March 11 Nome 12:20 Mushers into Nome—What Happened on the Trail

MARCH 11 Nome 12:20 PM  Mushers follow lead pack into Nome—Winds at Solomon Blow Hole

Reality is not standing still in Nome, with winds reported 45 and gusting 55 in blow holes along the coast, and mushers continuing to march towards the finish line.

Sonny Lindner just crossed the finish line as I write in 5th place—what an incredible race for a guy 64, he is my hero—gives a short interview that can be seen at the Insider—and exits the finish chute about 300 yards to the Nome kennel yard.  Here, air kennels have already been assembled, loaded with straw, and organized in a straight line on a chain gangline.  Seavey dogs are already lounging in their straw beds after a hard day’s work in the early morning hours.

Attempting to put the day in context, my first chore is to review film with our media genius Josh Godfrey, who logs all footage, and therefore is actually the most knowledgeable  media person in Nome.

First, we look at footage of Dallas Seavey the Younger to ask an existential question posed by many fans.  “Did Dallas race into Nome not knowing he was going to win?”   In our opinion, his surprise was completely genuine and we can assume that in the darkness and horrific wind at Safety checkpoint—where he signed an official log book—he did not realize that King and team were balled up off the trail and that Aliy Zirkle  was actually docked at the checkpoint. 

He checked in and out of Safety thinking , of course, King and Zirkle have perfunctorily signed the log book and are racing to Nome.  Meanwhile, Aliy realizes that Seavey the Younger has just blown by her in Safety and pursues.  Her light becomes the imposter of Mitch Seavey, Dallas’ dad, and his supreme arch enemy.  He cannot let the Seavey name be embarrassed by a father outrunning a son to the finish and puts on the afterburners.  Therefore, Dallas races against his father, running every hill in his hiking shoes, and arrives at the finish line gasping, sucking air, like the third round of a wrestling match.  “Hey dude?” says our cameraman Bodhi in the chute, “Do you realize you just won the Iditarod?”

Get the picture?  By luck, I catch Mark Nordman, race marshal, and also the epicenter of Iditarod reality.  He describes the series of events from his perspective.  Hearing that King was marginalized somewhere off the trail, and that Aliy had arrived Safety and stopped, Mark called Aliy at the Safety checkpoint (22 miles from the finish) and asked, “Are you OK?”  He also had other priorities on his mind like the safety of Jeff King and his guys out on snow machines.

Aliy answered, “Yes. It’s like a hurricane, I was blown all over the trail.”  She decided for good reasons to stay in the protection of Safety and wait for the wind to die down.  She was also getting reports of snowmachines being caught sideways in the wind and blowing over, adding to the genuine life and death power of the wind.

Mark also told me that she was very concerned for the safety of Dallas and Mitch Seavey, who she knew were on the trail behind her.  Aliy is really cool, almost universally I can guarantee  that you would like her, like being around her kind demeanor, laugh, and genuinely find life positive.  Although she certainly must question her stop in Safety, I would offer that she did exactly the right thing.  Conditions were marginal, and in a dog race, prudence is the code.  Her 2nd place finish was a triumph.

Then what happened?   Dallas prevailed, running, kicking, cajoling, a sweat ball underneath his wind breaker, to the finish in first place, an example of a school of thought, triumphant that he had saved the Seavey name from the disgrace of being outgunned by your dad in a foot race. dog yaRD NOME resting seavey dogs nome

After walking from the dog yard, noting that the Seavey dogs were resting comfortably, I happen to see a crew of dog yard volunteers.  “How’s the dogs?”  “Oh, they’re are all good.  They have been eating and just sleeping!”  These volunteers act like meerkat sentries, always making sure the dogs have a human in the area, and have an unusual empathy for the animals, for why else would they would offer 24 hour care of the yard?

Coincidentally, I bump into Rohn Buser, the very talented musher and son of participant 4x champ Martin Buser.  Rohn has an analytical mind and particularly helped me decipher strategy moves on the Yukon River.   He is with the family’s host Pat Hahn of Nome, who I question about the winds.

Pat informs me that wind monitors are located along the coast and can be viewed online.  Rohn offers that his Dad has been stopped at Tommy Johnson’s  cabin, located in the vicinity of the famous Golovin blow hole.  By a strange mountainous confirmation, the wind funnel at this area into a very powerful venturi.  Martin Buser has a very thorough understanding of the coast as he has not only raced but also trained on the coast.   Pat told me, “The monitor tells us wind 40 to 45 with gusts of 55.”  

Pat,  a long time Nomite, “people often exaggerate wind speed, but 55 is serious.”   Buser has started to move again, but he didn’t hole up at Tommy Johnson’s because he wanted to brush his teeth.  It must still be howling on the coast.

Fans wondering and concerned about Jeff King and dogs know that he still remains in Safety with his dogs. When winds die down, it is actually possible to transport his team to Nome by truck.  Under present conditions, transfer is not possible.

Final thoughts:  Dallas Seavey, hardwired for a sportsmans ethic of never slacking off, pulled of a surprise win but he was in the right spot, with the right attitude, to do it.  Aliy in a magnificient performance in 2nd and her third year at the apex of adventure sled dog racing—unbelievable.  Mitch Seavey, the 2x champ , was third.

Joar Ulsom, the Norwegian phenomenon was 4th as he quietly climbed through the ranks with a brilliant performance.  Like Dallas, tall, athletic, Joar is capable of really working behind the sled, but more than that, he has an unusual patience for a young musher.  (I want to do more of Joar—just have to find him.)