My 2013 Iditarod story
(By Charley Bejna)
The ceremonial start in Anchorage was a great time. I met different people from around the world including ones from Illinois that lived near me and Leonie from as far as South Africa. A lot of pictures were taken of my team and me. The pictures that I received from different people really made me feel good as its memories that I can always have and look back at. GB Jones was my tag sled driver for the ceremonial start and Kathy Wright from Georgia was my Iditarider for the first 11 miles. The 11 mile run to the airstrip went very good and there was thousands of people that turned out for the start. After we arrived to the airstrip we loaded up all dogs and sleds, went to eat than back to the kennel to prepare for the next day. That night I triple checked everything that I needed to take with me for the race. Jason Tranchitella made sure that everything was organized and ready to go. The next morning I got up early and loaded everything into the truck and all 15 dogs that were going on the race. We arrived pretty early at Willow as I wanted to allow enough time to get everything prepared for the race. I was so calm that day which is unusually for me to be. I think everyone else that was there was more nervous for me. GB Jones, Jason Tranchitella, Stacy Pritts, Lisa Michalski, Pam Barr, Lisa & Mike Chester and Al Kiefer were my handlers to bring the dogs to the starting line. Many more people were there to send me off and wish me luck. The 15 dogs I started with were Tundra, Yukon, Fuzzie, Bernie, Duke, Canyon, Lisa, Bubbles, Whiskey, Festus, Charley, Denali, Poncho, Mick & McKinley. Once I was under the start banner, I looked at it and said WOW, it took so much work to get to the starting line and that the time was going really fast. We started off and the fans were lined up several miles down the trail. It was really warm out that day and Lisa was overheating a little about 8 miles into the race. I stopped a few times and put snow on her to cool her down. After that the sun was going down, it was getting cooler and she was back to normal. I arrived in Yentna, signed in, signed a few posters, had Lisa looked at and off I was with 15 dogs down the trail. The team was looking very good and I was happy how things were going. I had traveled this trail before so knew what was ahead of me. We arrived in Skwentna and I took a 6 hour rest there. All dogs were good and off we were down the trail with 15 dogs to Finger Lake. We pulled into Finger Lake and rested the team for 1 hour. We headed out with 15 dogs to Rainy Pass. This part of the train is sometimes very difficult as the Happy steps can be challenging in recent years. The team and I had no trouble with this part at all. I was now in Rainy Pass and Lisa & Mike Chester and John Nielson were there to greet me. They flew out to Rainy Pass to see me and how a checkpoint works during the race. It was so nice to see them during the race. We rested there for 6 1/2 hours and we now headed to Rohn. This part of the trail is also difficult in recent years as there is open water and lots of climbing hills and the glacier. Again we had no problems as the team went through the pass very good. I was so proud of them at this point. They were all working very hard on this part of the trail. We arrived at Rohn and I decided to give the team a 7 1/2 rest as I had 5 yearlings in the team and this was all new to them. All the dogs were eating and resting very good at this part of the race. We left Rohn and were now going to go through the Farewell Burn and this part of the trail is known for lack of snow and difficult trail. There was a lot of areas that had no snow on the trail, a lot of stumps that we had to go over and parts that were very steep. The temperature was very warm that day, right around 40 degrees. I stopped several times to give the dogs a rest as it was warm for them. We now were now in Nikolai and rested there for 7 1/2 hours also. Team was looking great! We were now in route to McGrath where I was going to take my mandatory 24 hour rest. We came in McGrath and my friend Rob Johnson had signed me in and it was nice to see him as he voluntares for the race. The team was looking good as they wanted to continue on instead of stopping for the long rest. I bedded all the dogs down, talked to a few fans, kids, removed all harnesses, feed them a big meal, ate myself and went to bed. I woke up, fed them again and went back to sleep. All 15 dogs were ready to continue on with the race. The dogs were a little slow in getting started but once they warmed up, they were good to go. Takotna was the next checkpoint and took us 2 1/2 hours to get there. I stopped for 25 minutes, went through my drop bags, talked with a few folks, had a piece of pumpkin pie and they gave me a sack lunch for the trail. We continued on and again it was around 40 degrees and warm for the dogs. I stopped a few times snacking the dogs and ate my lunch. The team and I were now in Ophir and rested 3 hours. This leg of the race was now 90 mile run and I knew we were going to have an rest halfway through. I had been traveling with Rudy Demoski since Rohn and we were having a good time. The trail out of Rohn was getting hard with very deep snow and holes in the trail. We both rested at Don's Cabin several hours as a lot of other musher's were doing the same thing. After this point in the race things were getting harder. The trail in spots had very little snow. The wind was blowing so hard, it was difficult to keep the sled from blowing over. I have never been in wind like this before. Canyon seemed to be getting blown around the most as she is the smallest dog in the team. I kept looking at my GPS and was wanting to get to the next checkpoint Iditarod. As the trail was getting better I now had open water to got through. Not only once but 4 different spots. The first few went good but the third one my sled got wedged in the bank. I had Charley in the basket at time and the sled was filling up with water quickly. I took him out and almost all of my gear was wet. I had a hard time trying to get the sled out of the water but finally did it. I reloaded everything in the sled including Charley and continued down the trail. It seemed forever to get to the next checkpoint Iditarod. We finally arrived there and is was very warm out. I feed the dogs, myself, took all gear to the musher's cabin to hang up and dry. The only thing that was not wet was my socks and boots. They were dry as can be and I still don't understand why as I was in very deep water. That was one less thing I had to dry off. I now decided that Charley & Poncho needed to be dropped as they were not pulling as they should be. I rested 8 1/2 hours and was back on the trail. It started out good, but the trail was blown in, snowing hard and very windy conditions. Again, keeping the sled on the trail was very difficult as we were getting blown off the trail. I now said to myself, this is getting hard! My leaders at the time were Fuzzie and Tundra. Both dogs were absolutely amazing as the others worked very hard breaking trail. They never missed a step. I stopped several times to snack the dogs. The team started to slow down and several dogs were not pulling like they should be. This part seemed very lonely as I saw know other mushers or heard any airplanes flying over. I finally arrived in Shageluk where my friend Stacey Cardy was a volunteer at the checkpoint. It was great to talk with her. I decided that I now had to drop Lisa, Bubbles and McKinley. I took my mandatory 8 hour rest here. We were now back on the trail with 10 dogs. as the trail seemed to get better. The team and I now were in Anvik. We stayed 24 minutes so I could snack the team and went through my drop bags. Left Anvik with 10 dogs as the snow was coming down harder. We arrived in Grayling and took a 7 1/2 hour rest. We were now on the Yukon river and left in the morning. The trail was very deep and wind blown. This part was 62 miles and it felt like 100. It was very slow going and we stopped several times. I stopped and met Mike from New York as he was camping out during his journey on snow machine to Nome. Mike took a few pictures of the team as we approached.
We finally reached the Eagle Island checkpoint. I made the decision to drop Whiskey and Tundra as they both had minor issues. We rested there and were ready to move on down the Yukon River towards Kaltag. I was 2 miles out and the team keep stopping on the trail as the trail was windblown over. I turned the team around and went back to give the dogs a little more rest. I then left Eagle Island again and they seemed to be doing well. This part was slow going in areas, but the trail was getting better as there was snow machine traffic and other mushers that had past me. We reached Kaltag and rested a little over 10 hours. I dropped Bernie as he was not pulled as he should be. I now was down to 7 dogs in my team and knew it was going to be difficult to finish the race, but I remained very positive at this point in the race.
The trail to Unalakleet was in good shape but now had to deal with the warm temperatures. We stopped several times to give the dogs a snack and rest. Once the sun went down, the team picked up speed and we were doing well. I saw the lights to Unalakleet and was very happy about that. The only thing is, you saw them disappear and reappear several times on the trail. The team and I turned on the trail and finally saw the town. I arrived, took care of the team and rested them for 10 hours. I was happy that we were now on the coast as a lot of people told me that once you get there, the hardest part is behind you. We left as the sun came up and were now headed to Shaktoolik.
The scenery was very pretty as you could see the Norton Sound from the trail. The trail was hard packed but the hills were very steep for the team to get over. I pushed my sled up most of the hills to help the dogs over them. We now were going very slow and the dogs seemed to be giving up. We stopped several times and I knew I had to make a decision on what to do. I rested at a safety cabin on the trail for around 2 hours as it was very warm for the team. We started to go again and Mick had know interest in continuing down the trail. I knew if I had to carry him in the basket, we would never get to Shaktoolik which we were 18 miles from. I stopped, sat down, cried and told them that this was it and we are going to scratch for the race. It was the most empty feeling I think I ever had in my life. We were so close but yet so far away from the finish line. I told them that we did the best we could with what we had. I took some pictures of the team and saw that I had cell phone service which I never had since the start in Willow. The rules say that we are not allowed to use cell phones on the trail, but in this situation I made a call so that my team and I could be taken out of the race. I still am not sure why I had service for those few minutes to make a call. After the call, there was no service on my phone. I went back to the cabin waited for the volunteers to take us to Shaktoolik by snow machine. They arrived, loaded the dogs up and on to Shaktoolik we went. I now keep looking back as to what I could of or should of done to finish the race. Was it more rest, more training, etc. for the team. I made it 724 miles with Fuzzie, Duke, Canyon, Yukon, Denali, Festus and Mick.
Once I was back in Knik I had another big decision as to fly to Nome for the finishers banquet. There was around a dozen or more fans that flew to Nome to see me finish under the burled arch. After talking to several people, I decided I was going to Nome to thank everyone for all the support. I was really happy that I went to Nome, as we were still part of this years race.
I would like to thank all the fans that supported the team and I on this years race. I learned a lot and had an amazing journey through the Alaskan wilderness. All the dogs are in great shape and will be doing summer tours on a glacier in Juneau. We will be entering several mid-distance races and the 2014 Iditarod. We are looking forward to all the continued support and finishing the race in Nome this coming March.
Iditarod Trail Kennel
P.O. Box 873261
Wasilla, Alaska 99687-3261