Written by Marty Moffat
Canton, Cooperstown, Huslia, Springfield and Toronto. As I type those names into this page, only one is underlined in red telling me it is misspelled. However, Huslia is spelled correctly and it certainly fits in with all the other Hall of Fame locations, for Huslia is home to the Attla’s, Huntington’s and Vent’s; names that belong in the Mushers Hall of Fame. These names make up the mushing royalty known as the ‘Huslia Hustlers’. These men had a reputation for raising and racing tough, strong, and champion sled dogs. Ken Anderson, the fourth musher into town, remarked after visiting the community hall with all its pictures and memorabilia “This is a pretty doggy place, a lot of history here.”
In the book “Shadows on the Koyukuk: An Alaskan Native’s Life Along the River” which chronicles the life of Sidney Huntington and written by Jim Rearden; Sidney shares these memories: “Many of Alaska’s finest racing dogs came from the Koyukuk and Lower Yukon country. In 1939 my brother Jimmy, in his first try at the race, won fourth place in the annual North American Championship Sled Dog Race at Fairbanks. Sadly, he didn’t receive the promised prize money, for the organizers of the race went broke. After that experience, Jimmy lost interest in the big-time races. Then in 1956 when he was 39, at the urging of a group of Huslia villagers, Jimmy entered sled dog races at Fairbanks and Anchorage. Sled dog racing was then a major sport in Alaska. With 3 of his own dogs and others loaned by me and various friends, Jimmy became the ‘”Huslia Hustler,” a nickname hung on him by the press. In that one season, he won both the North American Championship at Fairbanks and the All-Alaska Championship at Anchorage, beating thirty of Alaska’s top mushers. He didn’t make much money racing dogs, for travel to the big cities, plus living expenses, ate at much of the money he made. But for the rest of his life he enjoyed the fame he rightly received for his extraordinary achievements in those two races. Although I had a fast team, I was raising a family and needed sure money. I knew I could stay home and in a couple of months make $1500 to $2000 on my trapping. If I had gone to Fairbanks to race I might have made $1000 if I won-but after costs, little profit was likely.”
At this stage of the race it is a bit difficult to determine who is really leading this ‘Last Great Race on Earth’. With most mushers taking their 24 hour layovers at different locations along the trail, it is hard to tell whose strategy will work best. Certainly they are making the decisions they feel are best for their dogs. Martin Buser took a very long rest 45 miles from his 24 hour layover in Huslia and indicated that he is rethinking pushing his dogs at all and wants to enjoy the trip and finish with a happy team–whatever that finish may be. He said he did not want to compromise his values and belief system just to win his 5th Iditarod. He stated that he did not want to end his 32nd Iditarod on an embarrassing note or be known as the guy who puts winning before anything. There’s something to be said for age and experience providing insightful perspective.
Huslia has also served up some bone chilling temps this morning with -50 being reported. The snow takes on the consistency of sandpaper at these temperatures and made for slower times coming into town. Hugh Neff, who followed Anderson into the checkpoint by a minute, took the extremely cold weather in stride saying “I’m a Quester (Yukon Quest Racer) and am used to it…some people worry about the cold but I worry about the wind and when people are talking about the cold here I’m asking them what’s the weather like on the coast.” The musher from Tok took a 3.5 hour break on the way to Huslia along with a 6 hour rest in Galena. He said “my dogs are bred for speed but you push them too far your gonna lose that speed. Believe me, I know.”
At this point, the leading musher who has taken both the required 8 and 24 hour layover is Jeff King. He left Galena at 5:31 this morning and still has all 16 dogs in his rested team. Dallas Seavey is also sitting in an enviable position as he can leave around midnight and has the advantage of having taken his 24 layover 84 miles further down the trail than Jeff.
We are only halfway through, folks, so check back in with The Alaska Life in the days ahead to keep abreast of all things Iditarod.