Running the Iditarod is no easy task.
Just to get to the starting line, mushers already have devoted incredible amounts of time to training, invested thousands of dollars for food and gear and made numerous sacrifices in both their personal and professional lives.
They do it all for the chance to drive a team of dogs to Nome.
But not everyone can make it the whole way. For some, the challenges are greater than they expected; others may fall victim to illness or injury, and yet others are just plagued by a string of bad luck.
Regardless of the circumstances, these mushers are forced to make a difficult decision: Should I scratch?
This year, two rookies from the Kenai Peninsula Carmen Perzechino from Sterling and Judy Merritt from Moose Pass answered "yes" to that question. However, for both mushers the decision was more of an ultimatum than a choice.
"I know I made the right decision," said Perzechino, who was back at his home Saturday. "The (veterinarians) said I made the right decision, other mushers said I made the right decision, everyone has said it."
Perzechino was erroneously reported by at least one source to have gotten so severely dehydrated just outside of the McGrath checkpoint that he was airlifted to safety. However, sounding much like Mark Twain after reading his own obituary, Perzechino said reports of his dehydration were greatly exaggerated.
"That's not how it happened at all," he said, and explained the chain of events that led him to scratch.
Perzechino said he started out from Willow with a few early-race jitters, but after talking with Jon Little of Kasilof at one of the checkpoints, he shrugged off any nervousness and got down to business.
His plan was to just take it slow and keep up a strong pace, and he said he did just that for several hundred miles. Yet, he still managed to overtake several competitors.
"I moved up more than 20 positions," he said.
Perzechino overcame several of the most challenging obstacles of the trail, such as the steep drops of the dreaded Happy River Steps, and the Farewell Burn, which is known for its numerous hidden stumps that can wreak havoc on both dogs and sleds.
He even managed to navigate the infamous Dalzell Gorge at night, only getting dragged across the frozen river a handful of times.
"The gorge was everything everyone says it is and more," he said.
Clear of many main obstacles, Perzechino continued to have a strong run.
But then things began to take a turn for the worse.
"About 6 miles outside of McGrath, my dogs started looking wobbly. It was pretty warm out, so I thought they may be overheating, so I pulled over," he said.
Perzechino said the dogs showed no interest in eating and many began vomiting. He began to worry about his team.
"I could tell they were really sick," Perzechino said, adding that, although it has been greatly under-reported in this year's race updates, there is a significant virus moving through several teams on the trail.
The result has been a wake of dropped dogs, and he even attributed Lance Mackey's death of a dog to being a victim of the virus.
"After knowing Lance had lost a dog, I wasn't taking any chances," Perzechino said.
So he waited for four hours, which turned into six, but the dogs showed no signs of improvement.
"I tried to make it into McGrath, but I had four dogs in the basket and just couldn't make it," he said.
A snowmachiner motored up to ask how the race was going and that's when Perzechino knew what he had to do.
"I had him call in a plane to take the dogs out of there," he said, even though Perzechino himself was physically fine.
"It was a had decision to make, but the dogs were my primary concern. It wasn't worth losing even one dog by trying to continue on."
Since then, Perzechino has been busy tending to the recuperation of his canine companions.
"The team I had on the trail is just about over it, but now it's spread through the rest of the kennel," he said.
Perzechino added that although it was disappointing to not make it to Nome, he doesn't regret making the decision to scratch.
"There are other races and there's always next year. I will do it again," he said. "I'm very proud of how the team did for those 400 miles, and although the trail was tougher than I expected, I had a blast the whole way."
Perzechino said he hopes to have his team well enough to compete in the Kobuk 440 Sled Dog Race that takes place in Kotzebue next month.
Merritt, the other peninsula musher to scratch, did so 272 miles into the race.
"During her trip between Rainy Pass and Rohn, she began feeling ill and made the decision to scratch out of concern for her own health," according to a press release issued by Iditarod race officials.
Merritt has since returned to her home, but due to her illness, she has been unavailable for comment.
As of Sunday morning, her husband, Bill Merritt, said she was still having chest pains and would be going to a cardiologist for a thorough examination early this week.
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