It was a warm, rainy morning on 4th avenue on Saturday, March 7th as we were preparing for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod. There was no snow in town but an army of volunteers had done an amazing job preparing a trail through the streets of Anchorage for us. The Ceremonial start is always a fun run for both team, Iditarider and musher. I was fortunate to have Debbie, my Iditarider from 2014, ride with me again. We had such a good time last year, and had a blast going down the slushy, wet trail lined by thousands and thousands of people this year, too! There were numerous deep water puddles along the trail for the dogs to enjoy cool-off breaks.
Due to the warm winter and lack of snow especially in the Alaska Range the official start of the 2015 Iditarod had been moved to Fairbanks and the route changed considerably. In stead of taking the traditional southern route (odd-years) we’d run from Fairbanks down the Tanana river to Nenana, from there North to Manley and Tanana were we’d get onto the Yukon river and run to Ruby. From Ruby we’d run on the Yukon River as in even-years on the Northern route to Galena, then head north to Huslia and from there back south reaching the Yukon River again by Koyukuk and following the regular northern route all the way to Nome. I was excited to get to see so many different parts of Alaska, and as most mushers thrilled to be able to run to Huslia.
On Monday, March 9th the weather was beautiful in Fairbanks with temperatures around -20C and fresh snow. Our 2015 Iditarod team was: Sisu, Snuppa, Honda, Isikajia, Najak, Civic, Ittoq, Jack, Jesper, Kasper, Mini, Krutt, Kost, Quimby, Svolvær and Kongo. All six females were in heat, a little unfortunate but nothing we could do much about with our small race dog pool. I had already decided not to take two very good females, Snehvit and Mira, in order to limit the amount of females in heat.
The first lag took us to the village of Nenana. It was a nice ~86km run on the Tanana river. Nenana is on the road system, and Kenneth together with our friends from Norway Johanne and Hans-Christian came to see us. Nenana was the only checkpoint in the race where help from the handlers was allowed. What a luxury! The dogs got a long rest before we went on to Manley in the evening. It was around -40C, a clear, calm night. We stopped as planned about half way to Manley for a good break. I cooked the dogs and myself a warm meal and enjoyed the Northern Lights while the dogs were sleeping. Manley was the last checkpoint on road system, a 3-4h drive from Fairbanks, and Kenneth, Johanne and Hans-Christian had made it there, too. No help of any sort allowed here, but still it gave them a great opportunity to see different parts of Alaska driving to Manley and a typical checkpoint as Iditarod checkpoints usually aren’t accessible by car. I did not feel team was coming together as they should and as I had hoped, and decided to stay a little longer in Manley than originally planned. After all, it was still a long way to Nome!
Kongo had a disagreement with a team mate over a female in heat and although he only had a minor puncture wound on his leg I decided to drop him. He went back home with Kenneth as we went on towards Tanana in the sunset. On our way to Tanana I still felt the team lacked drive and eagerness and decided to take a short rest on trail. We reached Tanana, a beautiful village on the Yukon River, some time during the night. Temperatures had been steady in the -40C range since the lag to Manley. My camera didn’t quite like the cold which is why I unfortunately didn’t get to take many pictures on the trail this year. I had planned to run through Tanana and rest on the trail but decided to stay and give the team yet another long, good rest hoping it would get their usual drive back. I dropped Krutt who was a little sore and Svolvær who had a little bit of a sore wrist. The next lag to Ruby was around 200km and I did not want to risk him having problems on our way.
With a team of 13 I went on to Ruby in beautiful sunshine in the middle of the day. We stopped for our first camp on our way to Ruby some time in the late afternoon as the Sun set. I melted snow to cook the dogs a warm meal. The Sun had set as we went on, and it got cold on the Yukon, and colder and colder. The northern light display on the night sky was absolutely amazing and breathtaking. We were so fortunate and privileged to be out here together!
Suddenly I felt that everything just froze instantly. My boots were frozen rocks, there was no way I could warm up my toes or regain feeling in them, even my jacket and parka just froze from the outside in. Wherever there was the slightest bit of moisture it froze instantly. I was running for a while to try and see if we’d get to a slightly warmer spot, but at the end had to just stop for our second camp. I started the cooker to melt snow for a warm meal for the dogs. It took forever to melt snow, the cooker didn’t seem to not burn at all. I was cold and looked at my thermometer to comfort myself with the fact that it probably still wasn’t much more than -40C and that I probably just needed a nap and some food to regain heat. But my thermometer didn’t seem to help. It was maxed out at -60F (-51C) and I thought the darn thing was broken. Oh well. After I had taken care of the dogs I decided to climb in my sleeping bag for a while, a little nap usually fixes most things. But despite my -40C comfort zone sleeping bag I was still somewhat cold, colder that I should be anyways. I rested again somewhat longer than intended, this time simply because it took me so long to warm my fingers up in order to pack and bootie, and cook another meal. The cooker just would not seem to work. We went on to Ruby as the sun was rising.
As we arrived in Ruby I was told it had been -67F (-55C) on the Yukon River that night. So my thermometer wasn’t broke after all, it just doesn’t go any below -60F (-50C). And my sleeping bag with a -40C comfort zone was probably still working alright in -40C, just not quite that well in -67F (-55C) … Well that explained things! I really like the village of Ruby, tugged in along the Yukon River bank and decided to take my 24hour rest. The team still just wasn’t as eager and driving as they should be at this point in the race. The boys were terribly in love with Civic who was very much in heat. I fed them, bedded them down, massaged each and every one and gave them some well-deserved loving and went in for some food and a nap.
The next morning I got up and felt it was incredibly warm. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was just rising over the hills, the Yukon was all calm, frozen and white underneath us. I didn’t even need my parka or gloves to go and feed, walk and massage dogs. A villager came by, looked at the thermometer at the house wall and exclaimed: “It’s Spring time!” I could not agree more. I went to look at the thermometer, expecting temperatures in the -10C range and was surprised to find that this balmy, warm morning still had -30C… You sure get used to the cold quickly! But then again, -30C is a lot warmer than -55C anyways.
By mid-day we continued on the Yukon River to Galena. I was enthusiastic, the team looked great coming off their 24, and I thought we might be able to race a little. The sunset on the river was absolutely amazing, the entire landscape was dipped in purple-pink and them more and more blue colors. We were in for another cold below -40C night, that was for sure! After a nice run we reached Galena in the late evening.
After a good rest in Galena we went on to Huslia, an approximately 140km run. The enthusiasm over the good looking team unfortunately didn’t last long as a number of dogs had gotten diarrhea. We ran through beautiful country with lakes and small trees, and just as the sun came up we reached a warm log cabin along the trail. A little piece of paradise on a cold morning! Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures as my camera didn’t approve of the cold temperatures. A number of teams were already parked here and even although we hadn’t come as far as I had hoped I decided to stop. It had been slow going and a warm cabin sure seemed tempting! However, I ended up spending most of the trail stop melting snow for two meals as my cooker took forever to get warm in the cold temperatures. Still got a few minutes inside by the stove, which sure was nice.
The remaining run to Huslia was simply gorgeous. No wind, bright sunshine, running on rivers, over lakes, through some trees, we saw an huge amount of animal tracks from moose to hare, coyote, wolf,… and the closer we got to Huslia the more the white Mountains of the Brooks range became visible! It was absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking. We reached Huslia, the half way point of the race, just after sunset. Reaching Huslia was huge. Huslia, home of George Attla and so many famous mushers. Little, big Huslia, such a pretty village that gave us the warmest welcome. The whole town seemed to be up and about running the checkpoint, and they did an amazing job. Even although this was the very first time the Iditarod went through Huslia the checkpoint was absolutely perfect. Temperature wise we were in for another night of -60F. I decided to take my 8 hour rest, dry clothes and warm up.
I had realized over the past runs that this was not our year racing-wise, with the team not really coming together as they should, females in heat and some dogs with diarrhea, and that our race as race was already over. When things don’t really work out as planned you gotta change your strategy and go by your team, there is no use in being disappointed over a race you could not race when there is an awesome trip with your very best friends through the most remote and beautiful country on Earth you are on! The dogs always come first. They give all they have at all times, and the absolute first priority is always a happy, healthy team no matter if that means winning a race or coming in last. I decided to drop Kost as he was tired and loosing weight due to the cold temperatures and diarrhea, possibly further enhanced by females in heat.
It was cold again when we left Huslia during the night and dropped onto the river. By now I guess we were well adapted to far below -40C temperatures. The trail leaving Huslia was equally pretty as the trail that got us there. A little more hilly and windy. As the sun had come up I found a nice spot to rest. The weather was yet again gorgeous, just a little breeze and bright sunshine. We reached Koyukuk just after sunset. From Koyukuk we dropped onto the Yukon River again and the trail from here was the same as last year all the way to Nome. It was slow going on a drifted in trail to Nulato. I kept falling asleep and almost missed the turn off to the checkpoint. We stayed in Nulato for about an hour to feed the dogs before we went on to Kaltag. The trail to Kaltag was as drifted in as the one to Nulato, and it got woese. It was very slow going, a little windy and seemed to take forever to reach Kaltag. We were in for another long, good rest. I decided to drop Mini and Quimby who were tired.
By now the weather had changed, and the minus-a gazillion temperatures we had had for a long time changed to warm temperatures, around 0C. The trail out of Kaltag was soft, deep, drifted over and slow just as it had been since Koyukuk. It took a long time to reach Old Woman cabin on the way to Unalakleet. I bedded down the dogs and fed them. I hadn’t been able to eat much since Huslia due to a stomach bug and threw up all the water I drank. About time for a nap. We stayed for a long time before going on the Unalakleet and the coast, my favorite part of the race. Althoug it was slow going I knew that we got closer to the coast by the minute, and that Kenneth would be waiting for us in Unalakleet.
Finally reaching the coast felt incredibly good. It had been a tough race so far. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind the extreme cold, nor coastal winds, glare ice, no snow or any other challenge the trail may throw at us. It is what makes the Iditarod what it is – The last Great Race. It is what we sign up for, what the dogs and we love. If your team is looking good you can face any challenge that may be thrown at you with a smile easily. If your team for whatever reason does not come together and falls into place all those fun challenges become harder to endure. Starting with 6 females in heat, combined with extreme cold and diarrhea that would not clear in some dogs for a long time is probably part of why we had a hard time this year. But we had made it here, we had finally reached the coast, the most beautiful part of the race. No trees, wide open spaces and coastal wind around your nose. Just how we love it!
We stayed in Unalakleet for a long time. It is such a nice, friendly place to be. The Vets helped us with a different medication for diarrhea, and it seemed to kick in quickly. Apparently, many teams had the same issue, and for many it would not clear.
The run to Shaktoolik was the best and nicest run we had had in a very long time despite of the fact that I quickly saw that I would have to drop Jesper and Kasper, meaning I would only have 8 dogs from Shaktoolik onwards. On top of the Blueberry hills we could see the lights of Shaktoolik, and I knew we were in for a windy run along the coast! Fun times! Sisu and Snuppa loved the wind, these two amazing dogs rocket the trail to Shaktoolik. Or at least the trail markers, there was no trail visible. We all had a blast!
We arrived in Shaktoolik were teams had been gathering for the past hours. No one was leaving across Norton Sound as the winds only were getting stronger. Norton Sound is a 80km run across a totally exposed large bay on the sea ice, with only the occasional trail marker to help you with directions on glare ice. It is far to land, and you better respect a ground storm on the Arctic Sea ice. If you get blown out you may find yourself at the ice edge or on bad ice, or just without any shelter in a blizzard. I bedded the dogs down and dropped Jesper and Kasper. They were flown out to Anchorage quickly. By the time Kasper reached Anchorage he was running a fever and developed Pneumonia. The Vets caught the pneumonia onset early, and after four days with great care at the Pet ER in Anchorage he was released and recovered fully quickly.
Back in Shaktoolik everyone was waiting for the weather to get better. We got reports the storm would last another 48 hours but was supposed to die down in the evening. Lance, Jason and I decided we’d try to go at sunset. Despite the forecast the winds did not seem to have decreased at all. We got going, directly into the wind. The snow drifts were deep and it was slow going with my small team of 6 females and 2 males. Looking at our speed I realized very quickly that it would take us a very long time, probably closer to 12-14hours and huge amounts of energy to cross the sound. I knew we could make it, but it would take a lot out of my small team and resting somewhere on the ice was no real option in my mind so I told Jason I would turn around and wait longer in Shaktoolik. As I turned my team and was heading back I met Scott Jansson who was on his way out. He yelled: what are you doing? I told him I was heading back as going would take too much out of my team. I’d have no team left in Koyuk I told him. Scott continued on. He had to push his emergency button on the ice out of Koyuk the next morning and was found almost froze to death. Lance found his dog team on the ice and brought it into Shaktoolik. Another team had to push the button and be rescued. When I talked to Scott later on he told me that when he met me going out he was considering to turn around, too.
Lance and Jason, who I had initially left with, made it to a shelter cabin 14 miles out of Shaktoolik were they spent the night until the storm had calmed down a bit. They reached Koyuk only few hours before us. Chuck Schaeffer, who raced with us in Chukotka last year had to camp on the ice, a cold, windy night as he told me. But Chuck, who is an Inupiak from the Bering Sea coast in Kotzebue is very well used to the conditions he was in. Other teams made it over ok.
Still stuck in Shaktoolik a number of teams that were many hours behind us caught up with us during the evening and night, such as Lisbeth and Monica and others who were some 9h and more behind us. It was getting crowded but social. Early the next morning, after a 24h rest in Shaktoolik I went out again together with Rob Cooke, Heidi Sutter, Laura Allaway, followed by Lev Shwartz, Lisbeth Norris and Monica Zappa. The ground storm had died off, and it was only a little windy on the sound, a beautiful, sunny day. My small team was going slow on this mid-day run, but they were happy. It was a tough run nonetheless for them to Koyuk. As everywhere along the trail we took a long break. The dogs were now getting better by the run! Finally – since we first got issues with diarrhea on our way to Huslia. With only 8 dogs left though I lacked strength and speed compared to the larger teams, but it didn’t matter, it was fantastic to see the team back in business.
I left Koyuk together with Chuck. We had a blast on the way to Elim – the dogs looked great and loved the coastal wind along the Kwik river crossing and onwards. Fun times! We reached Elim by morning. The dogs were eating great, and soon we continued towards Golovin and White Mountain. As last year, we were rerouted from the Sea ice overland, a hilly, soft run. It was warm during the day, above 0C temperatures and and slow slow going for our small team. The run over the bay to Golovin and from there onwards seemed to take forever, warm and slobby. Finally we reached White Mountain and our final 8h rest.
Leaving White Mountain is always special. It is the last run of a 1000mile race and landscape wise one of my favorites. After running a bit on the river, and over some tundra you get into the Topkok hills, go up and down through beautiful, rolling hills and country before you climb two larger hills and see the beach, the sea, the way to Safety and Nome. We were very slow since I had Civic in the sled for some 30km through the hills as I thought she was limping a bit. Civic really did not agree with the whole sled part, she was like a worm trying to get out and was singing the whole way expressing her disagreement the best she could. I finally gave in and re-checked her, and I found out it was a split I had overseen on her pad, just about as we were done with the hills and dropping onto the shore… Oh well… Ointment and a double bootie later she was happily back in the team.
Running along the shore and through the infamous blow hole was yet again great fun. It was blowing, not too much, but enough to have to be alert, having that Arctic wind in your face, having to keep the sled from sliding towards the Sea ice and beyond the drift wood boundary and have the dogs pick up scents. There was a coyote running on shore and a bit later a wolf in the distance. The dogs loved it, we had a great time. As we went on though the day got hotter, and the wind died down.
The last miles into Safety took forever and were slow. The dogs were getting warm in the sunshine, it was incredibly hot. We sure preferred -50C! Jack slipped on glare ice some miles out of Safety. We passed Safety and slowly made our way towards cape Nome. It was incredibly slow going, and the miles from Cape Nome to Front Street seemed to take forever. Demoralizing for the team, we should probably have stopped in Safety and waited for dusk.
I stopped numerous times to let the dogs roll in the snow, and after what seemed forever it was a great relieve to finally climb up from the sea ice onto Front Street. Our police escort was waiting and followed us down Front Street. It was during the middle of the day and many people were out and about in the streets greeting us on our way to the Burled Arch. Our small team of 8 had made it, we had finished our second Iditarod in a row.
The finishing dogs were: Sisu, who ran in lead most of the way, her daughter Snuppa who ran in lead for the entire 2014 and 2015 Iditarod, Najak, who led when Sisu didn’t, Isikajia, my pet dog who wasn’t really supposed to enter any races but ended up finishing both the 2014 and 15 Iditarod, the only races she has ever entered, Ittoq, the most faithful, honest dog I have ever known, who finished both the 2014 and 15 Iditarod, Civic, aka “Tiny Winy”, “Brainy” and “Frekke Faen”, the smallest dog in the kennel with the biggest will and attitude, who also finished both the 2014 and 15 Iditarod, her mother Honda, who was still banging in harness to go at the finish line and Honda’s brother Jack who simply loves to join the team. Jack has also finished both the 2014 and 15 Iditarod, he always loves to go.
The dogs that contributed greatly along the way, and without whom we would not have made it to Nome were: Kongo, 8yrs and now retired, who was very unfortunate and had to be dropped early. I had hoped this would be his race, and he did well. Krutt, Svolvær, Kost, Kasper and Mini, who all finished the 2014 Iditarod, strong, hardworking males that I dearly missed in the team at the end. Quimby who came to us last Summer and did a great job in his first, long race ever and Jesper who did such a great job. I would have loved to see him and the others at the finish line, but there will be a next time for all of them.
2015 was a breathtaking wonderful trip with the best fury friends I could wish for. We changed from racing mode into absolutely awesome-trip mode early on and went by the team enjoying the trip all the way to the finish line, with ups and downs. Our absolute first priority is always a happy, healthy team no matter if that means winning a race or coming in last.
We were incredibly privileged to yet again see so much of the wonderful state of Alaska, and visit amazing villages and meet people along the way, this time even on a whole new route! A huge thanks to everyone in Nenana, Manley, Tanana, Ruby, Galena, Huslia, Koyukuk, Nulato, Kaltag, Unanakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, White Mnt, Safety and Nome for having us, for going out of their ways to host the Iditarod and be wonderful checkpoints. A huge thanks also to all the Race officials, Volunteers, Veterinarians, IDT Air Force, Sponsors, Fans … for their incredible hard work to make this race possible!
We could not be any more proud of our dogs for leading us to a second Iditarod finish in a row – what a great achievement! Through extreme cold, Artic ground blizzards and strong winds along the Bering Sea coast, across the remote wilderness of Alaska with spectacular scenery and breathtakingly beautiful nature, amazing northern light displays and unreal beautiful light at sunrise and sunset. They are always up for more! Our Kennel is still very young, we only started building the kennel in Summer 2011 and have been racing for four seasons – two to qualify for the Iditarod and two consecutive years of running and finishing the Iditarod. The future is sure looking good! 2015 was not our last Iditarod, that is for sure. Mark your calendars, we will be back in 2017 and are already thrilled and excited to get back out on the trail to Nome!
We’d like to send a HUGE thanks to our 2014/2015 sponsors for supporting us this season. We could not have done this without you! Petzl, Varri, Nutritech, Ramco, Trailbreaker Sleds, Canadog, Brukshunden, Plusminusnoll
Each and every dog in the kennel would like to send a HUGE thanks to their sponsor for supporting them for the 2014/15 racing season! Whether they made the race team or not, they are all part of the team and our family. Thank you!
Kongo – Anonymous sponsor
Koks – Anonymous sponsor
Flash – Patti Crawford
Jack – Anne-Katrine Kroken
Svolvær – Simon In-Albon
Quimby – Puppy-Wuppy (http://puppy-wuppy.com/)
Ittoq – Magne Wold & Lucie Strub Klein
Jesper – Inger Kristin Gorseth
Kasper – Jørgen Dahle Næss
Mini – Ed Faith
Krutt – Magne Wold & Lucie Strub Klein, Kristian Haraldseth
Kost – Anonymous Sponsor
Klut – Anita Fowler/Sirius Sleddogs
Red Man – Patti Crawford
Grizzly – Marion & Dieter Rinne
Sisu – Hans-Christian Ørjestad
Snuppa – Sandra Rinne Dahl
Isikajia – Carina Nyman
Honda – Inger Kristin Gorseth
Rotax – Terje Dietrichson
Civic – Rune Dalby
Prelude – Patti Crawford, Kristian Haraldseth
Ruby – Patti Crawford
Najak – Johanne Sundby
Snehvit – Mary McCready
Mira – Elisabeth Lönnberg
Uelen – Yvonne Baker
Silver Gulch – Patti Crawford
Nadezhda Hope – Nita & Ray Cole