Written by Marty Moffat
As the leaders of Iditarod 43 push towards the halfway mark of Huslia, we are once again watching the cream rise to the top. A quick glance at the top 10 reveals all the familiar names, heavyweights, and veterans who have done this many times before. This is all true short of the exception, a rookie from Norway. Thomas Waerner, who although is running the Iditarod for the first time, is anything but a newbie to the sport of racing dogs. In fact, he has a team combined with dogs from Robert Sorlie’s team. Many long time fans of the Last Great Race will remember the 2003 and 2005 Champ from the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’. (Did Alaska steal that nickname from Norway or the other way around? Given the short history of the 49th state compared to the home of the Vikings I have a hunch its the former.)
Waener has a lot of experience with both sprint and distance racing and it certainly shows as he has checked out of Galena in 4th place. He could arguably be 3rd since Aaron Burmeister, the first to leave Galena, has yet to take his 8 hour layover. From Galena is it 82 miles to Huslia, a village of around 300 people. This community, which sits on the bank of the Koyukuk River, is the halfway point of this newly rerouted Iditarod. In the category of ‘you learn something new every day’ as a life long Alaskan it was news to me that Huslia is a Norwegian word which means “house on a hillside”. Waener shared that tidbit with Sebastian Schnuelle while in Galena. There are a total of 3 teams from Norway in this years race, as well as mushers from New Zealand, Australia, France, Sweden and of course our neighbor Canada.
The father and son duo of Seavey’s have decided to part ways. The elder (’13 champ Mitch) electing to take his 24 hour layover in Ruby and the younger (’12 & ’14 champ Dallas) is headed to Huslia, and for all practical purposes, leading the race. If there ever was a mushing dynasty (apart from the Mackey’s) it would be the Seavey family. Mitch’s father Dan ran in the very first Iditarod and placed 3rd. Dallas, leaving nothing to chance, when hearing the news of the altered route recently did some reconnaissance and covered the the trail by snowmachine. He no doubt has a camping spot all picked out to break up the long 82 mile jaunt. He may even utilize one of the two cabins along the way.
Martin Buser left Galena over 2 hours after Dallas which may indicate he is disciplining himself to hold back just a bit. He is usually leading dominantly when served up a hard fast race track for his doggies to trot on. He dropped one dog in Galena and will most likely take his 24 at the ‘house on the hillside.’ The other 4 time champion, Jeff King, was first into Galena early this morning and is taking his 24 hour layover there as is Aliy Zirkle.
It has been quite cold on the Yukon and was reported to be as low as -35 and -40 in some places. But as you can observe in the pictures many of the dogs wear coats and there is also a lot of straw at each checkpoint. Often when a musher decides to continue on through a checkpoint they will take a bale of straw with them and stop further down the trail. While there has been some wind and places where the trail has been soft and punchy it has been mostly ideal weather to race dogs.
I have been reading lots of feedback on the Brent Sass disqualification for have a two-way communications device. The vast majority of those weighing in on blogs, comments and social media feel that the Iditarod officials took overly drastic measures when dealing with Brent. I think they have also been impressed with the way he has handled himself in the whole matter. Brent has a great attitude and has been very respectful and classy despite no doubt being very disappointed. Friends have set up an online gofundme account to help compensate for the cost of running the race. They had an original goal of $2000 but now since over $7000 has been raised in less than a day they are hoping to raise enough to give Brent what he would have earned if he had won the race. Brent proves once again in the words of one of my favorite authors, “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”.