2017 Iditarod wraps up in record time
When Cindy Abbott arrived under the Burled Arch in Nome on Saturday at 2:47 p.m. after 12 days, 2 hours and 57 minutes on the trail, Iditarod 45 officially came to a record-breaking end. Abbott notched her second Iditarod finish in four attempts, and it was the second time she got to blow out the widow’s lantern.
While mushers reported cold temperatures in the early part of the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, there was no severe weather that hampered the race’s progress and record setting speeds were set from winner to the back of the pack. Race winner Mitch Seavey shaving eight hours of his son Dallas’ record set in 2016 (eight days, 11 hours, 40 minutes).
The red lantern musher also broke a record by finishing the race in the 12-day range. Previously, French musher Marcelle Fressineau had set the red lantern record in 2014 when she finished in 13 days, four hours and 8 minutes.
Out of 72 mushers who made it to the Fairbanks start line, 64 arrived in Nome, with eight mushers scratching along the way.
This year also saw an unusually high number of four dog deaths. A two-year-old male dog named Deacon in Seth Barnes’ team died shortly before reaching the checkpoint of Galena. Iditarod officials said the necropsy showed abnormalities, but the cause of death was not determined. A two-year old male dog named Smoke out of Scott Smith’s team died as a result of overheating while in transit in an airplane from Galena to Anchorage. According to a press release, the necropsy found hyperthermia, “although further testing will be conducted to complete the study.”
A four-year-old male dog named Flash in Katherine Keith’s team collapsed in harness and died about ten miles before Keith arrived in Koyuk. A necropsy found the cause of death consistent with acute aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia is a lung infection that can develop after the dog inhales food, liquid or vomit into the lungs.
A three-year-old dog named Shilling from the team of Roger Lee collapsed and died about ten miles before the checkpoint of Unalakleet. The necropsy found extensive pulmonary edema, or fluid accumulation in the lungs, as the most significant abnormality in the dog.
This year’s honor of winning the Humanitarian Award, an award given by veterinarians to the musher showing exemplary dog care went to Jessie Royer of Montana, who finished the race in fifth place, with all 16 dogs that she started with. Royer also received the Most Inspirational Musher award, bestowed upon her by her fellow mushers. During the awards banquet Royer had to fight back tears as she accepted the award and offered an explanation of why mushers do what they do in form of a poem. The poem described long nights away from home on the trail, sitting alone with one’s dogs by a camp fire, watching the northern lights while traveling through the night by dog team. Have you ever? “Well, if you didn’t, then you didn’t live, my friend.”
Sixty-four mushers made it to Nome and, through tears and laughter, described their 1,000-mile race. There was Dr. Joe Carson who brought his grandfather’s ashes and spread them on the trail. Carson said his grandpa was not a musher but a trail breaker for the race in its early years.
Kristin Bacon said she had Crosby in her team, a dog that last year survived a snowmachine attack in Jeff King’s team and is now back leading the way.
Jeff King had educational words for reporters that may enhance their understanding of what mushers and their dogs accomplish on the race as they run more than they rest. He related a story of a news reporter interviewing him in Koyukuk where he took an eight hour break after having traveled more than 15 hours through deep snow on a slow trail. Thinking that this break was kind of on the ‘long’ side, the reporter asked him if he was “on a journey”?
Really? asked King.
“Here we are going 100 miles a day,” he said, incredulous. “If you are on a pace like that, now you’re considered to be on a ‘journey?’” King finished in 11th position and couldn’t be happier about his race.
Musher Aliy Zirkle related a story of how she caught up to Pete Kaiser and ended up passing him thanks to some unforeseen intervention. Leaving Shaktoolik, Kaiser traveled ahead of her until her dog team suddenly bolted and she hung on for dear life. An Arctic fox racing next to her dog team sped them up until she caught up to Kaiser. The fox passed Kaiser’s team on the left side, her team passed Kaiser on the right side and the race between fox and dog team continued until Zirkle heard the fox hissing and diving towards her dogs. She called her dogs up, fearing that the fox may be rabid, and outran the fox. “I tell you, Pete, you gotta look for some foxes next year,” she said.
Ken Anderson announced that this was his last Iditarod. He ran his first Iditarod in 1999 and every year since 2002 for 16 consecutive Iditarods. Anderson finished every race he began and when he bid all farewell, his voice was shaky with emotions.
Paul Gebhardt, another long-time Iditarod musher, related how close he came to his goal. He said the first goal is to win, well, that didn’t pan out. The second goal was to make top ten, which he did. The third goal was to break the eight day barrier and, guess what? “It took me 9 days, zero minutes and six fricking seconds to get here!” Gebhardt said.
Many mushers expressed their admiration and awe of Mitch Seavey’s dog team.
Larry Daugherty said that Seavey not only achieved the incredible in the sport of mushing, but “achieved one of the biggest feats in sports history.”
Four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey and runner-up reminded musher and fans in attendance that this is not just an event for mushers but that the Iditarod represents a quintessential Alaskan sport. He defined himself as a “dog guy” and said that he could not help himself but smile when he saw his father’s dog team come together as they did. There was talk among mushers of a paradigm shift, where preserving speed is the goal.
Champion Mitch Seavey then took to the podium and after thanking his sponsors and his son Dallas for the inspiration, he said that he experienced his coolest day of mushing ever on the run between Kaltag and Unalakleet, mushing on a “warm” afternoon in the sun over the Blueberry Hills and seeing the frozen ocean spread out before him. “It was phenomenal, especially seeing this by dog team,” he said.