Seward musher Mitch Seavey always has claimed that trying to predict the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a sure way to be wrong.
That being said, Seavey, who has a pair of top-10 finishes in the Last Great Race, sees himself as a challenger for the front of the pack when the 2002 race gets under way Saturday in Anchorage.
"I've been doing this long enough to have those kinds of goals. My goal is to win," Seavey said.
Seavey certainly isn't the only musher shooting to pass under the burled arch in Nome first -- five past champions are entered in the 2002 field, including three-time champions Martin Buser of Big Lake and Jeff King of Denali Park and five-time champion Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, not to mention defending champion Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., winner of the last three races and four overall.
Still, Seavey has plenty of reasons to be confident as this year's race approaches.
For starters, his is the only Seavey team in the race this year after the family entered three teams driven by three generations of Seaveys -- Mitch, his father Dan and son Danny -- in last year's race.
"I have the best dogs from all three teams. Consolidating them into one team is a step in the right direction as far as the quality of dogs in one main team," Seavey said. "We have a lot more dogs to work with, and a lot more dogs to choose from."
That leaves Seavey with the top 16 dogs in the family kennel for this year's race. Seavey said that every member of his team has experience on the Iditarod Trail, and the team will include eight lead dogs.
"People don't understand when you tell them you've got eight lead dogs," Seavey said. "They're all experienced. I think every dog I'm taking has done it before."
This year's more typical winter conditions on the Kenai Peninsula also have aided Seavey's Iditarod effort, leading to better training and healthier dogs. Seavey was able to train out of the family's winter home in Sterling, instead of loading up the truck for trips all over the state.
"Maybe we're back to real winters," Seavey said. "It's been a real treat after the last couple of years to train at home. We can go out and do long runs on our own trails. The mileage is up where it should be, and we've had very few injuries, which is related to trail conditions."
Seavey also has plenty of experience from which to draw. His best finish came in 1998 when he placed fourth, completing the 1,100-mile race in 9 days, 12 hours and 18 minutes. Seavey was 11th in 1999 and ninth in 2000.
Trail conditions took a toll on dogs and mushers alike in last year's race, and Seavey, putting the safety of his dogs first, dropped from contention when he returned to the Grayling checkpoint 481 miles from Nome. Seavey decided to wait at Grayling for Dan and Danny, and the trio completed the race together, with Seavey taking 42nd.
Seavey said that this year, things are so organized that something must be missing.
"Everything's good," Seavey said. "We're just pretty much doing the countdown, trying to think of what it is we ought to be worried about."
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