Responsible Racing?

What has happened to responsible racing? Iditarod is all about doing well and placing, it is a race after all, but the recent accusations of ITC being not quick enough to rescue mushers are out of line.

When a storm moves in, it is every mushers choice, to continue to race hard or to switch to maybe a little more conservative strategies or even to think about survival. When I left Koyuk on the morning of the storm, I had a chance to pass all of the eventual Top 10 teams and the ones who did not make it. Some were en route to Elim, some resting in Elim, others past Elim. Different mushers made different choices. Some kept the pedal to metal, like Hugh Neff. Others played it safe and pulled over, be it either in Elim , or like Sonny Lindner at the Shelter Cabin at the bottom of Little McKinely. Martin Buser stayed in Golovin. 

But for a Nicole Faille or Hugh Neff to accuse letting Hugh almost die out there is out of line. It was Hugh`s own personal choice, to not rest at any of the available places. He knew he was down to 8 dogs. To rest 1.30 hrs in Elim is a risky move in the best of conditions with a large team. It gets even riskier with a small team. It is outright foolish to do with a small team in bad weather. 

And than he passes by all of the available shelter, after all those safety cabins are there for a reason, and than once he hits the wall, he does not know any other way out than to press a button. How about doing what Aaron Burmeister did with one bum leg and walk to shore with your team? How about retreating to Golovin with the wind in your back? There are choices. And than to demand and accuse ITC of not reacting quick enough is uncalled for, specially in the middle of the night.

Now keep in mind that Hugh has done this before, been stuck on Eagle Summit in the Quest and had a dog die and had to be rescued by snowmachine also. What has happened to responsible racing? Since when get snowmachines mushers out of trouble? Is it not supposed to be the other way around, dogs never break down, snowmachines do? But for that you have to leave enough fuel I the tank of your team, so they can continue when the going gets ugly. 

What has happened to mushers like Libby Riddles who also made a conscious decision ( with 13 dogs ) to brave a storm and be self sufficient in that. And Nicole really thinks ITC was turning their attention away? Of course they were worried. Of course they tried to get someone out there. But how many people do you find in the middle of the night willing to go out, but more so able to go out. Does a snowmachiner really have to risk their life because a musher once again overestimated his abilities?

Look at Mushers like Aliy Zirkle who has a win in her hand, yet makes a conscious decision to rest her team, get out of the weather. No wonder her fans are chanting Aily Aliy at the finish line. That shows deepest respect for her dogs and well being of her team. Others like John Baker who is really used to running in wind, Peter Kaiser and many others who made the wise decision to stay in Elim. It is part of racing, that you have to live with the consequences of your decisions, and if those decisions are bad, the consequences might be bad, painful and maybe even lethal. Again my question, why drive out in a storm like that with such a small team? The wind did not come out of nowhere, it was getting worse all day. But than to demand a quick rescue in the middle of the night and to threaten Iditarod is out of line. It was Hugh`s own choice to yet again run in another storm and than have things turn into a huge mess. 

For all of you ITC bashers. From having a look behind the scenes I can tell you the people in charge deeply care, about humans and dogs. They work harder than I have ever imagined. But sorry, they can not fix stupid decisions, they can only mop up after them as quickly as possible.

When I first wrote this post on facebook it was in response to public criticism by Nicole Faille, Hugh Neff’s partner and article on Alaska Dispatch. Both resulted in criticism of the ITC. In the meantime a second article is public on the Anchorage Daily News.

I am asking some questions in this post.  My intention is to educate fans, you, people who are interested in the last great race, to know a bit more technical insight  in run schedules and the consequences those schedules have. The intention is to hopefully stop some of the bashing of the ITC which had been going on since the Post by Nicole Faille.  It saddened me to see comments like ” I will never subscribe to the insider again etc “…. Please keep on supporting the insider, they work incredible hard, just have a look at the latest video of Jeff King speaking about his incident ( very well spoken Jeff !! ). It is the insider video crew who helped Jeff out of his predicament, it is the same people who helped Scott Janssen’s dogs off the trail. The Insider guys and all of the staff at ITC deeply care and do not abandon anybody.