Inspirational

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Jason and Lance Mackey hugging at the finish line.

Twenty-two seconds separated two brothers which suffered many highs and lows on this journey across Alaska. A large crowd of fans, including several 2015 Iditarod finishers gathered on Front Street and in the chute waiting to welcome the inspirational Jason and his 4-time Iditarod champion brother, Lance.

Jason

Jason Mackey

Jason arrived first and received a warm welcome by fans and friends acknowledging his support of his brother. Jason had a very emotional day out on the trail, crying at many points. The entire way to Nome the brothers were racing, playing a game of leapfrog with each other. This journey was one in which the brothers had several challenges to overcome.

Lance Mackey

Lance Mackey

“I owe him everything.” This is what Lance told reporters after crossing the Burled Arch. Lance had an extremely emotional race and his brother experienced it all with him. He tried to get Jason to go ahead back in Huslia, but they ended up back together. Jason changed his entire race schedule to “babysit me,” Lance said. Lance also stated he knows he would not have finished the race had it not been for his brother.

Jason is a hero in many people’s eyes, especially to his brother Lance. Sacrificing his own race time to stick with his weakened brother. Jason knew this quite possibly could be Lance’s last Iditarod and loyally supported him to Nome. After crossing the Burled Arch within twenty-two seconds, the two embraced.

Lance, too, can be considered a hero in many eyes. Lance came upon Scott Jansenn’s dog team near Koyuk, without Scott. Extremely worried about Scott, Lance hooked his team to Scott’s team and mushed them into Koyuk, a genuine act of sportsmanship. Lance was relieved when he arrived at the checkpoint to see Scott safe. Scott was waiting for Lance when he arrived in Nome, the two shared a hug.

This story demonstrates winning or placing high is not always the most important part of competition. People don’t necessarily remember what time everyone finished or what place, but they do remember the special stories along the way. Sharing a bond with a family member on the trail is a memory that will withstand a lifetime. A fellow musher helping out your dogs will never be forgotten. Entering the chute on Front Street filled with friends, family, and several other competitors gives you the feeling of chills that will leave you speechless. I experienced that feeling today as I watched Jason and Lance mush side by side down Front Street.

Pictures Tell a Story – Tradition in Nome

Louisa May touching the Burled Arch

Louisa May touching the Burled Arch

The dogs are the true athletes of the Iditarod and the mushers make sure their best friends know this. Justin Savidis has a tradition of lifting one of his dogs up to touch his paw to the Burled Arch. This year Louisa May had the prestigious honor of being lifted to tap the arch. Looking at these pictures one can truly appreciate how close the bond is between Justin and his dogs.

Overcome

Martin Buser's dog team leaving Huslia

Martin Buser’s dog team leaving Huslia

This afternoon after watching Charley Bejna cross under the Burled Arch, I made my way to the library to catch Martin Buser speak about his journey across Alaska. The one topic which kept coming up in conversation were the connections made and the emotional highs and lows. No matter how many times you hear a musher speak about the trail, one cannot comprehend what a musher goes through on the Iditarod trail.

No matter if a musher finished 1st, 31st, or scratched, they all have one thing in common; they all have overcome a monumental challenge. The stories they have are incredibly personal to each musher. It takes many mushers a great deal of time to really process their journey and share some of the stories. Some will never share their stories as they want to keep each and every moment their own. Martin was kind enough to share some of his stories with us.

Martin explained while out on the trail we all experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Just as you are hitting that low, boom, you are struck with an unimaginable high. 18 years ago Martin met a women who asked for him to pose for a picture with her baby son. Martin being the friendly and thoughtful musher he is, posed for the picture. While he was in Shaktoolik this year this moment came full circle. He noticed a full-grown 18-year old man coming near him. He explained to Martin who he was and asked to recreate the picture. Martin was more than willing to recreate the picture exactly how it took place 18 years ago, this time Martin holding the original picture. These are the reasons mushers are so adored.

Martin was impressed with the Huslia checkpoint; he actually named the route through this checkpoint the Attla Loop. He went on and on about the friendliness of the all the people in the village. As he neared the checkpoint he started noticing cardboard signs made by school children. I remember seeing these, too, as I walked out the trail a ways. It was during this point of the trail Martin was feeling awfully down on himself. He came to one sign that read, “We teenagers look up to you.” This sign was so powerful to him, in fact, it brought tears to his eyes. He began thinking to himself, “I cannot let these kids down, they are our future.” Martin began to reevaluate his race strategy. When Martin started his own kennel, he thought long and hard about the name. With his philosophy being to have happy dogs, he decided on the name, Happy Trail Kennels. In Huslia, he began thinking if he truly had happy dogs at this moment. This is when he changed how he would run this year’s race; he was going to make sure he finished with happy dogs.

Martin continued to speak of the connections he has made along the trail. Sometimes you form these connections because you have the courage to engage them in conversation. There was a young man who kept hanging around and watching Martin do his chores during his 24-hour break. Finally, Martin decided to break the ice and ask the young man about his deformed face. He learned a great deal about this young man. They became very close as a result of this. All it took was a question.

Martin leaving Unalakleet

Martin leaving Unalakleet

Martin finished his talk by speaking about pride. We all have unique experiences which make us proud in our own ways. None of the things we feel proud about came easy, we all had to work for them. He also mentioned you are going to have to feel lows in order to feel this sense of pride. No matter what, we can all overcome these lows and become proud of what we do.

I was extremely proud to have witnessed Martin feel proud of what he does. I witnessed him sign autographs, interact with children, smile for pictures, and be a commendable representative of the Iditarod.

Erin Martin

Pictures Tell a Story – Still in Nome

"Almost there."

“Almost there.”

Along the trail mushers often have to drop dogs or give their dogs a ride in the sled. Mushers are so in tune with their dogs they know when their buddies are tired, hurt, sore, or just don’t want to run anymore. It is in the best interest of the dog and the team to drop the dog. Sometimes, they will give the dog a rest and let them ride in the sled. When Kristy Berington arrived in Nome she had a dog in her sled. Her dog appears to be having the ride of his life.

Ideas for students:

How many dogs started the Iditarod in Fairbanks? (Go to Checkpoints, then Fairbanks)

How many dogs have crossed the under the Burled Arch so far? (Use Race Standings)

How many dogs have been dropped?

Caption the pictures below. Hover over the picture to see my captions.

 

My Journey to Safety

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My plan for this afternoon was to go the the Nome Elementary School with Martha and watch the screening of Spirit of the Wind: The Story of George Attla. My plans, however, changed. As I was working on my “P” Team story, my phone rang. It was Terrie Hanke calling to notify me that Stan Hooley, Executive Director of the Iditarod Trail Committee, had invited us on a snowmachine trip to Safety. I was more than thrilled with the invitation.

TRailAbout three weeks ago during the Junior Iditarod, I had my first ride on a snowmachine. Today I would be driving a snowmachine for the first time. We arrived behind the mini all bundled up and ready for our trip to Safety. Our caravan to Safety included Stan Hooley, Terrie Josie, and a couple of Donlin Gold sponsors. We departed the parking lot, headed out on the Bering Sea and joined up with the Iditarod trail. My initial thought was, “Wow, I am driving on the Bering Sea!” I then started to grasp the fact that I was driving on the exact trail that Dallas Seavey, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Jeff King, even Joe Redington, Sr. have traveled.

As we dashed up the rough trail, we passed many other snowmachines heading the opposite direction. Overhead we heard a few helicopters on their way to drop tourists off at the Safety checkpoint. The view was magnificent. I kept turning my head side to side glimpsing the sea on my right and mountains in the distance on my left. As I got more and more comfortable driving the Ski Doo, I increased my speed; it was such a thrill. The snowmachines are so high-tech, they have heated handle bars and even a heated throttle. My hands stayed plenty warm, they actually got a little hot.

DSC_448622 miles after the start of our journey, we arrived at the Safety Roadhouse, the last checkpoint. I walked into the checkpoint to see a familiar face, Nancy Yoshida. Nancy is working Comms in Safety. She checks in the mushers and sends the information to Anchorage Comms and Race Stats, who then relays the information to Nome. We spent a short time in the Roadhouse visiting with other fans and locals who have made the trip to the Roadhouse. We also had the pleasure of witnessing a Iditarider bike into Safety for a brief stop and then he continued on to Nome. The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a race in which participants either bike or run the Iditarod Trail. The race started one week prior to the start of the Iditarod.

SafetyAfter our short visit at the Roadhouse we began our trek back to Nome. On the way back we made a few picture stops, enjoying the fascinating views. We finally arrived back at the Mini parking lot and parked our machines. What an amazing experience. I am so thankful Stan thought of inviting us on the journey to Safety. To be able to drive a snowmachine itself is quite an exciting experience, but to drive a snowmachine on the Iditarod trail is an unforgettable experience.

 

The “P” Team

The "P" Team

The “P” Team

I am officially an honorary member of the 2015 P Team. Just as in every sport, athletes of the Last Great Race are also tested for drugs. Yesterday, I joined the Pee team as they tested many dogs for performance enhancing drugs. Every major event tests athletes for performance enhancing drugs. At the Ceremonial Start and out on the trail, teams are randomly selected to be tested. In Nome, at the finish, the top 20 teams are tested. The ladies of Pee team just finished testing the top 20 teams; they were up 30 straight hours.

You can’t actually hand a dog a cup and tell him or her to go to the restroom and “pee in a cup.” Instead, I had the opportunity to take several dogs for a walk and wait for them to pee. Typically, as soon as the dog stands up they have the urge to pee. If not, we walk them around until they have to go. When the dog did pee, I had to position a small baggie under the dog and collect his or her pee; boys were easier. I feel I did a pretty good job, except for once getting a little pee on my hand. The next step was to empty the pee into the evidence cup. Kindrin marked down which dogs were tested. The evidence cup is then set into a cooler which is kept under lock and key.

One set of evidence has already been flown away to begin testing with hopes of the results being completed by the finishers banquet on Sunday. Dr. Morrie Craig, head of the drug testing team, sends the evidence out-of-state. The results are usually completed within 24-hours.

The Pee team had been awaiting my arrival to Nome to help with the collection. It has been a tradition for the Teacher on the Trail to help with the collecting of the pee. I had a ton of fun helping the ladies. Anything that involves dogs, you can count me in. I had so much fun, I went back out later and helped some more.

DSC_4471After finishing 30 straight hours of testing, the pee team is sound asleep on the floor of the church. Since the top 20 teams have finished the Iditarod and the testing is complete, their job is officially over. They will be back at it again next year.