The biggest tactical mistake Seward's Tyrell Seavey made in trying to defend his Junior Iditarod Sled Dog Race crown this year didn't actually come during the race.
It came during a "fun" camping trip to Yentna two weeks before the race.
Along with his brother, Dallas, 17-year-old Tyrell went camping with Cali King, a fellow Junior Iditarod musher, and Lisa Frederic, a rookie in this year's Iditarod.
Following the group of mushers on snowmachine was Jeff King, Cali's father and a three-time Iditarod champion.
"We were quite easily outrunning their team," Tyrell Seavey said of Cali King, who finished second to Tyrell last year in the Junior Iditarod. "Jeff saw that we had some really, really good dogs."
So how did King react? He got Cali some better dogs for the Junior Iditarod, outfitting her with nine dogs that he's going to use for the Iditarod this year.
"Winning races is really important to Jeff King, from what I observe," Seavey said.
Seavey, who trains out of his family's kennel in Sterling during the winter, was able to keep pace with King's team for the first day of the race -- a run from Settlers Bay to Yenta Station. But King triumphed on the second day -- a run back to Settlers Bay that completed the 160-mile race on Feb. 24.
King finished with a time of 12 hours, 49 minutes, 4 seconds. Seavey took his third runner-up Junior Iditarod trophy by coming in 33 minutes after King and 19 minutes ahead of third-place finisher Max Kornmuller of Willow.
"After the first day, it was fairly close (between King and I)," Seavey said. "I had carried a dog in the sled the last 12 miles out, because the dog was tired and wasn't keeping up at the time.
"Then, coming back, several more dogs got tired. By the end of the race, I was more worried about getting caught by the third-place finisher than I was worried about catching the musher ahead of me."
Seavey, the son of perennial Iditarod contender Mitch Seavey, said it's safe to say he's developing a rivalry with King. It's also safe to say that rivalry is friendly.
"We're really good friends," Seavey said. "We went to prom together last year in Denali. That was special for me because I'm home schooled and don't have a prom.
"We met at the race last year and have gotten to know each other pretty good."
The rivalry will continue at a parental level when the Iditarod gets under way today in Wasilla, and Tyrell likes his father's chances.
The lead dog in Tyrell's team, Turbo, won the Blue Harness Award for the best lead dog in the Junior Iditarod. But try as Mitch and Tyrell might, they couldn't find a spot for Turbo on Mitch's deep Iditarod team.
"In my opinion, we have depth, which is something we've never had," Tyrell said of his dad's team. "We have 16 dogs, and with Turbo, we can't figure out which one to replace.
"It's always been there's 12 we like, eight that are really good and six that are good enough to win. This year, we're happy with all 16 dogs."
Seavey said he didn't use any of his father's Iditarod dogs on the Junior Iditarod team. Seavey may not have won, but second place still got him $1,500 in scholarship money. That makes his total haul for his Junior Iditarod career $7,500 in scholarship money.
"I'm really interested in college," Seavey said. "My older brother (Danny) is in his first year at UAF and we didn't know how he'd fit in because he'd been home schooled his whole life.
"He has a 4.0 grade point average, is on the chancellor's list and still has time to volunteer for stuff. I don't think that I'm nearly as smart as he is, but I'd like to go to college."
Seavey will be displaying plenty of his own smarts in the next couple of weeks as he provides updates on the Web site www.ultimateiditarod.com.
With the help of Jim Gallea, who works at the family dog sled tour business in the summer, Seavey has made the site bigger and better for this year.
Seavey will follow the Iditarod the whole way. While the media sometimes has trouble getting information from busy mushers, Seavey promises he'll get "inside" information from his father.
"I'm snowmachining the trail the whole way, so I'll be out there every step of the way," Seavey said. "The biggest challenge will be to get an open phone line, but that's a challenge I can overcome."
While Seavey had the top peninsula finish in the Junior Iditarod, many other local mushers had solid races.
Heading up that group was Elisabeth Habermann, a 15-year-old who is home schooled and lives halfway between Soldotna and Sterling. Habermann finished fifth in the race after finishing ninth in her first Junior Iditarod effort.
As a freshman, Habermann also was one of the top skiers for Skyview's ski team. The Junior Iditarod forced her to choose between the state ski meet and mushing.
"It's pretty hectic," Habermann said of balancing skiing and mushing. "I had to miss some ski practice, but I did manage to make all the meets except for state.
"I really like them both. Whether I'll go to state or not next year, I haven't decided yet."
Habermann said she is certain she will be doing the Junior Quest next season. This year, she finished second in the Junior Quest and won the Humanitarian Award.
At the Quest, Habermann lost to Ellie Claus of Chitina. But Habermann came back to top Claus, who finished eighth, at the Junior Iditarod.
"I ran the dogs a little bit differently during the Junior Iditarod," said Habermann, who only had to drop one of her 10 dogs. "In the Junior Quest, I think I held back too much. I was afraid of letting them run too fast and burning out.
"After running the Quest, I knew how to do the Junior Iditarod without burning out."
Also from the peninsula, 14-year-old Dallas Seavey of Seward finished seventh, 14-year-old Nicole Osmar of Kasilof finished 10th and 17-year-old Morgan Lyons of Sterling finished 17th.
"My little brother, he did a good job," Tyrell said of Dallas. "He trained his whole dog team from scratch.
"It was the first time he put in a whole season of training."
1. Cali King, Denali Park, 49 minutes, 4 seconds; 2. Tyrell Seavey, Seward, 13:22:30; 3. Max Kornmuller, Willow, 13:41:41; 4. Heather Hardy, Wasilla, 14:37:37; 5. Elisabeth Habermann, 15:13:11; 6. Hannah Moderow, Anchorage, 15:20:06; 7. Dallas Seavey, Seward, 15:46:21; 8. Ellie Claus, Chitina, 15:56:13; 9. Jordan Lolley, Kennesaw, Ga., 16:05:55; 10. Nicole Osmar, Kasilof, 16:06:01; 11. Jessica Blackburn, Ester, 17:47:01; 12. Adam Beebe, Delta Junction, 18:06:42; 13. Mari Troshynski, Wasilla, 18:17:39; 14. Brittney Kajer, Copper Center, 19:03:43; 15. Peter Jayne, Coldfoot, 19:11:09; 16. Luke Dawe, Delta Junction, 20:38:45; 17. Morgan Lyons, Sterling, 21:58:37; 18. Katrina Rix, Chugiak, 22:44:58.
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