins to run Iditarod not just once but twice. Kristi has another Iditarod under her belt as well as a Yukon Quest. Anna loves dogs and adventure sports so combining the two plus running with Kristie is an ideal combination. The twins who grew up in Wisconsin created a “dog sled” with skis and a milk crate then hitched their Border Collie and Great Pyrenees up and started mushing.
Jodi Bailey and her husband Dan Kaduce run Dew Claw Kennel and have considerable Iditarod and Yukon Quest experience. Jodi is heading to Nome for the third time. Dan went to Nome in 2010 as a rookie and claimed Rookie of the Year Honors. Jodi has the distinction of being the first person to ever finish Iditarod and Quest rookie races in the same year. Jodi is blessed to run with the most photographed dogs in the 2013 Iditarod. As she was preparing to leave Unalakleet at sunrise this morning, she said, “If I had a dollar for every picture somebody has taken of Pepsi and Topaz my next race would be completely funded.” Counting the photos I’ve taken of the two photogenic 18-month old racers, I’d owe her about $400.
Travis Beals had the chance to nap while his dogs were recharging their batteries. It was my plan to get out to the bridge half a mile from the checkpoint to take a few shots of Travis and team as they passed under the bridge. Asking Travis when he thought he’d be ready to leave, he said he wanted to have a couple of sour dough pancakes prepared by former Unalakleet Mayor, Middy Johnson, then he’d boot and leave. With this being the first thousand mile race for both musher and athletes, it might feel like it’ll never end but they had a lot of zip leaving the checkpoint. As Beals approached the bridge, he was pumping his arm and shouting we’re going to Nome, all the way to Nome! Can’t wait to see him there.
Fifteen minutes later, Mike Williams Sr, finished booting his team and passed under the same bridge on his way to Shaktoolik. The question on everyone’s mind as they leave this slough is what’s the weather like in Shaktoolik. There’s one answer that’s almost always right – WINDY! Mike is running his 15th Iditarod for a cause he really believes in, Sobriety. The senior Williams has been around dogs all his life and says it’s a huge honor to drive dogs. Williams has broken into the top twenty once during his Iditarod career with a run time of 10 days, 15 hours and 45 minutes. Will he set a new personal bets in 2013?
Gerry Sousa checked out of Unalakleet just as Angie Taggert finished her run across the Kaltag portage and checked into UNK. Sousa learned about and became interested in the race listening to radio reports on the Last Great Race. He’s been an annual participant since 2002 finishing every race except in 2007. His best finish was 16th with a time of 10 days, nine hours and 30 minutes. When Gerry reaches the burled arch in a few days, it’ll be his 11th time checking into Nome.