Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod: This is not the Last Great Rest

Prior to the 1978 race, three young ladies were in training for the Iditarod.  Susan Butcher, Varona Thompson, and Shelley Gill  Vandiver.  To get in practice for the conditions that would be faced during the race, Susan decided to go for a swim in a hole in the ice at Knik Lake.  With photographers there to record the action, Susan drove her dog team out to the hole in the ice.  She got off the sled, took off her parka, vest, baggy wool pants, bunny boots, and wool socks.  Dressed in a red bathing suit, Susan sat on the edge of the ice and dangled her feet in the water.  Spectators encouraged her.  Susan slid into the water and disappeared from sight.   She surfaced and repeated the process twice.   After the third dip, Susan got dressed and drove her dog team home.

For the 1978 Iditarod, Susan Butcher had two sponsors, the ‘Homestead Café’ and the musk ox produce coop, “Oomingmak.”  At the 1978 banquet, Susan wore and evening dress of qiviut, the downy ash-brown under wool of the musk ox.  The dress was hand knitted and adorned with carved ivory trimmings.

DSCF6623Myron Angstman of Bethel was the race Judge for the 1980 Iditarod.  Myron was an attorney and ran in the 1979 Iditarod.  He operated the “Old Friendly Dog Farm” on the banks of the Brown Slough at Bethel.  His dog farm/kennel was named after his old lead dog that died at age 14. Myron had come to Alaska in 1974 and was a public defender.  He attended the ‘festivities’ in Nome at the end of the first Iditarod.  He immediately wanted to put together a team and participate in the race.  In 1976, he got his first lead dog, “Old Friendly” and started to build his team.  Myron finished in 25th position in the 1979 race.  He stated that he thought he was the first mushers who ever had an Irish Setter lead dog bring a musher into Nome.  Myron was one of the original organizers of the “Kusokwim 300” race.

The 1980 Iditarod started at Nancy Lake.  Poor snow conditions in Anchorage forced the Iditarod Trail Committee to cancel the start of the 1080 Iditarod in Anchorage.  62 mushers had entered the race and they met at Mulcahy Park in Anchorage for a ceremonial start.  The convoy of dog trucks wound their way to Eagle River, the first checkpoint.  Due to the lack of snow in Wasilla, Knik, and the Big Lake area, officials moved the restart to the Nancy Lake Recreational Area, a State Park.  The parking area, about 1 ½ miles down an entrance road at mile 67.5 on Parks Highway, served as the starting line.  According to the 1980 Iditarod Trail Committee President, Al Crane, the snow conditions were good and gave ‘the mushers a straight shot to Susitna Station.” There were 32 rookies that year.  The 62 teams left at two minute intervals and the starting time difference was made up at the 24 hour mandatory layover.

From the 1981 Iditarod Trail Annual, Rob Stapleton of Anchorage, a photographer who began shooting Iditarod photos in 1976 when he worked for the Anchorage Daily News, continued photographing the race as a free lance photographer.  After first meeting Joe Redington Sr., Rob would often meet up with the Redington’s when they came to town.  They drank milkshakes and discussed the future of the race.  In 1976, Rob walked most of the trail between Knik and Susitna to get different views of the teams as they traveled the trail.  In 1979, Rob put together a two tray slide show of colored pictures he took during the 1976, 1978, and 1979 races.  The slideshow was set to music and lasted 18 minutes.  In 1979, Rob left the Daily News and opened his own business. (Rob Stapleton, Photography)  That year, he covered the trail as a free lance reporter, snowshoeing the trail, hanging out of an airplane, and traveled by snowmachine.   Riding with Larry Thompson and impressed with his experiences and shots, he was quoted as saying, “Larry can get one into and out of tight places.  I’ve shot some good photos riding with Thompson… I got a glimpse of the old and the new.  I got the feeling they’re looking back into history and looking ahead to the future Iditarod races.  People at the checkpoints get excited.  They ask the HAM operator, “Who’s in the lead?’  Then they go home and drink coffee for hours, fall asleep in their chairs, wake up and rush down to the HAM operator again.  When somebody calls out, ‘Musher on the way!’ everyone rushes outside to greet him or her. During the 1980 race, Rob covered the race along with his wife, Martha Upicksoun.

Rob was the photographer who was with Joe, Susan, and their guide, Ray Genet, on Joe’s ascent of Mt. McKinley with his dog team in 1979.

Rick Swenson placed 4th in the 1980 Iditarod.  Rick stated that the toughest parts of the trail during that race were ‘from Rohn to Nikolai’ because it was slow going due to the lack of snow and bare spots and from ‘Ophir to Ruby’ because there was deep snow.   To keep warm, Rick wore Gortex outer wear and the standard parka, mukluks, gloves, and a fur hat.  He used a Tim White toboggan.  During the race, he fed his dogs lamb, hamburger meat, cream cheese, honey, dog food, beaver and fish.  For his personal food, Rick took along pizza, steaks, and chicken.  According to the 1981 Iditarod Race Annual, Rick estimated that the cost of running Iditarod was around $8,000. The entry fee for 1980 was $625.  In 1981 the entry fee was $1,049.

In the 1987 Trail Annual, Duane ‘Dewey’ Halverson, who took 5th place in the 1986 Iditarod said this, “I watched Rick Swenson in action at some of the checkpoints.  He’s poetry in motion.  He received the ‘Most Professional Musher’ award in 1986, that’s the one I’d like to get in 1987.”  Dewey had advice for rookies, too.  “Don’t worry about what you’ve been through, just deal with what is ahead.”  Dewey also said, “I don’t approve of the  ‘40 below, we don’t go’ slogan.  I think it’s an abuse of the good nature of all the volunteer checkpoint people, just waiting for all the mushers to get through the checkpoint.  The Iditarod is called the ‘Last Great Race,’ not the ‘Last Great Rest.’”


Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod…

Kenneth Huston of the Sheffield Hotel in Anchorage, flew to Nome prior to the 1984 Nome Banquet with 700 pounds of meat, gallons and gallons of salads, crates of cauliflower, cases of green beans and 25 flats of fresh strawberries. Kenneth was a chef and his job when arriving in Nome was to cook for the 1,000 plus people who attended the Nome Banquet. Huston did his final cooking at the Nome High School. ‘Baron of Beef and Virginia Baked Ham’ were on the menu. The race rules back then required the banquet to be held on the evening of the third day after the first musher crossed the finish line on Front Street. Dean Osmar was the winner of the 1984 race.

1984 Route, from the 1985 Trail Annual,

1984 Route, from the 1985 Trail Annual,

The 1983 and 1984 banquets were coordinated by Rick Virden of Alaska National Bank.  The banquet was held at Nome’s new recreation center.  The event was a join treat by Alaska National Bank of the North, Alaska Airlines, and the Exxon Company. The plan was to donate the proceeds from the banquet back to the Iditarod.  The packed crowd at the banquet enjoyed the meal and stories from the trail.  Everyone said the banquet was, “Great food, good music, and good fun!”

Under the burl arch on Front Street in Nome, on March 23, 1984, Iditarod finisher, Rick Atkinson and Carole Robertson, both of Great Britain, were married by the local magistrate.  The sun was shining on this cold and windy afternoon.  The arch was decorated with flags of Great Britain, Norway, Canada, and the United States.  1984 finisher Kari Skogen was the Maid of Honor.  Larry ‘Cowboy’ Smith, of Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, who had raced in Iditarod, too, was the Best Man. Mayor Leo Rasmussen gave the Bride away.  Following the ceremony, 30 – 40 guests celebrated at the Nugget Inn, toasting the future of the Bride and Groom.

‘Someone once said’, as quoted from the 1985 Iditarod Trail Race Annual, “The mushers in the back are important; if they weren’t there, we couldn’t have any first place winners.”

In 1983, Iditarod Trail Headquarters in Wasilla became a reality!  Through the hard work of Representative Ron Larson of Palmer, the state legislature approved a $300,000 grant to build permanent headquarters in Wasilla.  A 9.7 acre section of land at Mile 2.5 on the Knik Road was chosen as the building site and Headquarters location.  A building committee was appointed to design and build a suitable building and visitor’s center.  During this time, Iditarod Headquarters was located on the second floor of Teeland’s Country Store in Wasilla and the phone number was 376-5155….

From the 1985 Iditarod Trail Annual… “Volunteers keep the Iditarod Going!  Each year, the number of volunteers involved in the Iditarod is growing.  In 1984, there were over 1,000 people who volunteered their time to the race.  Some volunteer all during the year.  Others work only at race time.  Volunteers from all over the state make the race happen.  Some volunteers are professional people who take time off from their practices to act as veterinarians; others take vacation time to act as pilots and HAM operators.  Rather than go to sunny Hawaii or Old Mexico, others opt to be checkers at such lonely places as Rohn or Sulatna Crossing.  Others answer phones in the headquarters office in Wasilla or race headquarters offices in Anchorage, Eagle River, Juneau, Fairbanks, and Nome to keep people informed about the race.  In Nome, the computer classes in the Jr. and Sr. high school gets involved.  Without all these volunteers, scattered all across the state, we couldn’t have the Iditarod race.  They provide what we call “the spirit of the Last Great Race.”

The Honorary Musher in 1985:  Bill Egan:   Governor William ‘Bill’ Egan, reached the end of his trail in 1984.  His political career spanned almost 35 years, from the days he served as a Territorial representative and senator to the days he served as Alaska’s first Governor and later won a second term.  Bill was born October 8, 1914 in Valdez where he spent his boyhood and youth and returned after World War II to open a general mercantile store.  He married Neva McKettrick in 1940.  Bill began his involvement with Iditarod in 1966 when he met Joe Redington, Sr. and Dorothy Page at the Alaska State Fairgrounds at a log cabin Iditarod booth.  “If there’s ever anything I can do to help you,” he had told Joe and Dorothy, “just let me know.”  Joe and Dorothy called on him many times.  Governor Bill Egan was remembered at the banquet and with ‘bib 1’.  This was the first time a non-musher was awarded the honor of being the honorary musher at the start of the Iditarod.

Finishing in 45th place and as the Red Lantern in the 1984 Iditarod was Bill Mackey, son of Dick Mackey, the 1978 Champion and brother of Rick Mackey, the 1983 Champion. (and brother to Lance!) Upon reaching Nome, he had only 2 hours to get ready for the second banquet at the Mini Convention Center.  “I don’t mind being last.  I made it!” (1985 Iditarod Trail Annual)

Ed Borden finished 44th in the 1984 Iditarod.  Ed was from Birmingham, Alabama but was working in Soldotna for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  Most of his dogs were from the ‘Alabama Gang’.  He wasn’t satisfied with sprint races ‘outside’ and had begun training for Iditarod in 1982.  Ed was a former race car driver. He had a little bad luck at Rabbit Lake when he turned his back on the team to get a cup of hot chocolate.  The team discovered some nearby dog food.  They were on the food in a second to enjoy a delicious meal. They ate until they couldn’t eat any more and were so full, they didn’t want to leave.  The food and the heat of the day made the dogs sleepy. Departure was delayed and after some time, Ed finally put his ‘Alabama’ dogs in the front of the team, with ‘Queenie’ in the lead, the team got going again.

David Scheer arrived in Nome in 41st place in 1984 with a time of 1708:53:05.  Prior to the race, he listed his occupation as dog handler, waiter, sled builder, and snowshoe maker.  At the end of the race, he added, “1984 Iditarod Finisher” to his occupations.

During Jim Lanier’s first Iditarod in 1979, Lanier raised funds for the new Thermal Unit at Providence Hospital for victims of burns and frostbite.  Pledges ran from a penny to a dollar a mile.  Lanier earned about $14,000 for the hospital by finishing the race.  Later that year, the hospital had a ‘Dr. Lanier Day,’ honoring Lanier and his dog team for their efforts.


Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod… On January 20, 1981…

Photo by Bill Devine, 1981 Iditarod Trail Annual

Photo by Bill Devine, 1981 Iditarod Trail Annual

Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod… On January 20, 1981, Joe Redington, Sr., Herbie Nayokpuk, and Col. Norman Vaughan represented Alaska in the inaugural parade for President Ronald Reagan.  The residents of Washington D.C. and everyone at the parade got to see three Alaskan dog teams mushing down Pennsylvania Avenue.  The teams, arranged in a “V” formation with one in the lead trailed by two in tandem, had no problems along the 2.5 mile parade route.

Because the dogs were exposed to sights and sounds they hadn’t heard before, (marching bands, teams of horses) each team had a handler assisted the team by holding the leash that was on the lead dog.  The handlers were a part of the support team.  Those helping with the project included, “Flying Tigers Airlines” and “Hall’s Motor Express.”  The Flying Tigers transported Vaughn and the 1978 Iditarod Champion, Dick Mackey, who was one of the handlers, and the dogs to Philadelphia.  The dogs were then trucked to Washington by Hall’s Motor Express.  Walter Hughes, a Maryland farmer, who had no connection with Alaska, volunteered to put up the dogs on a farm that was 30 minutes drive from Washington.

Vern Hill of Knik, (a sled builder and Iditarod supporter) built the three sleds used in the parade.  The sleds were equipped with wheels and special breaks.  B & J Store in Wasilla donated nine 7 inch wheels for the sleds.  (These sleds were the kind used on wheelbarrows.)  These sleds were then donated to Joe Redington and the Iditarod Trail Committee to be auctioned off at the March 5 Iditarod Banquet in Anchorage.

Lolly Medley made the harnesses for the dogs.   Bill Devine made the hand painted signs that were on the sleds and the signs on the dog boxes.  Dave Olson loaned his dog box to the expedition and trucked it to Anchorage to be loaded.  The State of Alaska paid the expenses for Joe, Vi, and Elizabeth and Herbie Nayokpuk.  Tiger Airlines paid for Vaughan.

On January 18, three of the dogs were stolen from the farm, (Joe’s dogs, Feets and Candy, and Vaughan’s lead dog, Joey) but they were recovered before the parade.

The entire Iditarod delegation dressed in formal attire for the inaugural ball.  They met Alaska’s delegation, Congressman Don Young, Senator Stevens, and Senator Murkowski along with other dignitaries and movie stars.


The Ultimate Experience

The Wards at the ReStart

The Wards at the ReStart

By Ed Ward

I wouldn’t have thought that the Iditarod “Ultimate Experience” could possibly be an understatement.  Then I tried it.

Now, months later, still organizing the hundreds of photos and the hours of video, it’s the memories that aren’t captured in pictures and videos that are the hardest to sort out.  Most of them involve the people we met.

The pictures capture the dramatic beauty of the land, starting with the prolonged sunset of a westbound flight to Anchorage over the mountains, with pink light giving way to blue shadows, the dramatic contrast of the sea meeting the mountains at Anchorage, the views from a bush plane that put the “wild” in wilderness, and the intense, clear blue of the sky that immediately makes everyone assume your pictures are Photoshopped.  Can’t be helped.

But it’s the glimpses into the people, beneath what the camera can see, that are the most memorable.  Coincidentally, two of the most vivid memories involve Lance Mackey.

One was when my wife and I, as part of the Ultimate Experience, had our photo taken with all the mushers after their official group photograph.  We watched them being patiently posed, and then we were called forward to join them, champagne flutes in hand.  Two in the center of the group shot graciously scooted over so we could take their chairs, and others adjusted to other seats or the floor to make room.

After the shot, the group was released from their pose, and suddenly we were in the middle of a milling mass of Iditarod mushers, many of whom I had been following on the Web and on documentaries for years.  There were familiar faces all around, and all chatting easily with each other and with us.

Then my wife tapped my shoulder and said, “There’s someone here who’s waiting to speak to you.”  I turned to face Lance Mackey, winner of the previous four consecutive Iditarods.  It took a moment to process:  he was waiting patiently to talk to me.

Then he extended his hand and thanked me for my support of the race.  I get to have my picture taken and have real conversations with a crowd entirely composed of my Iditarod heroes, and one of them is thanking me.

It was a theme that I heard a number of mushers express to many of us Iditaphiles, who were assembled for the race.  In the following banquets and meetings, I would hear mushers warmly thanking Iditariders, volunteers, and auction bidders for their support of the sport that means so much to them.

Another surreal moment was when I was the “official checker” for the first 5 teams into the Rainy Pass checkpoint.  Linda, the head checker, casually reviewed the essential steps with me:  get the musher’s name and bib number, log the official time in, and get the musher’s signature.  How hard can that be?

Then a small, Jiminy Cricket voice reminds me that the mushers have spent months – sometimes years – of time, effort, and money to reach this checkpoint on this day.  The voice within says, “Don’t screw it up.  Don’t cost them all of that, just because you didn’t do this right.”

The first team pops out of the trees at the other end of the lake, gliding silently and apparently effortlessly toward the checkpoint.  My checkpoint.  The voice is now resounding:  “Name, bib number, time, signature.  Don’t screw it up.”

I can hear the swoosh of the runners over the snow as the sled rushes up to the checkpoint, where I stand with my clipboard and official check-in sheet.  “Remember:  name, bib number, time, signature.”

Abruptly, the sled stops, and the musher brushes back his fur-trimmed hood.  Suddenly, I’m staring into the unmistakable face of Lance Mackey, the man whose hand I had shaken as he thanked me for my support, and whose autographed book I have read a couple of times.

A bullhorn in my head is now screaming, “Don’t screw up!”

He looks at me and nods slightly, apparently recognizing me.  My big moment.  All I can hear in my head is “Name, bib, time, signature.”  I manage to look in Lance’s face and stammer, “Name?”

For a second, he stares at me, apparently looking for some sign that I’m joking. Another long second passes.  And another.  It seems forever.  Then he breaks into that trademarked easy smile and says “Mackey.”

All the other check-ins were just as exciting, but considerably less intimidating.  The voice within was finally still.

This is just one story of the hundreds I lived in person with the world’s friendliest people – the volunteers and participants of the Iditarod.  This year is the 40th Iditarod and not to be missed.  If you are a fan of the Iditarod, you must try this adventure, if you can.  There is nothing like it anywhere for a fan of dogs, mushers, dogsledding, the outdoors, and the Iditarod.

Be the next to take the Ultimate Experience!  Learn more at this link!


Remembering 40 Years… From the 1988-89 Archives

The honorary musher for the 1988 Iditarod was “Muktuk” Marston.  Elsie Marston, his wife, led the pre race festivities and cut the ribbon at the start of the race.  “Muktuk’s” nick name came due to his success in a muktuk eating contest.  Marston was very active in working towards Alaska’s statehood.

Placing 15th in the 1988 Iditarod, Bill Cotter, of Nenana had a total time of 14:01:33:18.  Bill had come from New Hampshire to Alaska in 1970.  Bill was a school teacher – turned musher, “I’m a professional dog musher now.  I’ve raced dogs for 15 years.  I ran the Iditarod in 1975 and 1977 and wanted to see the trail again,” as quoted from the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual.  What did Bill eat along the Iditarod Trail in 1988?  He’d packed pizza and bagels and cream cheese.  Bill stated that the toughest part of the race was going without sleep.  In an interview with a reporter from KNOM, Bill stated that this was his first race in 11 years and that the race was much the same but went at a faster pace. “The changes in Iditarod were enormous.  The quality of the teams has improved greatly.  And everyone is up on the latest equipment and technology.  It’s absolutely incredible!”  Going on to give advice to rookies, Bill said, “Take it easy and don’t overrun your dogs.”  (2011 update:  Over the years, Bill signed up for 20 Iditarod races.)

Jacques Philip of By-Thomery, France, placed 14th in the 1988 Iditarod.  He also raced in 1985 and 1987, using mostly Joe Redington dogs.  Philip was a medical doctor.   His wife, Claire, ran the Iditarod, too.  As a matter of fact, they were the first married couple to finish the Iditarod in the same year, 1985.  Philip’s interest in running the race came about after he helped Earl and Natalie Norris prepare a team for the 1980 Iditarod.   (Update:  Both Jacques and Claire ran Iditarod multiple times, Jacques, signing up 9 times, latest finish 2006, scratched 2007, and Claire, 4 times, the latest, 1993 with a 13th place finish.)

Having won three Jr. Iditarod races before entering the Iditarod as a rookie in 1985, according to the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, Tim Osmar listed his hobbies as mushing and hunting.  He told a reporter at the start of the 1988 race, “This year, I have only one position in mind.  I’m optimistic.  It’s hard to say who will win.  It’s a long race.  There are advantages with traveling with the front runners.  There’s companionship and you can take turns in the lead, too.  It helps your dogs’ heads.”  But, along with many other mushers, Susan Butcher left competitors miles behind her on the wind-swept Bering Sea coast and claimed her third consecutive victory.  (2011 Update: Tim has raced in Iditarod 23 times!)

Harry Sutherland placed 19th in the 1988 Iditarod having raced in 1976 (taking 3rd place), 1978, 1981, and 1987.  (He also raced in in1990) In the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, he was quoted as having once said, “I want to run the Iditarod to be back among my friends and to meet the challenges of ‘testing our swords’ and enjoying the race.”  He had raced in the Yukon Quest 19 84 – 1986 and got back to the Iditarod because he missed Iditarod.

Jerry Austin placed 11th in the 1988 Iditarod.  In the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, his jobs were listed as a pilot, a big game guide, a trapper, a commercial fisherman, and a barge company manager for Yutana Barge Lines.  He had come from the state of Washington in 1969 and had a degree in political science.  At one time, he served as mayor of ST. Michael and his address was Number One Iditarod Road.  Jerry was quoted as saying, “I race Iditarod because it has become a way of life and a challenge to our whole family.” Jerry became interested in the Iditarod by helping Carl Huntington, the 1974 Champion get ready for the race.

During the 1988 Iditarod, Jerry Austin used two sleds, a Rick Swenson sled and one made by Al Marple.  He fed his dogs Eukanuba Plus and cooked on an alcohol burner.  For his personal food, Jerry ate steaks, chicken, and tator tots.

Matt Desalernos, who had moved to Alaska from California in 1977 and was a mining engineer working for Alaska Gold Company in Nome, fed his dogs Iams, fish, lamb, and beef.  He used a Ray Lang Cooker.  Matt’s was called, Matt ‘The Miner’ Desalernos.  His advice to rookie mushers was to “get some veteran dogs for your team.”  Early in the 1988 race, Matt told a KNOM reporter, “My team is used to all kinds of stuff.  I’ve trained them to go through anything.  I put about 1,500 miles on most of the dogs,” before the race.  Matt finished in 20th place during the 1988 race and 12th in the 1989 race.  Matt had raced in 1986 – 87, placing 39th and 16th.  He also raced 1990 – 1995.  His best finish was 7th place in 1993.

Bill Hall got interested in racing in Iditarod after being a HAM Operator.  He began mushing in 1977.  After the 1988 race, Bill stated, “I saw the race from the middle of the pack.  I learned about the end of the race from an old vet and a storm on the coast.”

Darwin McLeod placed 22nd in the 1988 Iditarod.  Before racing, he said, “I have always wanted to run the Iditarod.  I thank God I’m finally getting a chance this year.  I have an outstanding dog team and my team should be proven after competing in two 200 mile races this year.”  He placed 2 spots out of the money but ran a pretty good race.  This was his rookie year and the only time he raced in Iditarod, however in 1987, he had won the Tustumena 200 and placed 4th in the KSMR Open Sprint Race.  He had moved from Texas to Alaska in 1968 and listed his occupation as  a commercial fisherman.

While on a parachute rafting expedition on the Skwentna River in 1979, Horst Maas, a teacher from Lenz, Austria, got interested in  the Iditarod.  He began mushing in 1984.  That year, he followed the Iditarod mushers to Nome using skis and a dog team.  This took him 21 days to accomplish.  He arrived in Nome with all 8 dogs with which he started.  In 1987, he took his dogs to the Himalayas in West Tibet, crossing West Tibet at an altitude of mostly 4,500 meters. “I raced and mushed mostly on frozen rives,” he said in the 1989 Iditarod Race Annual.  Horst placed 23rd in 1988, the only year he ran Iditarod.

After hearing stories from Martin Buser, Earl and Natalie Norris, and others, Peter Thomann of Tagish Yukon Territory, Canada, (originally from Switzerland) set his goal of racing in Iditarod. Peter finished in 49th place in 1986.  During the 1987 race, Peter had to be flown from Shaktoolik to the hospital because of frostbitten hands.  After undergoing physical therapy in Switzerland through the summer, he returned to Tagish to continue his training.  He placed 28th in the 1988 Iditarod.  Prior to racing in Iditarod, Peter and his wife, Heidi, had dominated European racing.  In the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, it stated that Peter, who had been an architect in Switzerland for 27 years and a member of the Swiss Association of Architects and Engineers, listed his hobbies as mushing dogs, jazz and classical music, literature, and cooking.

“I was all my life an outdoor person.  I like the beauty of nature, especially in Alaska.  I like to challenge the weather.  I love animals, and feel that I am in harmony with nature,” stated Conrad Saussele, who had been born in Germany in 1936 and moved to Alaska in 1967.  He had been a self-employed landscaper and spoke in his quaint German accent.  “I looked down and saw all those little feet.  All those little feet.  How many little steps all the way to Nome?  And to think of how I got to Nome—- Shoosh— in a jet plane!  And I watched those little feet.  I wanted to travel to Nome that way!”  But not having a dog team, his solution?  He leased a team from Joe Redington, Sr. and began to train.  He entered the 1988 Iditarod and finished the race in 29th position.  During the race, his personal food was gourmet!  He had beef stew, pot roast, and home-made bread, all fixed by his wife, Inga, and stored in Seal-A-Meal bags.

Trail Breaking Snowmachiner Rescued by 6 Mushers… Driving a new 350 pound Polaris long track snowmachine, Don Burt, a long time Iditarod volunteer who was a trail breaker in 1988, had an accident going into Dalzell Gorge.  It was snowing a heavy, wet snow when on the 4th day of the race he left Rainy Pass and then entered the Dalzell Gorge at a narrow entrance, about 12 feet wide.  He saw open water so he drove over an ice ridge on one side.  The bridge gave way and suddenly the snowmachine was upside down in 3 ½ feet of water.  He stood on top of the snowmachine track and waited knowing that mushers would soon be coming through the gorge.  Jan Masek arrived and began to help Burt.  Jerry Austin, Levon Barve, Susan Butcher, and Jacques Philip soon arrived as well.  Snow was shoveled and mushers helped upright the snowmachine.

Don took a short break, poured water out of his bunny boots, wrung the water out of his socks, and went back to work.  One of the mushers hooked his dog team to the snowmachine.  The other mushers got behind the snowmachine and pushed.  Jerry Austin helped get the snowmachine going and Burt drove it slowly up the steep hill.  “When I reached the top, I looked down and all the mushers were clapping and cheering.  I thought I had made it but there wasn’t much snow and I didn’t get much traction.  Then I rolled over the edge and turned over and over four times before settling on the slushy bottom.”  To the rescue, Rick Swenson, who hooked his snowhook to the snowmachine and pulled it up a steep hill, sideways.

*The majority of these tidbits come directly from the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual – as written and as told by those involved in the 1988 – 89 Iditarod races.  Compiled by Diane Johnson.


Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod… From the 1989 Trail Annual

DSCF6448Gordon Brinker placed 44th in the 1988 Iditarod. His time was 18:07:44:07.  Gordon came to Alaska from Oregon in 1979.  He lived in Shell Lake- where the historic Iditarod Trail ran right behind his house, which prompted a natural interest in racing.  The Shell Lake musher was a surveyor for F. Robert Bell and Associates in Anchorage. Gordon ran the Jr. Iditarod in 1981, 1982, and 1983.  In 1984, he entered but scratched from Iditarod.  In 1986, he finished the race.  In 1987 he scratched because he was very sick.  “The people of Shell Lake are very enthusiastic about the Iditarod and created a “First Person to Shell Lake Award”, giving the musher an amount of money, the sum collected before the first musher arrives.  Martin Buser won this award in 1988.  He got $100.”  Resource, 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual

The first woman from England to enter Iditarod was Lesley Anne Monk.  She placed 45th and won the Red Lantern in 1988 with a total time of 19:13:22:55. Prior to entering in the Iditarod, Leslie ran sprint races in Britain.  When she came to the United States, she worked with Harris Dunlap, a sprint racer, and in 1986-87, she worked with Harry Sutherland as a dog handler when he was training for Iditarod. “I gave up hairdressing to devote time to training registered Siberian Huskies,” she said.  Leslie’s husband, Roy, went to McGrath to welcome her at the time he thought she would arrive.  Two days later, Roy was still waiting.  He was sleeping on the floor of the checkpoint across from the HAM radio operator’s station.  People offered him more comfortable sleep arrangements but he wasn’t interested in anything different because he wanted to be right there in case she arrived in the early morning hours.  He bedded down on the floor for a third night saying, “I was supposed to be back in Anchorage yesterday.  I have no idea what’s keeping her.”  Later he found out that she’d camped in a bad storm along with several other rookies.   After Leslie reached Nome as the Red Lantern, a reporter stated that since Susan Butch won the race and Leslie was the Red Lantern, ‘women bookended this race.’ (Resource, 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual)

DSCF6451The 11th annual Junior Iditarod was held in 1988.  This 150 mile race was held on February 27 and 28.  The race started at Settlers Bay and went to Yentna Station Roadhouse where the mushers took a 10 hour layover.  The 14 mushers (nine boys and 5 girls) cooked for their dogs and camped out.  Dan Flodin of Chugiak was the 1988 Champion.   The other mushers in finishing order were, Sherri Hummer, Anchorage, Laird Barron, Jade Lake, Lance Mackey, Wasilla, Jared Jones, Wasilla, Bobbi Jo Scott, Houston, Stanley Walker, Grayling, Tim Patten, Grand Marais, MN, Jason Barron, Jade lake, Jason Mackey, Wasilla, Julia Flodin, Chugiak, Aimee Bettine, Glenallen, William Ferguson, Wasilla, and Nissa Anderson, Trapper Creek.  This was the 4th Jr. Iditarod that Dan raced.  His lead dog, Twenty Grand, was the same lead dog that his father, Steve Flodin, used when he ran Iditarod.

The 1988 Race Headquarters was the Clarion Hotel in Anchorage.   The beautiful furnishings were removed from the hospitality room and replaced with 6 conference tables.  The room was equipped with ten telephones, two record-a – phones, a copy machine dontated by The Office Place, a Macintosh Plus computer, a coffee maker donated by Quality Coffee Service, and a microwave oven brought in by one of the volunteers.  About 50 volunteers used this equipment, answering phones 17 hours a day for over two weeks.  Helen Roberts came on board at the last minute to supervise this operation.  Additional space on the 3rd floor was donated for the HAM Operators to work and for the computer people.  The computer operators, using equipment donated by ComputerLand and Alaska MicroSystems, and software designed by students at the Nome Beltz High School and other software developed by Bill Hutchison of Anchorage, logged all the information into computers as it when it came in from the trail by radio.  Print outs of race information were used by those answering the phones so they could give correct information to those that called the phone room.  People from all over the United States called the phone room.  There were always at least 5 volunteers working the phone lines. Most of the volunteers at headquarters were from Alaska, but there were three from out of state.  ‘And what would Iditarod be without “Speedy”, who for the umpteenth year had taken leave from his duties in the British army.  It didn’t take long for his, “Can I help thee?” to become very familiar to those calling headquarters for information.  The volunteers also kept an updated chart with in and out times and checkpoint information.  This was enjoyed by the hotel guests who made repeat visits to race headquarters to keep up with the race news.  The record-a – phones were updated every hour.  Race fans enjoyed getting the recorded messages.    During the late afternoons, students from Romig Junior High School worked a special student phone line.  Many Anchorage schools assigned special projects for students to do during the race.  Gail Somerville, a teacher at Denali Elementary School was a supervisor for the students. (Resource: 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual)

DSCF6467John Patten placed 18th in the 1988 Iditarod.  He called himself ‘The Mineral Ice Team.’ John was a manufacturer, clothing designer, and retailer.  He owned Sawtooth Mountain Sled Dog Works for three years.  Although John was a rookie in the 1988 Iditarod, he wasn’t a rookie musher.  He’d won the first John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and had finished the All Alaska Sweepstakes race in 1983 as well as many other races.  Prior to the 1988 race, John said, “Competing in the Iditarod is the next step in a life-long love affair with wilderness-related adventures.”   After crossing the Dalzell Gorge in 1988, John said, “I got on the ice at the Dalzell Gorge and it was shaped like a big platter, sloped in the m idle with a bunch of water in it.  I guess I needed a bath.  Once I told the dogs to get rolling they took me right out.  It was a warm day, not something dangerous.  Then I came around the bend and saw this photographer up there.  And, I thought, that’s kind of a dumb place to stand.  So I tried a couple of poses and all of a sudden, we were on the ice and now I know why the photographer was there!  Then I floundered and struggled and grabbed for trees.  Now somebody wil have this picture of me and people will see it across Alaska or across the country. I’ll be the most famous bather in the country this winter.”

Robin Jacobson placed 10th in the 1988 Iditarod.  He handled dogs for Gary Paulsen from Minnesota for the 1985 Iditarod.   His rookie year was 1987and received the Rookie of the Year Award.  (A trophy and a check for $1,500 donated by Clara and Jerry Austin of St. Michael.)  At the start of the 1988 race, Robin told a reporter that “The main thing I learned my rookie year was to not sleep a lot! I am more mentally prepared this year and I am coming back with some knowledge and skills and hope to improve my finish.”  Finishing in 10th place, he met his goal.

Lucy Nordlum, Kotzebue, placed 13th in the 1988 Iditarod. Lucy was the Rookie of the Year, earning the $1,500 and trophy donated b y Clara and Jerry Austin of St. Michael.   She listed her occupations as commercial fisherman.  Her husband, Roger, listed his occupations as a miner, pilot, and fisherman.  Roger had run in the 1977 Iditarod and had earned the name, “The Kotzebue Drifter.”  (Roger ran other Iditarods, too, and had served as a Board of Director for the Iditarod Trail Committee.)  Lucy began mushing in 1978.

*The images in this article come from the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual.  Official Artists are listed as Bill Devine and Jon Van Zyle.  The majority of these tidbits come directly from the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual – as written and as told by those involved in the 1988 – 89 Iditarod races.  Compiled by Diane Johnson.


Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod… 1988 – 1989

DSCF6361Jan Masek placed 12th in the 1988 Iditarod.  Masek escaped from Czechoslovakia in as stolen race car.  He came to the United States in 1967.  Masek began mushing in 1969.  During the 1984 race, Masek married Beverly Jerue of Anvik at the Finger Lake Checkpoint at the home of Gene and June Leonard.  That year, on Monday, March 5, Masek reached Finger Lake at 1:40 AM.  When Brian Johnson, a magistrate who was also running Iditarod, didn’t reach that checkpoint in time, Col. Norman Vaughan married Jan and Beverly.  Then Masek left to continue the race 24 hours later.  However, he eventually scratched from the race.

In 1978, Masek had helped Col. Norman Vaughan train for the Iditarod. That led to his decision to want to race it himself.  When leaving for Nome at the start of the 1988 race, Masek said, “I like to see lots of snow and bad trail.”  That is exactly what he got!  Jan Masek was one of the four mushers who rescued Don Burt, one of Iditarod’s trail breaking snowmachiners.  Burt had fallen through an ice bridge into the water.  Austin, Barve, and Philip were the other 3 mushers to rescue Burt.  Swenson helped pull the snowmachine up a steep hill. (According to the 1989 Iditarod Race Annual)

Peter F. Kelly finished 41st in the 1988 Iditarod.  In the 1989 Iditarod Race Annual, Kelly shared information:  Prior to the start of the race, Kelly had 1,300 miles on his team.  He fed them Iams, turkey and turkey skins, beef, chicken, liver, salmon, and honey balls.  A sponsor, Ha very Burges and his family from Fox, gave him a Swenson Cooker to cook dog food.  For his personal food, Kelly had wonderful meals packed in Seal A Meal bags and homemade bread donated by teachers, family, and friends. “My personal food was perfect,” Kelly said, “probably the best part of my race.  I’m sure some checkers and veterinarians can attest to that.  I used a toboggan sled built by Dave Olson of Knik.” Peter also recalled that after leaving White Mountain, “I had traveled about two hours when I met a snowmachine official form ITC who said that the wind was blowing 70 miles per hour and that we shouldn’t go over Topkok and down on the coast ton None but instead we should stop at the shelter cabin right before the top of Topkok.  So Tim ‘the Mowth’ Mowry and I pulled into the cabin before dark.  It was a beautiful sunset.  Mowth and I felt pretty high entering the cabin.  We had just caught four teams we had been following for 700 miles.  We opened the door to the cabin and these four mushers who had been trapped in a storm and thought they might die.  They were cold, frostbitten, and tired.  So much for catching four teams and thinking you’re a big shot!”  Peter Kelly gave advice for rookies entering the Iditarod, “Learn the trail on your fist race and have some fun.  Meet some people on the trail.  It really is a GREAT RACE.  Every musher gets his or her entry fee’s worth of excitement.”

Kelly had been a special education teacher and lived near Hatcher Pass in the Willow Creek Gold Mining District.  He took a leave of absence from the Matanuska- Susitna Borough School District to train and run the race. When he decided to run the race, he had a lot of support and help from friends, family, Palmer High School, and Snowshoe Elementary School.

Kelly had come from Utah to Alaska in 1978.  After being intrigued by seeing the start of the Iditarod and following the race, he wanted to learn more.  “The dogs and distance just grabbed me.”  He got his first dogs from Dennis Boyer and started learning about driving a dog team, by running 6 dogs.

DSCF6357In the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, Tim Mowry, a sportswriter for the FRONTIERSMAN and a rookie in the 1988 race, shared this information: Like many mushers, Tim made honey balls for the dogs, using Redington’s recipe.  Tim thawed the beef, laid plastic bags in the bath tub, dumped in all the ingredients and began stirring.  The mixture turned into a sticky, gooey, ‘life form.’ Then he put on some dish washing gloves and prepared to roll honey balls to the exact size the recipe called for.  He packed the material into a ball but it disintegrated.  The process repeated itself a few more times and Tim decided something was missing. Eventually he packed the goo into plastic bags and plopped them unto the patio.  He never had a chance to try the honey balls during the race.  Tim’s nick name was ‘the Mowth’.

Tim ‘the Mowth’ Mowry shared this in the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, February 18 was food drop day in Anchorage, “Maybe it was an omen, or maybe it wasn’t, but I took the red lantern for the Iditarod food drop shipment, edging out Herbie Nayokpuk.  We pulled into the Anchorage drop-off point with two pickup trucks loaded with supplies weighing 2,364 pounds.  For two days, my handler and I had diced up frozen meat for the dogs in our office parking lot, first with electric saws and then with chain saws. At one point, a man stopped to make sure we weren’t poachers.”

In the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, he tells us he sent out 2,364 pounds of supplies to the trail.  Here is what he sent  300 pounds of chicken,200 pounds of turkey, 200 pounds of beef, 200 pounds of turkey skins, 150 pounds of beef by-products, 400 pounds of commercial dog food, 200 pounds of white fish, 60 rolls of toilet paper, 200 assorted candy bars, 1,000 dog booties, 30 sets of gloves, 15 felt boot liners, 10 cans of beef jerky, 3 cases of fruit juice, 1 case of Lipton Cup a Soup, 1 case of hot chocolate, 75 D batteries, plus steak ,fried chicken, spaghetti and meat balls, roast beef, pizza, and other assorted meals all secured in Seal A Meal bags.  Tim added, “Of course, who knows what we forgot!”

According to the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, Tim ‘The Mowth’ Mowry decribed the feeling he had about the race, “I’m scared to death one minute and thrilled to death another.  Any way I look at it, the word death pops up.  No Musher has ever perished on the Iditarod Trail yet, so I shouldn’t be worried.  Besides that, John Gourley has assured me that the Iditarod Trail is paved.  But still, I’m haunted by a picture of me frozen stiff on the Yukon River, my face crusted with a thick layer of ice.”  ‘The Mowth’ placed 27th in 1989 with a time of 13d 21h 19m 9s, bettering his 1988 race time of 18d 7h 21m 41s.

Continuing with quote from ‘The Mowth’ Tim Mowry, speaking about the 1988 Iditarod and mushing on the Yukon River, “A warm and gorgeous amber sunset over the Ruby Hills was our welcome mat to the cold and cruel Yukon.  A ground blizzard served as our goodbye.  This is the place that one musher told me was ‘the coldest place God created on the face of this earth’.  It didn’t disappoint me; we spent three days on the Yukon and the temperature never reached zero.  The last two days, going into Nulato and Kaltag, we battled ground blizzards on the river.  Each day we lost the trail only to find a half-covered snowmachine track that led back to the main trail.  My leader, Freckles, was our savior.  He never wavered.  He stuck to the trail like glue.”  When Tim reached Nome, the headline in the Frontiersman read:  “Tim Mowry, ‘The Mowth,’ makes it to Nome with fingers and toes intact.”

Interesting trivia…  In the 1988 Iditarod, Tim Mowry was the only musher who left Anchorage in the same position he was in when he reached Nome.  He drew position number 42 and finished in 42nd position.  (Source, 1989 Trail Annual)

Iditarod LogoEagle brand dog food has been on the trail keeping sled dogs healthy for a number of years!  Matt Ace, who placed 43rd in the 1989 race, fed Eagle Brand Dog Food plus beef, beaver, lamb, and pork fat.  During the race, Matt used an alcohol stove to cook the dog food.  He drove a Tim White sled that had been borrowed from Dave Aisenbrey.  “I broke the runner off just out of Unalakleet and traveled the rest of the way to Nome with one good runner.  I wore a parka made by Robin Chlupach and I loved it.  I also wore down pants and bunny boots.  I had a great pair of mittens.  They were beaver on the top with a Gor-Tex cover and several layers of different sized woolen mittens.  They were given to me by a friend, and upgraded by my mother. “When asked to give his advice to rookies, Matt said, “I’m still learning from my father and other mushers, so I don’t have a set training schedule yet.  But I will say from experience:  Keep your dogs happy and don’t over train them.  Take good care of your dogs, the very best you can.  And another thing, try your equipment before the race and don’t push too hard early in the race.”  Resource, 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual

For more information on Eagle Pack Dog Food, follow this link!

*The images of the boot and the Alaska map are from the Iditarod Trail Annual.

Article compiled by Diane Johnson, Resource: Iditarod Trail Annuals.


Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod… 1982 – 1985

From the 1984 Iditarod Trail Annual

From the 1984 Iditarod Trail Annual

Anne Patch of Homer was the administrative coordinator for the 1982 Iditarod.  She also served in that capacity in 1981 so brought a wealth of experience to the job in 1982. As administrative coordinator, Anne was in charge of the headquarters across the state, the mushers’ banquet in Anchorage, the awards ceremony in Nome, and communications, among other tasks.  Anne and Jim worked together compiling and distributing the musher’s packets, the checker’s packets, and the press packets.

Cpl. Peter “Speedy” Elstub, a member of English Army stationed in Viersen West Germany, made his first trip to Alaska in 1980 to see the end of the Iditarod race.  In 1982, he again returned to Nome.  Speedy was one of the Nome volunteers, working at headquarters during the nightshift.  Speedy kept his sleeping bag in the mini-convention center due to room shortage.  On the night the first mushers were expected to arrive, Speedy had his camera checked out, loaded with film, and had his flash bulbs ready to go.  He went to get a few hours of rest in the unheated back room of the mini.  In his good sleeping bag, he wasn’t bothered by the cold.  During the 1982 race finish, the Nome city siren didn’t work.  Speedy, who’d been told he couldn’t possibly miss the mushers arriving in Nome because of the siren, slept through the arrival of the first 7 mushers!   When he awoke from his nap, Speedy rushed out to take pictures of the 1982 finish, only to be devastated to find out what he’d missed!  Speedy had saved up his leave time, arranged to be in Nome months in advance, and had told all his buddies he’d take photos of the finish of the race, only to sleep through the most exciting part of the race.  What did he do?  He made arrangements to return to the 1983 race and secure a ‘wakeup call’ if necessary!

A few highlights from the 1982 race. . . Shortly after the race began, it started to snow and it just kept snowing.  Herbie Nayokpuk, Joe Redington, Sr., Larry ‘Cowboy’ Smith, Susan Butcher, and Mitch Seavey took the wrong turn near Skwentna and changed the whole complexion of the race.  Fresh snow slowed the progress from Knik through Rainy Pass and down onto the Kuskokwim.  Babe Anderson was the first musher into McGrath for an award and was welcomed home by members of his family and other race fans. Emmit Peters was the first musher to the half-way point at Innoko River Lodge at Cripple Landing. Peters was also the first musher to Ruby, his home, where he was wined and dined by the Bristol Bay Native Corporation and the Anchorage Westward Hilton.

Sketch by Bill Devine, 1983

Sketch by Bill Devine, 1983

Rookies Stan “Hip-Hip Zuray of Tanana, Dean Osmar of Clam Gultch, and Mitch Seavey kept up with the race leaders for some time.  At the Yukon, the front pack started to move ahead.  No one could foresee the stall from the storm that was about to happen!  The wind became the main competition as heavy snow, lost trail, and slow going plagued the mushers as they traveled off the Yukon and over the hills to Unalakleet.  Gusting winds up to 70 miles an hour and fresh snow brought the race to a screeching halt.  Teams stayed 50 to 60 hours waiting for winds to die down and visibility to be better than five feet!  While waiting, some mushers in Shaktoolik passed time by playing basketball.  The mushers lost to the ‘Shaktoolik Papas’ by a score of 55 to 54.  According to Emmitt Peters, someone forgot to wake him up and he missed the game.

Herbie Nayokpuk, who had open – heart surgery in October before the start of the race, broke loose and tried to make it through the storm to Koyuk, but 24 hours later, he was back in Shaktoolik. When there was finally a break in the storm, mushers headed out on the trail to continue the race.  More snow awaited the mushers as they got to White Mountain for their mandatory stop, causing more delays.  Waiting in Nome for the finish of the race was interesting!  Some people had to change their reservations not but once, but twice!  Some played cards and cribbage, listened to Hobo Jim’s Iditarod Trail Song until they knew all the words to the song, and others walked up and down Front Street.  Fans waited, ate, drank, and visited race headquarters trying to find out information about the race.  Even race officials had to make changes in plans.  The award ceremony date had to change when no mushers had arrived! The weather had caused logistical problems for race officials because they couldn’t get HAM operators into coastal villages.  Veterinarians and race officials had trouble moving along the trail, too.  The Iditarod Air Force planes had been grounded from Ruby to Nome.  Old Man Winter had called the shots of the 1982 Iditarod as fans waited to see who would make it to Nome first!

As mushers finally reached Safety it appeared there was going to be another photo finish.  But Swenson and his famous lead dog, “Andy” crossed the finish line first, Rick’s 4th championship race.  This was a sixteen day, four hour, forty minute, and ten second – tough going by a might tough group of competitors- finish of a race.  At the finish line, Rick said, “It was the best time I’ve had in seven races.  We got to do some camping this time, and the weather made it necessary for us to work together like we used to.”

Race Route 1983

Race Route 1983

According to the 1983 Iditarod Race Annual, Valerie Sobocienski of Nome, who along with her husband, Stan, operated the Bering Sea Saloon on Front Street, and was on hand to greet the 1982 Iditarod mushers.  She stated, “I’ve been at the finish line each year since the first race in 1973.  Our son, Colo, was a month old then and I wrapped him up good and drove the truck out to Farley’s fish camp to watch Dick Wilmarth, the 1973 Iditarod Champion, come in.  I was so excited I didn’t wait until he got to Front Street.  I went back to Farley’s camp later on when other mushers were coming.  I even gave directions to one musher on how to get to town.  His dogs were eager to finish the race, too.  They tried to get in the truck with me.”  Until he was old enough to go to the finish line by himself, Colo always accompanied his mother.  “I guess you could say he’s grown up with the Iditarod.  In 1982, the tenth annual Iditarod Trail Race, Colo watched the mushers come in by himself.  After all, it was the 10th Iditarod and Colo was ten years old, too!

In the 1983 Iditarod Race Annual, Al Crane, President of ITC in 1982 said, “We’ve come a long way, folks.  I say ‘we’ because I mean just that!  No single soul is totally responsible for our success, because the Iditarod is bigger than any individual or group, its mushers, or its board.  It’s a cause, a service, and a belief.  It’s Alaska and a dream that just for a moment takes everyone involved into a time and space together, all the factions, criticisms and praises are laid aside while the whole presentation troops through Alaska’s frontier from Anchorage to Nome.”

In the 1983 Iditarod Trail Annual, Bob Sept, then President of the ITC said, “For the past one million years, man has lived with dogs at his side.  For three weeks in March, man will once again return with his dogs to an existence that goes back into that past.  Nowhere can this reliance between man and dog be better experienced than by participating in the Iditarod Trail race.  The sled dogs are what the race is all about.  They have hearts that rarely say quit.  So, too, are the hearts of families and friends who support Iditarod mushers.  My heart goes out to each and every Iditarod sled dog, musher, and his or her family as this 1983 race is run.”

In 1885, ‘The High Plains Drifter’, Steve Cowper, was an Iditarod volunteer at Rabbit Lake. (Steve Cowper went on to become Governor of Alaska.) In the 1987 Iditarod Trail Annual, Cowper stated that his experience as checker at Rabbit Lake was a great experience. “It was a chance to turn back the hands of the clock to a bygone era. Roughing it in an old tent and spending hours cutting wood to feed the ever burning fire, were reminders of Alaska’s yesteryear.” Cowper stated he believed that the sport of dog mushing could only grow in stature and worldwide recognition.

*These snippets from Iditarod’s past are a part of our Iditarod archives, preserved in the Iditarod Trail Annuals.  Please keep in mind, we’re bringing these to you ‘as they were written’ back then, historically correct according to the publications, but not always 100% accurate in what might be politically correct to say today.  An example, Cpl. Peter “Speedy” Elstub, a member of English Army- would have been a member of the ‘British’ Army, not the English Army, but we’re bringing you information from these archives.

Compiled by Diane Johnson, Education Director


Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod

From the 1983 Trail Annual

From the 1983 Trail Annual

Jack Hooker, Montana, in the 1977 Iditarod Trail Annual recalled that he had a strange experience when he left Shaktoolik during the 1976 race.  He’d stayed overnight there and while hooking up the dogs to leave the next morning, he saw people on their way to church for a funeral.  As he mushed out of Shaktoolik, the strains of the funeral music seemed to follow him down the trail.  “That music haunted me for quite a few miles,” he said.  Pilot Larry Thompson flew Jack’s wife, Karen, from Nome to White Mountain to surprise Jack. When Jack arrived in White Mountain, he was so wrapped up in race details that he didn’t even recognize his wife, bundled up in an Alaska style parka. “I kept walking up to jack but he kept talking to Larry and backing away from me until I finally said, Hello Jack!  I wish you could have seen the look on his face when he recognized me!” Jack was the 19th musher to arrive in Nome in 1976. (19 days, 13 hours, 33 seconds) At the awards banquet in Nome, he was introduced “as the musher from Montana who put more miles on his dog truck then he did his dogs.”  He was awarded $360 in prize money.  His wife, Karen, received an award, too.  She was presented with an ivory Billikin, Alaska’s good luck charm.

Jerry Austin entered the 1976 Iditarod and finished in 23rd place. Although he’d had 5 years of mushing experience, this was his first race ever! Austin was well supplied with food during the race.  “King and silver salmon strips from Joe Aparezuk in Kotlik, coffee, tea, bacon, homemade soups and stews, frozen in plastic bags (I think Ford Reeves ate more of these than I did.) frozen whitefish and sheefish from Pat Kameroff and Joseph Mike in Kotlik, and ‘Pop Tarts’ by the hundreds!” Austin also said, “I hate to admit it, but I ate from my dog pot quite a bit as they were eating seal and fish, too.  I also had the best meal of the race from Tom Mercer’s dog pot in Rohn River.  It was dark and I didn’t ask him what was in it but it was meat in a really good oily broth.”

First day cachets commemorating the Iditarod and early day mail carriers were carried by mushers in the 1976 Iditarod. The commemorative envelopes were cancelled in Anchorage, packed in plastic bags, and distributed to the mushers for the sled ride to Nome, where they were back stamped. They later sold for 50 cents each at post offices throughout the nation. When mushers received their package of ‘mail’ it was to symbolize ‘in the old days’ when most of the mail in interior Alaska traveled by dog team. (Nome Kennel Club Project)

Howard Farley of Nome, raced in the 1973 Iditarod. “Mostly I just cruised along, enjoying the scenery, meeting people, and making plans to improve the 1974 race.”  The cold weather wasn’t a problem for Farley.  His wife Julie had made him and Eskimo style parka and two pairs of mukluks.  One pair was made of reindeer and the other sealskin.  This clothing “is the best thing to wear on the trail,” he said.  “A parka is more comfortable than anything else.   It’s loose, but warm.  There’s no buttons, zippers, or buckles to fool with.  The hood of my parka was lined with a Wolverine ruff.  In case I needed them I had a pair of sealskin pants with me.  I used the reindeer mucus in dry areas and the sealskin in wet areas.  I didn’t have any trouble with cold or wet feet during the race.”

In the 1976 Iditarod Race Annual, Dick Mackey said, “The big thing with dog mushing – most people don’t understand it.  They can follow a golf match OK on TV, but dog mushing is a little more complicated.  People want to see everything that’s going on, and there’s no way they can do that until they film the Iditarod on live TV.”

DSCF6277

From the 1983 Trail Annual

Essence of the Iditarod written by Bill Vaudrin, The Iditarod appeals to everything in me.  There are some parts you’ll never lose about waking up in your sled in the morning hundreds of miles out on the trail.  With eight or ten of your favorite dogs staked out around you in the snow for company:  Rousing yourself up to start a fire, and passing your eyes over all the incredible country stretched out to the horizon in every direction…maybe you pick out a pale green mountain in the distance, and warm your insides with the assurance that before you camp again, you’ll be on the other side of it, looking b ack.  And all the country in between – the hills and trees and rivers and valleys – well, all that country will be yours.  It will belong to you in a way that no one could ever annul or diminish, because you will have staked the only claim to it that the land itself recognizes:  you will have penetrated to the heart of it – and it will become a part of you.  Forever.

Col. Vaughan’s lead dog in the 1975 Iditarod was “Rabbit”.  Vaughan said that “only an unusual dog can accommodate the high speed of sprint races and then go on into a long distance race like Iditarod.  Rabbit is an unusual dog.  He never gets tangles and always responds to “Yak!”  Rabbit, a male Alaskan Husky, was born in New York.

Mitch Brazin (from St. Michael, Alaska) was an Iditarod rookie in the 1989 Iditarod.  He finished the race in 23rd place in 13 days 10 hours, 5 minutes, and 54 seconds.  Mitch was pleased with how his leaders, Sandra and Joy, and the rest of the team did during the race.

Stan Zuray of Tanana placed 9th in the 1982 Iditarod with a total time of 16:06:44:00.  He had a following of enthusiastic fans and a sign on his sled that read, “Hip, Hip, Zuray!”  He was the ‘Rookie of the Year’ and received $1,500 and a trophy.

In the 1983 Iditarod Trail Annual, Musher Representative on the Board of Directors, John Wood gave advice to rookie mushers, “Keep in an upbeat frame of mind.  One will be on the trail two weeks or more, and will be without sleep for extended periods of time and have very little sleep the rest of the time.  One might be uncomfortable or downright miserable.  It may be easy to slip into a funky or downcast mood.  Don’t do it!  Set your sights on an attainable goal and work towards it, whether it’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ award or just to complete the race.  Remember, your ability to complete the race hinges directly on your ability to properly manage and care for your dog team.”

John also said in the 1983 Trail Annual, “I have ventured forth on the ‘Last Great Race’ three times, 1978, 1979, and 1982.  I have passed beneath the hallowed burl arch that marks the finish of the Iditarod Trail race three times.  The total prize money I have earned is ZILCH!  I have unparalleled record of mediocrity.  But if one asks me if I plan to run the Iditarod again, I won’t just say “yes”, I’ll say “hell yes!” because to me, the Iditarod exemplifies adventure, excitement, competition, and camaraderie which is uniquely Alaskan.  No other event or activity can compare.  So if one is looking for a bit of old Alaska, is enterprising, athletic and an outdoors person searching for new adventures, do yourself a favor, get into sled dog racing.  Then it will get under your skin and you’ll be hooked, just like me.  And before you know what’s happened, you’ll be out mushing the Iditarod Trail to Nome, too.”

Glenn Findlay, of Australia, was a rookie in 1982.  After the race he stated, “The Iditarod is a link with the past, a truly different experience.  Except for the wind storm near Shaktoolik, it was much like I pictured it would be after talking to Joe Redington Sr.  I think I made good friends in Alaska.  I especially appreciate what Joe Redington did for me.  The people at the checkpoints were great, too.  They treated me just fine and provided good food to supplement mine.”

Compiled by Diane Johnson

* Resource:  Iditarod Trail Annual publications.


Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod. . .

Remembering 40 Years of Iditarod. . .  From our archives….

Conrad Saussele placed 29th int the 1988 Iditarod.  In the 1989 Iditarod Trail Annual, Conrad said, “There are beautiful things, glaciers up there, and bridges of ice.  The Farewell burn looks like a moon landscape.  What do you think about? (Conrad repeated this question from a reporter.) You think about whatever you like to think, without noise or interference.”  Upon reaching Nome in 1988, Conrad stated that he was proud of his dogs who had traveled “all those little steps” to bring him to Nome.

Finishing in 12th place in Iditarod 1988, Jan Masek, who was from Rustic Wilderness in Willow, stated to a KNOM reporter and the crowd in Nome, that he’d seen a man driving a snowmachine towing a horse on it.  No one really believed him until word reached Nome that a Golovin resident who herds reindeer by horse had been transporting the horse back to Golovin.  Masek said, “I was sure glad to hear that.  I was almost convinced I was seeing things.”

In 1976, Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters in Anchorage was at the Westward Hotel. Bill Devine of Anchorage was in charge of race headquarters which opened during the Fur Rendezvous and open through the end of the race. Headquarters was staffed by volunteers. A few of those volunteering that year were: Mary Barcot, Lois Brunk, Lorelie Eby, Monica Trammel, Gail DeLeo, Dorothy Page, Ada Weihart, and Dorothy Pegau. It’s time to salute the volunteers of the past and the present as we look forward working with those who are volunteering for this, the 40th running of the race!

From the 1976 Iditarod Trail Annual, Bill Vaudrin is quoted as having written, “Then, late in the afternoon, I saw what I don’t expect to see twice in my lifetime if I outlast my grandchildren.  Even though it was windy, the sun had been showing pretty strong most of the day.  There was a steady stream of blowing show about two feet deep over the entire face of the mountain.  I was traversing, and over all the hills.  It swirled and eddied and shifted, but never varied much in either its depth or cloud-like consistency.  The last thing before it started settling down behind the mountains for the night, the cold yellow rays of the sun started striking sideways through that moving, breathing cover of blowing snow, lighting it up, giving it a glowing, translucent quality.  Within minutes the whole countryside was swimming in a swirling, shimmering, lemon-colored fluorescent sea.  My chest just ached, it was so beautiful.”

Bill also said, “My honest feeling is that anyone who can get in shape and put a team together capable of making the run to Nome owes it to himself to join the rest of us who are already in on the secret all the old-timers knew:  that there isn’t any better way to see the country.”

Bill Vaudrin passed away following a tragic car accident on January 26, in 1976.  He had participated in the 1974 and 1975 Iditarods.  He was an educator and a dog musher.  Bill had served as President of the Inupiat University of the Arctic.  (in Point Barrow)  Bill had a master’s degree in creative writing and literatue from the University of Oregon.  He was a published author, “Tanaina Tales from Alaska.”

During the 1976 Iditarod, John Stern and Mark Smith were the “Cheechako Checkers” at the Sulatna Crossing checkpoint, 45 miles south of Ruby.  John and Mark volunteered for this checkpoint because there was no cabin at that location and they wanted to get the ‘real feel of the Iditarod Race.”  Iditarod pilot Larry Thompson dropped the two checkers off in a meadow near where they were to set up the checkpoint.  John and Mark put up an 8 ft. ten and used a wood burning Yukon stove for heat. They stored their grub and set up housekeeping.  John and Mark also tramped a runway in the snow so Larry Thompson could land at the checkpoint.  “At first it was so quiet we couldn’t get used to it.  It was a different world.  We just left all the cares and worries of civilization behind.  But when the mushers started coming through, we worked hard,” said John.  The men took turns cooking and offering mushers something to eat. They cooked hundreds of hotcakes, served stew, bread, split pea soup, and candy for dessert.  They stayed until the last two mushers, Jon Van Zyle and Dennis Corrington checked through.  “They were having lots of fun taking pictures.  It didn’t bother them that they were the last mushers on the trail.  It didn’t bother us either.  Because by then we kind of liked living in the wilderness.”

In 1976, Jamie ‘Bud’ Smyth was the 4th musher to Nome, crossing the finish line at 1:38 PM on March 25 with a total elapsed time of 19 days, 4 hours, 2 minutes, and 52 seconds.  As Bud was mushing down Front Street, an ‘unidentified youngster who was about 5 years of age wanted to ride on Bud’s sled.  Smyth stopped his team, put the youngster on his sled, and mushed down the street with spectators lining both sides of the street and cheering.  After Bud checked in at the Nugget Inn, the mother of the very excited youngster who’d had his first ride on a sled pulled by dogs, rushed into the lobby of the hotel and invited Bud, his wife, Sharon, and the family for dinner at her home.  “Anyone who is so thoughtful that they take time to make a youngster happy deserves a home cooked meal,” the mother said.’ * Resource, 1977 Iditarod Trail Annual.

Compiled by Diane Johnson