As sporting events go, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a particularly grueling one not only because it’s a 1,100-mile endurance race through challenging terrain and brutal weather conditions, but also because when the race is over, a musher’s work is not done.
There’s still fans to greet, gear to unpack and then repack for the trip home and, of course, the dogs must be fed and cared for.
Mushing is a year-round sport that doesn’t have an off-season from responsibility. The Iditarod is simply the culmination of a year’s worth of training and effort.
And what a culmination it was for peninsula mushers.
None of the mushers who call the Kenai home led the way under the burled arch in Nome this year, but all ran admirable races and gave peninsula fans plenty to be proud of.
One of the biggest stories of this year’s race involved Kasilof’s Paul Gebhardt. Coming off a ninth-place finish in last year’s Iditarod and a solid year of training, Gebhardt’s dogs seemed determined to speed him to a first-place finish this year.
Turns out they were a little too determined to run their fastest, however.
Gebhardt was leading the pack last Tuesday when his sled hit a tree on the shore of Farewell Lake between Rohn and Nikolai. The impact snapped the gang line connecting the dogs to the sled, but it didn’t stop the dogs from running.
And running unfortunately without Gebhardt.
Gebhardt hitched a ride with musher Doug Swingley, then borrowed a snowmachine from some buffalo hunters to catch up with his team, which had run 10 miles up the trail and were still steaming along without him. In using the hunters’ snowmachine to retrieve his dogs, Gebhardt risked being penalized for breaking an Iditarod rule that stipulates a musher may not enlist outside help during the race.
Gebhardt decided retrieving his dogs as quickly as possible before anything happened to them was worth any penalties his decision may incur. Race officials saw things his way and didn’t penalize him.
Still, the ordeal cost him about three hours hours that might have meant the difference between his third-place finish and first, since winner Jeff King pulled into Nome a little over three hours ahead of Gebhardt.
But third place is a fine finish, especially considering his mishap and the fact that he finished with 14 healthy dogs, more than any other musher finishing in this year’s top 10.
Finishing ninth was 2004 winner Mitch Seavey of Seward. Seavey started out with 16 dogs and finished in Nome with only nine, but those nine still managed to finish strong.
Behind Seavey in 10th place was Lance Mackey of Kasilof. Mackey has again established himself as the Energizer bunny of the endurance sport of mushing. His top 10 Iditarod finish comes on the heels of winning the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest on Feb. 21, which many mushers consider to be even more grueling than the Iditarod. What’s more is he did the same thing last year, winning the Quest then finishing seventh in the Iditarod.
Judging strictly by the race results, it would seem Ninilchik musher Tim Osmar had a disappointing race this year, his 21st Iditarod. He finished 19th last year and had a nine-year streak of top 10 finishes. As of this writing, he’s nearing Nome in 56th place.
The story behind the numbers is Osmar gave up his shot at serious competition this year to give a rookie musher a chance to experience what it’s like to make it to Nome. Osmar agreed to lead blind musher Rachael Scdoris of Oregon through the Iditarod. Scdoris scratched in her first Iditarod attempt last year. With Osmar’s help, it looks like she’ll make it to Nome, a dream she’s said she’s had since she was 8.
Also representing the peninsula are William Hanes of Kasilof, who reached Nome in 19th place with 11 dogs; Danny Seavey Mitch’s son who is running in 55th place with 15 dogs place; and Trent Herbst of Homer, who is in 65th place with 14 dogs.
We applaud our peninsula mushers for a race well run.
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