January 23, 2019

Update about Brent Sass in White Mountain

There are a lot of teams en route to Safety and Nome. Travis Beals has just left the checkpoint with a small team of 6 dogs. It will be a couple of hours before any other team can leave here. Brent was woken up by Race Judge Karen Ramstead. He is now out in the dog yard and preparing another meal for his dogs. I talked briefly with him and he will see how is team feels after the feeding and then makes a decision about when to continue. There is no doubt that Brent is mentally down. He ran an ambitious race, and in the end, the schedule was a bit too ambitious for his dogs. He did not voluntarily return to the checkpoint, the dogs refused to leave. It has happened before, not only in this race. Mushing greats like Cowboy Larry Smith had it happen after leading the Yukon Quest and stalling out on Eagle Summit. Michelle Phillips has it happening as we speak in the town of Golovin 18 miles before White Mountain. It is the reality of mushing, as in everyday life, not every decision a musher does turns out to be the best one. They are human as anybody and mistakes are made.

What I am having a bit of a problem with is the often skewed opinions the fan base has, sitting far away, without seeing the 1st hand events. In my position I am running a delicate balance, of telling the true story, while trying to be respectful at the same time. It rubs me a bit the wrong way  reading comments about how Brent ” did things right by his dogs ” with returning to the checkpoint. I am sorry to having to point this out, but it was not Brent who made that choice, is was his dogs who did, When dogs refuse to go, a mistake was made. It does not make Brent a bad person, bad musher, but it also does not make him a hero. It is the harsh reality of mushing and mushers ask themselves that often: ” If I would have made a move here in this checkpoint, I could have been 5th instead of 10th ” Well or it could go the other way; ” I wish I had stayed in this checkpoint for 3 more hours “….. 

Running up front, as Brent, Aliy, Mitch, Dallas and most of the Top 20 teams have done, is a very delicate balance, on a knife’s edge, between doing really well, and being a hero or champion, or getting a real slap in the face. It is part of the challenge the mushers are facing out here. Brent will be o.k., his dogs will be o.k. The 2016 Iditarod was just another step in a learning curve, which can be harsh at times. At heart, all of the mushers only have the best intentions for the wellbeing of their dogs.

My time in White Mountain is up and I am headed to Nome, hoping to get a few good shots of teams along one of the most beautiful stretches of trail.

Here are a few more White Mountain pictures: