Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod..the 80’s

Ray “Lightening” Lang finished 41st in the 1986 Iditarod with a total time of 16:22:39:02. Ray, a dentist in Nome, became interested in dog mushing in 1978.  His wife, Carla, had bought Shelley Gill’s entire team when she got to Nome.   Ray suffered sore knees after barging down the trail from Rabbit Lake to Skwentna.  Coming out to Rohn,  Ray fell off a cliff and spent the next two hours fixing his sled.  Ray said,  “I had just gotten everything straightened out when John Wood came screaming down the hill right on top of me.  I got going again and then crashed down a hill and got the most incredible chest pains.  I thought this was the last straw!  The big one’s got me!”  Ray got curious, however, and looked under his shirt and saw a mass of black and blue bruises where he had rammed into his battery pack. He went on to say, “I was so happy, I sat on a stump and cried for joy,” he said.  That night, Ray came off the trail soothed by the beauty of a night bright with stars and glowing with Northern Lights.  “Thursday night was worth the entry fee and it helped after 24 hours of pain between Farewell and Nikolai.”

Rune Hesthammer, ‘Rookie of the Year,’ and  10th place finisher in the 1986 Iditarod, was from Drobak, Norway. He finished the race with a total elapsed time of 13:04:20:00.  Prior to racing, he’d worked three years at a remote power station, “Kings Bay Coal” in Spitzbergen to save money to make running Iditarod possible.  In the summer of 1985, he quit his job as a diesel engineer and moved to Alaska to train.  Rune leased a team from Susan Butcher, and trained to run Iditarod. Bib 13 wasn’t a lucky number to wear at the start of the race.  Bringing the team to the starting line, they tangled.  Unable to get them untangled in time, he had to wait to leave the chute until all other teams had left, which cost him about 2 hours.  One of Rune’s biggest fears about running the race was getting lost.  By the time teams approached Unalakleet, he was in 15th position.  On March 13th, Susan Butcher finished in first.  Rune came in behind 9 veteran mushers and was the ‘Rookie of the Year,’ winning $5,500 for 10th place and $1,500 for the award which was presented by Jerry and Clara Austin.  This was the only Iditarod Rune raced.

John Wood placed 26th in the 1986 Iditarod.  After the 1982 race, John said, “There was always a nagging hope that all the teams ahead of me would turn right at White Mountain and end up in Candle, while I, because I was moving substantially slower, could determine that the trail out of White Mountain goes left.  Then, because I’m the first to take the right trail out of White Mountain, I’ll end up first on Front Street!  But unfortunately for me, nobody got lost and I came in 24th.”   During the 1986 race, the mushers all knew to take the correct turn out of White Mountain, and John came in 26th place and it has been said, he kept his sense of humor. 

Armen Khatchikian of Italy placed 44th in the 1986 race with a total lapsed time of 17:08:02:29.  This was the first official entry from Italy and his team was called the “Bianca Team, Armen Khatchikian.”   He listed his occupation as ‘musher’ and his hobby as ‘adventurer.’ The Bianca musher stated that he liked working and sharing with the dogs- the energy and power of mushing.  His brother, Aradad, who had entered the 1986 ‘Iditaski’ greeted him at the finish line.  Armen had raced in Iditarod unsuccessfully in 1984 and 1985.  His brother, Aradad, raced and finished Iditarod in 1996 but scratched in 2004. 

Mike Lawless raced and finished Iditarod in 1986 and 1987 finishing 46th and 43rd.  Mike came to Alaska in 1977.  When he spent a summer with Joe Garnie, he got help planning for the 1986 race.  When speaking about the 1986 team, he said, “My team was made up mostly of other mushers’ rejects.  But it also included some from Joe Redington’s breeding.  “This Trapper Creek musher also said that he enjoyed the opportunity of ‘being deeply involved with the dogs, not as their trainer, but as their pupil.”

Bill Davidson placed 52nd in the 1986 Iditarod.  He has an elapsed time of 19:00:55:55.  This Willow musher wanted to see more of Alaska and felt he needed a more dependable transportation than a snowmachine, so he ran a dog team.  Prior to running the Iditarod, Bill once said, “Dog teams are part of the Alaskan heritage.  I consider myself an Alaskan, so I wanted to see the country by sled and enjoy the wilderness as only a few do.”  Bill also raced in 1990, finishing in 53rd place with a time of 17:02:16:58.

Scott Cammeron of Palmer place 53rd in the 1986 Iditarod with a finishing time of 19:19:51:27. Scott came to Alaska in 1981 from Philomath, Oregon.  He stated that he ran dogs to relieve the tension and pressure of his work.  (He was a self employed dental lab technician.)  In the 1983 race, Scott won the Red Lantern, placing 54th with at time of 21:04:36:41.  In 1985, he scratched from the race. When thinking about the 1986 race, Scott said, “The race will be my ‘working vacation.’”

In 1986, the Red Lantern was awarded to Mike Peterson who had said, “I was a real snowmachine fan until my wife, Jan, got me to go on a couple of runs with the dog team, and that was it!  I was hooked!”  Most of his dogs came from Bill Sullivan and Joel Kottke.  Mike’s goal was to be awarded the ‘Rookie of the Year’ saying, “A lot of people say I’m not realistic, but someone has to win it!”

Placing 42nd in the 1986 Iditarod, Roger Roberts once said, “I love the sport and the idea of making a working team out of a bunch of wild huskies.  There are a lot of reasons to run Iditarod.  But, mostly because it’s the only way to fly!”  Roger scratched in 1978 and 1989.  He finished in 38th place in 1987 and 42nd in 1991.

Peter Sapin , a medical doctor from Grand Marais, Minnesota placed 22nd in the 1986 Iditarod with a time of 14:11:17:42.  About his race, Sapin said, “At Cripple, I got to examine Joe Redington, Sr., after he got bruised up.  But he wanted to keep going even though he looked like he’d been mugged in a park. I really enjoyed the Iditarod.  It was like a series of Biblical tests.  It appeared that the Lord tested me again and again.  It was a good experience.  I enjoyed the Alaskan hospitality, too.  I’d like to thank all the volunteers along the trail, the race marshal, the checkers, the veterinarians, and the people in the villages.  Everyone was fantastic!”

*Content and images for this article come from the Iditarod Trail Annuals which were published by the Iditarod Trail Committee.  Most content is written as it originally appeared to provide you with history in the words of those who were a part of it.

Diane Johnson, Iditarod Education Director