Below is my story about the 2018 Iditarod. Its kind of long but has lots of details of what happens throughout the Iditarod. This is the longest story I have ever wrote before. Please enjoy my adventure and I apologize if I left out any names as there is so much to capture along the trail. I will also be putting together a picture blog in the next several days. Thanks again for everyones support thought out the season, its very much appreciated!
2018 Iditarod Story by Charley Bejna
I had drawn number 38 for this years Iditarod at the banquet, same number I had in 2015. I have dedicated this year‘s race in memory of Deb Abrams. Debbie was my IditaRider in 2015 and her husband Jim Abrams is a great supporter to the team! The ceremonial start in Anchorage was a great time. My tag sled driver was local neighbor Dr. Jessica Kjlejka; we both had an amazing time during the first 11 miles with fans cheering us on and giving us hot dogs. My IditaRider was Charles Price, he also had a great time riding in the sled, supports the team and supplied us with several Go Pros for the race. I had Butch, Dena, Jim, Stacey, Jansen, Aaron, Lorraine, Ron, Sondra, Sheri, Larry, Jennifer and a few others help walking the team to the starting line. Everything worked out great during the ceremonial start as I had great people to help me out.
The restart in Willow went great as well! I had pretty much the same amount of help including GB Jones. It was a sunny warm day and I made sure that the dogs got plenty of water before the start. The 16 dogs that would be competing in the 2018 Iditarod were: (lead to wheel) Brown, Black, Yukon, Maple, Aspen, Oak, Grizzly, Kodiak, Hawk, Canyon, Slate, Coal, McKinley, Marble, Cedar and Willow. I finished packing my sled with all the mandatory gear such as: snowshoes, ax, cooker, vet book, dog booties, sleeping bag, headlamps and dog food. Other things I carry are: cooler, dog bowls, ladle, harnesses, my gps, dog coats, lines, wrist wraps, batteries, supplements, food for me, diabetic supplies, sled repair kit, dog medical kit, runner plastic, clothes, beaver mitts, hand and foot warmers, wind suit and several other items that we need while on the trail. I always seem too over pack but rather be safe than sorry. All of our other food and gear I sent out in our drop bags to all of the checkpoints back in February. I sent out 2,098 pounds of dog food and supplies that we will use along the trail. We are also supplied one bale of straw per checkpoint and heet for our cookers. We were now off to Nome!
Willow to Yentna (42 miles) 3hrs. 59min.
This section of the trail is mostly on lakes, the Susitna and Yentna Rivers. Five, four, three, two, one! We left the starting chute and we were on our way! Lots of fans lined Willow Lake and the first 10 plus miles wishing us luck on the way to Nome. I saw several people that I knew like Janet Zoellick, Susan Laugal, Dan and Sharon Vavra, Jenny Foster, Wendy Cucullu and several others who gave water, cookies and hot dogs to me on the way to the 1st checkpoint. It’s amazing how many people come out to support the race!
The trail was in great shape, wide and fast going. The sun was shinny bright and there was a light breeze that made it comfortable for the team to stay cool. The dogs decided to take a wrong turn to Deshka Landing, since they were familiar with that intersection on the Willow 300. I called out Haw and we were back on the trail again. I think it was Blacks fault! We passed several teams and were also passed by several. I stopped half way and snacked the dogs some fish. We were about a mile from the 1st checkpoint and I saw Lou Schrader and we both yelled to each other our greetings. It’s always nice to see Lou out on the trails! I pulled into Yentna and gave my race bib to the checkers, had the vet book signed, signed some posters and off we were with 16 happy dogs!
Yentna to Skwentna (30 miles) 3hrs. 11min.
This section of the trail is mostly of the Yentna River with several sloughs and channels. The sun was setting and it was cooling off which the dogs always travel better at nighttime. Lots of teams were camping along the trail. I stopped to snack the dogs, put on my headlamp and bundled up a bit for the run to Skwentna. Lots of fans were in certain areas cheering us, asking our bid number or name and giving out hot dogs as well. The dogs were doing great and were still going at a good speed. My team is always hard to slow down during the beginning of any race. We now checked into Skwentna in 7th place, which was a little faster than I thought we would have been there. I parked the team with some help from the checkers. They said that I had very well behaved dogs, which made me feel good. The vets are always on top of things as looking over each dog as soon as the team arrives. They truly care and do an amazing job! I took off booties, strawed the dogs, gave them a snack and started to make a meal for them. Most checkpoints have hot water for us but the ones that don’t, we have to either melt snow or heat up the cold water. Keeping the dogs hydrated is very important at all times. I feed kibble, beef, beef fat, chicken skins, fish, many supplements, etc. throughout the race. This checkpoint had hot water for us. Brown was still coming out of heat and Yukon had to be staked out by my sled to keep peace. My dogs are always excited to eat and watch me the entire time I prepare a meal for them. Once I touch the cooler handle, they all stand up and are so excited! This happened through the entire race and every checkpoint. They never turned down a meal or snack. I’m very fortunate to have a team that are amazing eaters and drinkers! Thank you team! After they ate I looked over all the dogs for any issues such as sore wrists, shoulder, foot problems, rubs, etc. (the feeding and chores are repeated at every checkpoint and campouts along the trail. In future posts I will relate these to chores so I won’t have to rewrite them.) They had a live band on stage playing so I decided to take an hour nap outside next to Brown and Black and listen to the music. I hardly rest at any checkpoint, as there is always so much to do for the team. I checked my blood sugar and it was perfect and I had a snack and drank plenty of water. I always try to drink as much as possible while I’m at a checkpoint. I started to repack my sled and carry enough extra food for the Finger Lake checkpoint since there are no drop bags there. I snacked the dogs and was ready to go. I put booties on the dogs and Yukon decided to chew the gang line, 2 tug lines and one neckline. I carry spares with me but didn’t figure I would use that many at the first checkpoint. I replaced them and McKinley chewed the tug line in front of him. These dogs were ready to go and still interested in Brown. I said to myself this is going to be a long race. I pulled the snow hooks and we were off to Finger Lake with 16 happy dogs! We rested 3 hours and 44 minutes.
Skwentna to Finger Lake (40 miles) 5hrs. 3min.
This section of the trail is mostly on rivers, swamps, treed areas and meadows. We left a little after 2am and the trail seemed to be pretty slow in areas. The snow was soft and punchy which we haven’t seen that much at all in training. The dogs are used to hard packed and fast trails. The dogs worked very hard and they all looked great. The temperature was not bad at all but could have been a little cooler. I pretty much had been traveling by myself during this part of the race. I always look at my GPS to see how fast we are going and see when I need to stop and give the dogs a snack, which is usually every 2-3 hours. When we are going on a nice steady pace, it’s hard to stop, but its important to keep the dogs fueled with food. The sun was up and we were approaching Finger Lake. With the sun being higher in March, I tried to get on a schedule and not run during the day but that was really hard to do. We checked into Finger Lake, did all of our chores and went up to the lodge to get some drinking water and talk to a few mushers inside. I rested up, repacked the sled, got the 16 happy dogs ready to take the trail to Rainy Pass, including the happy steps. Brown and Black were still in lead and all the others were in the same position doing great! We rested 4 hrs. and 16 minutes.
Finger Lake to Rainy Pass (30 miles) 4hrs. 32min.
This section of the trail goes through treed areas, swamps, ravines, downhills, twisting tight trails and finally the Happy River Steps. We left Finger Lake and it was still pretty warm out with the sun shinning bright as can be. About 5-8 miles leaving the checkpoint, I noticed that I had trouble with steering the sled! I had hit several trees along the way but nothing that I thought that would have broken the sled in anyway. My team loves to go fast in the heavily treed areas. We were moving at a good speed and I was having a harder time with the sled. I stopped to snack the dogs and noticed that the stanchion was broke and the aluminum frame that connects to it was broke! I had an extra one with and would fix it in Rainy Pass. The aluminum frame was another issue. I had plenty of hose clamps, bolts, and wire to repair my sled so I wasn’t too concerned. We were approaching the steps and were picking up speed! We are now in the steps on the trail known for sleds to get wrecked, mushers to get injured and wipe outs! The team and I made it without out any problems, we all did great! There were a few photographers on the side of the steps to take pictures but the team was well focused and I don’t think they were bothered. I myself glanced at them and continued to watch the team excel to the drop off. Once we dropped down, I looked over the team and all the dogs were lined out perfectly fine with no one tangled at all. Several teams were camped out right past the steps. After that, the trail has some pretty steep climbs, which I got behind my sit down sled to push it up the hills. My team is definitely not the best going up hills at all so I come into action and push, pedal or ski pole as much as possible. The trail seemed to get worse with very soft snow and slow going. The trail was a little different coming into Rainy Pass and it added a few more miles with a very step hill to climb, which I think none of us enjoyed. Oak and Aspen start to bark as we begin to go up the hills; they are the cheerleaders for the team. I heard and saw several airplanes flying overhead to and from Rainy Pass. That meant we were getting closer! This checkpoint is very busy with fans coming to visit. It’s a great scenic place to see mushers come in and see how a checkpoint operates. We finally arrived at Rainy Pass and were greeted by Karen Ramstead. Karen makes a great race judge and it’s always a pleasure to see her and chat about things. I took care of all my dog chores and started to work on the broken sled. Tom Knolmayer had let me borrow a wrench to make the repairs. We also talked about the trail and how our teams were doing. I was patient while working on it and everything seemed to be great with the repair. I was happy with it and figured that if it broke again, I had an extra one in McGrath to replace it. I had new runners installed on it the week before and a few other things fixed on it. I never had a broken sled before so this was all new to me. We are allowed to send out another sled or two to any checkpoint at our cost. The dogs were all doing great, eating, drinking well, resting and no signs of any injuries. I was feeling really good at this point in the race. Karen told me that if the sled needed another repair, that the team of checkers in Rohn would have no problem fixing it. My blood sugars were a little high at this point but when I’m racing, I always prefer them to be higher than lower. If my blood sugars go too low, it can cause to pass out and that would not be good at all. I put booties on the team and we were going to make this next run at nighttime. McKinley starts getting excited when I start hooking up the tug lines and that gets the team motivated. The team looked great leaving the checkpoint. We rested 4hrs. and 35 minutes.
Rainy Pass to Rohn (35 miles) 4hrs. 9min.
This section of trail runs on open treeless tundra, small valleys and through the Dalzell Gorge. This is the highest point on the trail at 3,160 feet above sea level. We left Rainy Pass and about 5 miles out, the team picked up speed as they had spotted a fox on the right side of the trail. I saw his eyes in the distance with my headlamp. It’s always nice to see wildlife along the trail as long as they don’t interfere with us. I kept looking at the repair I made to the sled and the bolt that I used to fix it didn’t last long with the hose clamps. It was going to be hard going through the famous Dalzell Gorge but we had no choice. Its very scenic going through this area, but you will want to hold on and pay very close attention. I couldn’t wait to get to Rohn and hope they could help fix it better than I did. Steering the sled was very difficult, but we were making good time. I saw several headlamps leading the trail long in front of me. At times they looked like stars in the distance but they were other mushers looking back. Several teams were camped along the trail. As we were coming down the steep trail, I kept breaking and it didn’t seem to slow us down at all. The trails are tough in areas but again I didn’t think I hit anything bad, as there was lots of snow compared to other years, the trail was in great shape. I kept breaking and looked down to see that the brake bar was broke! I said to myself what’s going on that I’m having so many problems this early in the race. This definitely got me down as I had another thing to fix on the sled. It was very hard to navigate in the tight trail with a broken sled. I wiped out now and had my foot stuck under the drag mat! I was getting dragged down the trail bouncing off trees and trying to pull the sled into a snow bank. I lost one of my ski poles along the way and the entire side of my sled bag was split open. The wheel dogs, Cedar, Willow, McKinley and Marble were really pulling at hard as they could. We finally stopped up against a tree. I was wedged against it, trying to get my boot unstuck from under the drag mat while the dogs kept barking and wanting to go. Oak was really making a lot of noise and jumping. I was hoping another musher was close by to help me out but that wasn’t the case. Lots of people always say how fun it must be to compete in the Iditarod; this was not a fun moment at all! I was hoping that my ankle was not going to break. I finally was able to get my foot out and we were on the way again, sore but no broken bones. The dogs were doing great and crossed the several man made bridges over the water. Brown and Black led the team and we went though everything without any problems, I’m so proud of this team and how well they work together. We pulled into Rohn in 36thposition without brakes, but all was well. We parked the team and I spoke with Warren Palfrey and Terry Boyle about my sled. Within an hour or so, they came over and fixed my sled. They did an amazing job on it and saved me from scratching in Rohn as I don’t think I would have made it to McGrath to switch out sleds. All the dog chores were done and the dogs were looking great! I went inside the cabin to fill up on drinking water and tang, visited with a few other mushers. I was dozing at the table as I was looking at the standings and Jeff King said “your going to break your nose when your face hits the table, go lay down there’s an open bunk”. At this point I really haven’t slept much but an hour nap made a huge difference. My blood sugars were not bad considering what I went through on the way to Rohn. There was good snow in Rohn, which made it nice for the dogs to rest. The past years I’ve been there, its usually bare ground and no snow leaving the checkpoint. I packed my sled and brought enough food for a camp out since this next run was 75 plus miles. All dogs were bootied up and ready to go. We rested 5 hrs. 12 minutes.
Rohn to Nickolai (75 miles) 13hrs. 34min.
This section of trail travels through gravel, sandbars, rivers, hills, treed areas and overflow. We pulled out of Rohn with a fixed sled and a happy dog team and musher as well. I took a half bale of straw with to use on our camp out. About a mile leaving the checkpoint someone in front lost there straw and several dog bowls, I hesitated on picking up the bowls but figured I wouldn’t catch the musher who lost them or knew who they belonged to. The trail in the area was the best that I have ever seen with a great amount of snow! The trail known as the Farewell Burn goes through a lot of burned out areas from fires that had happened back in 1978. Lots of burned trees and debris lined the trail for many miles. I remember going through this before with no snow, lots of bare ground and dusty conditions. This time the dogs had plenty of snow to dip into for some for moisture. As the sun was rising, you can see the mountains and ridges in the distance. The trail seemed to be getting softer and slower as the sun was getting higher. Several of the dogs seemed to pick up a bug and had some diarrhea, which I treated them for. I was approaching the buffalo camp, which is 41 miles from Nickolai. I was considering on stopping if no one else was there. Several mushers were camped out and sleeping so I continued down the trail another 5 miles. I found a turnout that a snow machine had made and parked my team for a 4-5 hour rest. I did the usual dog chores and I had something to eat. The dogs really rested well in the heat of the day. Several mushers that I had passed earlier were done with there rest and now passing me. Two insider guys had stopped and did a short interview with me about my sled. Emily Maxwell had stopped to rest also and I helped her park her team. I took an hour nap on my sled, and then packed up things so we could continue down the trail. As we continued down the slow trail, I noticed ahead that there was overflow. Brown and Black jumped on either side of the trail to get around it. Willow, Cedar, Marble and McKinley ran right through the middle of it and seemed to really enjoy it. I myself kneeled on my seat to avoid getting my boots wet. There were several areas of overflow that continued for miles. We had no issues at all with this part of the trail. We were getting close to Nickolai, the snow started to fall and the sun was going down quick. Cedar on the other hand was not pulling like he should be. I stopped and loaded him in the sled. He is known for not wanting to pull when we are going longer distances, but this was earlier than I figured. We now checked into Nickolai, did our dog chores, had a great meal provided by the school, talked with several mushers and I took a longer nap in the school than I wanted too, but I really needed it. I decided to drop Cedar, as I knew that I would have issues with him down the trail. Willow would now run single since Cedar was dropped. The snow was really coming down at a good amount! I packed things up and talked with race judge Justin Savidis for quite sometime about the trail and other things. We rested 6 hrs. 58 minutes.
Nickolai to McGrath (48 miles) 6hrs. 15min.
This section of the trail travels through lakes, swamps, and treed areas. We left with Maple in lead instead of Black, as she was not leading like she should. I was hoping that Brown would be ok with this change. After a short time, they both worked well together. The trail was completely covered with the new snow and I could barely see any tracks in front of me. It was snowing so hard; I could only see the first 6 dogs in front of the sled. Coal and Slate really stepped up and were working very hard. The teams in front of me, you could tell were looking for the trail as they zigzagging back and forth down the trail. I noticed lots of moose tracks in the snow and was hoping that we didn’t encounter any in the snowstorm. I stopped several times to check on the leaders to make sure the front end was not tangled up. I also snacked the team twice during this run. Oh, and the sled was holding up just fine. Canyon seemed to have a hard time on this part of the trail, but I figured once the deep parts were over she would be great. Canyon is one of my smallest dogs and the deep snow is definitely hard on her. The snow started to let up as the sun started to rise, which made me happy. It’s good to have snow but this was getting to be too much as the team was not used to breaking trail this much. The snow had stopped and I was approaching McGrath. I pulled into McGrath and was greeted by Rob Johnson and Mark Cox, two checkers that I know and have helped me out in the past. I considered on changing sleds, but I like the sit down one better as it has more room. I decided to not take my 24 break here. The vet signed my book and I was off to Takotna. We rested 2 minutes.
McGrath to Takotna (18 miles) 2hrs. 26min.
This section of the trail travels through rivers, swamps and treed areas. We dropped down the steep bank onto the river. The dogs looked back at me wondering why we weren’t stopping at this checkpoint. Kodiak and Grizzly were pulling very hard. These two brothers always give it there all. I continued to tell them straight ahead guys; we have 18 miles and will take our 24-hour rest in Takotna. I wonder what they really thought. Since I started number 38, we actually were able to actually rest 25 hours with the time differential. The trail was slow, punchy, and it was kind of warm out. Canyon was not pulling at all so I stopped and loaded her in the basket. I think this is the second time she has rode in the sled the last few days so I decided that I would drop her in Takotna. As we were approaching Takotna, I could see it in the distance and saw a drone flying above me following me into the checkpoint. We now checked into Takotna and were greeted by Jansen Cardy, race judges Jim Davis, Karen Ramstead and others. I declared my 24-hour mandatory rest. There were a lot of mushers taking there 24-hour here. I have never stopped here before, but heard they have great food and pies. The wonderful people parked my team up on the hill and I did all the usual chores as always and feed the dogs more than usual since we would be taking a longer rest. They had hot water for us also. As always they were so excited to eat everything I offered them. Oak, Kodiak and Grizzly were growling at each other while I was handing out the meals, they always have to compete on who is in charge. The sun was shinning bright and the dogs loved resting in it. I looked over each dog and massaged everyone with mushers aid, incase they were sore from our runs. I found nothing wrong with anyone except a few minor sore feet from losing booties on the trail. I let the dogs rest and talked with Jansen about the race. I was interviewed by a few reporters from KTVA about my sled and Tegan Hanlon from ADN about my lead dog Brown. It’s nice to see the media covering the race along the trail for the fans to see what’s happing with the teams. I worked a little more with my sled bag by adding zip ties to keep it closed from the big tear I have in it. Emily Maxwell and Scott Janssen were parked near me so we had a few stories to share and talked about how our races were going. I eventually went inside to eat, drink plenty and look over the standings. I talked with several mushers and volunteers while eating. The food and pies were great! I ate very well and they took care of everyone as fast as possible. I was than headed to take a nap in the church; it was packed with mushers and gear. I found a spot but kept moving around as mushers departed from their 24-hour rest. My sugars were a little high again but weren’t worried at all. I was thinking that my insulin might be getting too warm and it wasn’t as effective as it should be. I then decided to carry it under another layer not so close to my body. As the sun set, I unpacked my fleece dog blankets that were made last year by Lorraine Cranes class from Pacifica High School in California. These neon blankets are all personalized with each dogs name on them with great motivation lines. I was happy that they could get another years use out of them. I think after this Iditarod, I will hang them up in the house to display them. I kept feeding the dogs often while on our 24-hour break. I also walked each of the dogs a short distance to stretch them out a bit. Time was really going by fast and I was getting ready to booty the dogs and get back on the trail. I did end up dropping Canyon at Takotna. We rested 25 hours 2 minutes.
Takotna to Ophir (23 miles) 2hrs. 28min.
This section of trail travels along the mining road to Ophir with some steep hills. We left Takotna with Brown and Maple in lead. There is a steep 9-mile climb to the top of the hill. We did pretty well on this section. We went past several old mining vehicles and small buildings that I think are still in use during the summer months for mining. It’s actually a nice trail to travel on and we go around a few bridges. It was a nice sunny day once again and the trail was a little slow. We pulled into Ophir with a happy, barking team. I stopped, had my vet book signed, went through my drop bags, took a half bale of straw for our next campout and continued down the trail. We rested 7 minutes.
Ophir to Iditarod (80 plus miles) 15hrs. 38min.
This section of the trail travels through open terrain, treed areas, ravines, swamps and lake. We left Ophir and approached the airstrip. Several planes were parked on the runway, but one was running so Brown and Maple led the team around the plane and back on the trail. The planes are used to fly in supplies and fly out dropped dogs and volunteers. We were running in the heat of the day but really had no choice. It started to get cloudy as the day when on. I stopped several times to snack the dogs. Coal and Slate had a little scuffle between their snacks but all was well. I was planning on staying at Don’s Cabin, which is about 36 miles from Ophir. It’s just a plain simple cabin for shelter. We kept going and I started to wonder, where is the cabin? It seemed like forever to get there. I saw no teams at all during this long run. The sun was setting and I really wanted to get to the cabin as it looked like a storm was moving in. We reached the cabin and I was the only one there at the time and did all the dog chores. I started my cooker to melt snow for the dog’s meal. Mike Williams Jr. had arrived shortly after me. I went inside the cabin to rest a bit. About any hour later, I heard Jim Lanier outside and I helped him park his team. Oh, and it was sure snowing outside now! I went back inside and a short time later, Scott Jannsen and Emily Maxwell came in. I helped park both of the teams. The snow seemed to be coming down heavier. They talked about how horrible the trail was coming to Dons Cabin and they were glad to be there. I knew the other half of the trail to Iditarod was going to be very hard. I packed this up and was back on the trail. The dogs were actually doing very well despite the heavy snow, breaking trail and slow conditions. I could not see any tracks in front of me at all. The snow was coming down at a fast pace and blowing pretty good in the open areas, which caused lots of drifting. These dogs were defiantly getting a very hard work out. Hawk was really doing great which surprised me as she had two years off from racing. As we continued down the trail, I was catching up to two mushers, which happened to be Mike and Anna. Anna was doing the trail breaking during this part. Even though I was behind them, the trail was drifting over and very hard to find. It was marked ok, but for a moment didn’t see any markers. Sometimes these markers get blown over or knocked over from over teams. I passed Mike and was about to pass Anna but decided to rebooty several dogs as they lost them going through the very deep trail. I also snacked and let the two teams get further in front of mine. My dogs were getting very tired at this point. Again, it seemed like forever to get to Iditarod. We finally pulled into Iditarod with 14 tired dogs! Warren was the race judge at this checkpoint and asked how the sled repairs were and I told him they were great. I completed the dog chores and went inside to take a rest and dry off my clothes, as I was pretty wet from the snow. My blood sugars were very high (400’s) so I changed my set, as I knew something wasn’t right. Usually any type of activity lowers my sugars but it wasn’t happening. When your sugars are high, you get really thirsty, crabby, and can’t think straight. It’s hard to explain but it’s not a good feeling whatsoever. I stayed positive and said to myself; I better start giving the dogs more rest and watch my sugars closer. As I was resting in the mushers cabin and the race judge came in with a notice stating that the Eagle Island Checkpoint is now a hospitality stop! Our drop bags were not going to be there but they would have heet for us to warm up water for the dogs and we could drop dogs if we needed to. I thought it must be bad weather for them to not get our supplies delivered. The sun was rising and the snow was starting to let up but it was still blowing. Jeff Schultz was taking some pictures and Greg Heister from the Insider did a short interview with me. These guys with many others were stuck for several days due to the weather conditions. After a longer rest than we figured we take, we were back on the trail. We rested 7hrs. 36 minutes.
Iditarod to Shageluk (55 miles) 8hrs. 40min.
This section of trail has lots of hilly terrain, which ranges from 500 to 1000 feet, I left thinking to myself; we are almost halfway to Nome! It sure was a hard trail at times, sled issues and now I started having very high blood sugars. At one point, I wanted to scratch with all the problems I was having, but I just couldn’t as so many fans are watching me and I have great friends that are waiting for me in Nome! Things will get better; you get sleep deprived on the trail and start seeing things. For me this year was bridges. We would be going along the trail, mostly at night and duck. Wonder why a bridge is out here? Nope, no bridges! Anyways, the trail was very slow, drifting and punchy. The dogs were again getting a hard workout. Brown and Maple were doing an outstanding job looking for the trail. Marble, McKinley and Willow were still the wheel dogs and had kept the sled in line with the team. We were still making good times though. At one point we were off the trail and I stepped off and sunk up to my waist in snow. I got myself out and said how much harder can this get! We came up to another shelter cabin and the dogs for sure thought we were going to stop, but we continued down the trail to Shageluk. The sun was going down and it was getting a little cooler out. I was hoping that the trail would setup and get faster as is usually does at nighttime. I saw the lights of the checkpoint and was very happy to see them. We pulled into Shageluk around 34th place and were greeted by checker Joe Jacobson. I know Joe and he showed me where everything was as far as water, etc. I parked the team and started to open my drop bags and noticed that the meat has thawed out and refroze again. Everything was a frozen block, which had to be broken apart with my ax. I was now concerned that I would be feeding spoiled meat. I picked through everything and was able to find enough meat to feed the dogs without any issues. Black and Maple got into a scuffle about their food so I had to separate them. As did, Willow and McKinley too. They definitely had energy to argue. Some of the dogs had diarrhea again which happened throughout the race at times. I medicated them and it always cleared up. I went into the checkpoint hoping the dogs that I separated would behave so I could take a nap. I was so warm, and comfortable, I slept through my alarms. I was really getting tired at this point in the race. I’m sure that the dogs enjoyed the extra rest too. My sugars had come down a bit so I was happy about that. I packed things up and headed out. We rested 7hrs. 47 minutes.
Shageluk to Anvik (25 miles) 3 hrs. 0 min.
This section of the trail travels though lowlands, lakes some sloughs and treed areas. We left Shageluk and were heading to Anvik. I thought about Rudy Demoski as he was from Anvik and we had traveled this trail together back in 2013. Rudy had passed away recently from cancer. He was always in a great mood and smiling. The dogs were moving along great on the trail as we pulled into Anvik and was greeting by race judge Kevin Saiki. Kevin with all the others is a great guy to see at the checkpoints and always willing to help anyone. He has given me lots of advice over the years during racing. I didn’t plan on staying in Anvik since it’s so close to the other checkpoints. I went through my bags and was headed back on the trail. Maybe one day I will stay there to visit since no one hardly stops and stays to rest. It looked like the town had a lot of history behind it. We rested 16 minutes.
Anvik to Grayling (18 miles) 2hrs. 28 min.
This section of the trail travels mostly on the Yukon River with a few sloughs for several miles. We now are on the famous Yukon River. The Yukon is very wide, long and the dogs can very easily get bored on the river. There is not much at all to keep them motivated. The sun was out in full force once again and the trail seemed to be very slow. I looked at my GPS at our speed and said; “it’s going to be a long day.” All 14 dogs were looking good as we musher down the Yukon. On the left side of the river, there are several tall steep slopes. I saw a fish wheel and a small cabin that I’m sure get used a lot during the summertime. I heard several airplanes flying over and one in particular was flying very low above the mighty Yukon River. They were having fun and most likely taking pictures. I dozed off and woke up to the team stopped and looking back at me. They seem to know when I fall asleep as the stop running. I’m sure they think if I’m going to sleep, they need a rest also. It’s amazing at how smart dogs are. This only happened for about several minutes, luckily I didn’t fall off my sled. We now were arriving in Grayling and noticed the ADN photographer taking pictures of our team coming in, that picture made the front page on March 11th 2018. Very proud to have my team on the front page! I didn’t recognize the building when coming in and realized that it was a newly built community center. Grayling had hot water for us also so I didn’t have to start my cooker. I had completed all the chores and talked to some of the village kids. They can sometimes be a bit overwhelming by getting too close to the team and playing around the sled. Kodiak let them know to stay clear, as he wanted to get some rest. Good job Kodiak! Black and Maple were again arguing over their food so I they were separated again. I went inside the school and slept for about 2 hours. Mike Williams Jr. and I chatted for a bit with Jeff King on how the race was going. All the dogs were doing well and I was still running everyone in order except Maple taking over lead from Black. Hawk was running in single since she was also coming out of heat, as Canyon was her running partner but was dropped back in Takotna. Willow was running by himself since I dropped Cedar. He doesn’t really get along with anyone else except Yukon at times. Coal and Slate were working so well, I hardly knew they were on the team. I decided to declare my 8-hour mandatory rest at Grayling. I knew we had a very long run ahead of us and wanted to give them some extra rest. Our Eagle Island bags were delivered to us at Grayling. I went through the bags and packed several meals and snacks for our next run. I usually over pack meals but I’d rather be safe than sorry. I also took a half bale of straw since Eagle Island didn’t have any. I booted up the team and we pulled out of Grayling with 14 dogs. We rested 8hrs. 4 min.
Grayling to Eagle Island to Kaltag (120 miles) 21hrs. 9 min.
This section of the trail travels on the Yukon River. We left Graying and it was a really slow trail, the sun was out and you can feel how warm it was. I did notice several tracks from moose that have crossed the river and only saw one very far away from us. Several teams were camping out in the heat of the day but I continued on. I stopped several times to snack the team some fish, as they need to keep eating to fuel their body. I could see a team moving in front of me that looked like a small dot. This Yukon River seemed to go on forever! I dozed off a few times and the team stopped again, I woke up and we continued down the trail. McKinley was not really pulling like he should at this point in the race; he would be the next one to drop as he’s one of my biggest dogs and doesn’t make it fun to carry him in the sled if needed. Yukon and Black were moved to different positions, as they weren’t working well where I had them. Throughout the race dogs get bored and have to be moved around at times. The sun has gone down and I could see the lights of the Eagle Island checkpoint. We pulled into the checkpoint and were greeted by the crew, (I cant remember the names, sorry) I was expecting it to be a lot worse, but it was actually put together really nice with Christmas lights. They had cold water for us, which I had to start my cooker to warm up the water for the dogs meal, hot coffee and heated tents for the mushers. I did all the dog chores, warmed up my steak and vegetable meal that I sent out and took an hour nap. At this point the other mushers had left, so I had the tent to myself. I dropped McKinley and was sad to leave him behind. We are now headed to Kaltag after an approximate 4-5 hour rest at the Eagle Island hospitality checkpoint. The trail was exactly the same way, nothing to look at but the banks and a few cabins and another fish wheel. This was our last 60 plus miles on the Yukon River. It was very slow going but we were moving along. I saw the Kaltag checkpoint and was happy to get off of the river as I think the dogs were too! We pulled into Kaltag in 31st place with 13 dogs. I was greeted by Bob Lawson, which I have known for several years, always great to see him and catch up. We were kind of maintaining our position, which I was happy with. We parked the team and did our dog chores. I went inside to eat a meal, have some fresh popcorn, look at the standings, dry my clothes off and take a nap. My sugars were a little higher but defiantly doing better. I talked with several over mushers as to how their race was going. Several were a little down at this point because of the tough trail conditions and how slow we were going. We all train so hard and it’s a little bit of a let down when we aren’t going as fast as we would like too and things go wrong. But we all kept positive and continued to push on. Sometimes I feel it’s harder on the musher than on the dogs. I packed up my sled and took a half bale of straw for our final campout in the 2018 Iditarod. We rested 8 hrs. 23 min.
Kaltag to Unalakleet (85 miles) 16hrs. 39min.
This section of the trail travels mostly through wooded areas, valleys, and open tundra. We left Kaltag with 13 dogs and it was a bit slow leaving the checkpoint. Larry had left a little before me and we passed him shortly out of the checkpoint. The trail was slow again and it seemed to be starting to snow again. In past years it has been very windy, drifted and low snow conditions in areas. This time there was lots of snow! We didn’t have any issues along the way at all. We continued down the trail and we reached Old Women’s Cabin. I parked the team, put down straw and made a meal for the team. It had stopped snowing and it was a cloudy day. I started to make a fire inside the cabin and it kept going out. Larry had pulled into Old Women’s Cabin and after his chores we both split up some wood and he had the fire going in no time. That cabin was so warm we ended up opening the door, as it was too hot. We talked a little bit before we each took a nap. My sugars were really high again and I couldn’t figure out what was going on, was it the insulin, my set or not getting any rest and not on a set schedule. I rested the team around 5 plus hours. I got the dogs ready to go and we were back on the trail. The dogs looked kind of slow but the trail was very soft once again. We were actually doing pretty well. It seems the longer you’re on the trail everything is in slow motion since you haven’t had any decent amount of rest. Your face is wind burned and your eyes are dried out. So far I only used one set of foot warmers and one set of hand warmers. I haven’t even broken out my beaver mitts. This year the weather was not cold at all. I think I would rather have colder weather than the slow trails and soft snow. I snacked the dogs and I could see Larry in front of me for quite awhile. As we were moving along, I turned the corner onto the river and Larry was stopped about 9 miles from the checkpoint. He waved his hands for me to stop. I stopped right next to him and I helped him with one of his dogs. We loaded the dog into his sled and we were on our way to Unalakleet. I went in front of him since he would be slower with a dog in the basket. I had trouble getting into the checkpoint since Maple is so shy, she didn’t want to follow my commands and scared of other people. We finally pulled into the checkpoint and was greeted by Rob Johnson and Kathy Cappa, both who I know pretty well. I notified the checkers that Larry had a dog in his sled and to take care of him first since I didn’t have any problems. His dog ended up fine. I saw Jeff Schultz in the distant talking pictures and captured a great shot of my team, which was posted on Facebook with a lot of his amazing pictures. I did my usual chores and the team was eating great! I was a little concerned with Coal, as he seemed to be a little thin and not gaining any weight. Coal can eat everything in sight and never gains a pound. I knew we had a lot of hills to climb and decided to drop him. I might have to get him neutered as this will help out his weight issues. Coal is a great dog with a great attitude and never gives up. I was sad to see him left behind but it was the right decision for him. Kathy asked me if I wanted to split a pizza, I said of course! Rob had a Diet Coke for me also! I really stopped drinking soda but I was really craving one at this time, especially with a pizza. I also received quite a bit of musher grams at this checkpoint, Jenny Ittner’s class, Rebecca, Susan and several others. Sometimes you receive them at different checkpoints or get them futher dog the trail. Musher grams are notes from fans with positive things, saying your doing great or your almost there, good luck, etc. I’m always happy to receive them from my supporters! Unalakleet is known for having all the bacon you can eat and great food! My sugars were a bit high again but I know it was from the pizza, as that will always cause your sugars to rise. They also have separate rooms to sleep in if there are not too many mushers. I had my own room and once again overslept. I woke up pretty fast and packed up everything and was on the way to Shaktoolik. We rested 7hrs. 46 min.
Unalakleet to Shaktoolik (40 miles) 6hrs. 34 min.
This section of trail travels through the Blueberry Hills, which are very steep climbing above 1,000 feet. We left Unalakleet and were doing great reaching the top! I really worked hard running up the hills and helping the team out. It was still dark out so it made for a nice run so far. Once we reached the top, it was a long fast drop down to the beach. Once we hit the beach the weather changed for the worst! The wind was blowing so hard you could barley see the trail in front. Brown and Maple were able to follow the trail without any problems! These two leaders work so great together and were so focused. Everyone was working so hard going down the very windy, blown in trail. Hawk started to act funny going down the trail. Her gate was off and I stopped to load her in the sled. Hawk is a great dog that finished in lead with me back in 2014. She had a few years off and really steeped up in training and the Iditarod. You hardy knew she was on the team. At times I didn’t see any markers but the dogs kept moving. I was eventually able to see the trail markers. This stretch seemed like it was 100 miles! I remember several years ago getting caught in a storm with hurricane force winds and ended up walking my team to find the trail. We finally arrived at the checkpoint and greeted by the checkers and Mark Cox. I was so happy to be off that part of the trail. A lot of teams were stuck there due to the very windy conditions and snow. Everyone was waiting for it to die down. I did all my chores and decided that I would drop Hawk. I didn’t want to take any chances with her. The checkpoint was very crowded with mushers! I was talking with several mushers trying to figure out when to leave as a group, as the next part can be very dangerous. I have had problems 2 times before on this part and didn’t want to get stuck out on the trail again. Since it’s on the sea ice, there is absolutely no cover out there. I packed things up and were ready to go. We rested 8hrs. 26min.
Shaktoolik to Koyuk (50 miles) 9hrs. 14 min.
This part of the trail travels mainly on rolling terrain and the Norton Bay. Tom and I decided to leave together; my team was having trouble wanting to move down the trail so he went out in front of me. The winds have died down a lot and you could actually see a great distance around you. The trail was very slow, drifted with snow. We eventually started moving at a steady pace. I stopped several times to move dogs around to see who would work better together and snack the dogs. The sun was going down and the snow started to pick up with the wind. The trail was getting harder to see and you could now see the lights of Koyuk. These lights you can see in the distant for hours on end. At some point, I could not see any markers, fell asleep and took a snow machine trail. I woke up stopped and turned around to find the right trail. I think I only went about a quarter mile past the turn. This section was very deep with snow. We finally arrived to Koyuk with a happy but tired team of 11 dogs in 31st position and was greeted by Leslie Washburn. I completed all the dog chores and went inside to eat, get some sleep and figure out when to leave. The snow and wind had stopped and the sun was starting to come out. We packed things up and were ready to get back on the trail. We rested 8hrs. 7 min.
Koyuk to Elim (48 miles) 7hrs. 41min.
This section of trail travels through the sea ice, onto rolling ridges and along the spit into Elim. We left Koyuk and the dogs were slow moving but we eventually got on a steady pace. The trail was really soft and slow. The sun was out and it was pretty warm. The scenery along this part is very spectacular. We went past the shelter cabin and after sometime we went past the old buildings of old Elim. We were off the flats and on the steep road that takes us into Elim. The dogs were doing great and knew we were getting close to the checkpoint. At the top of the hill, we had a great view of the coast! We arrived in Elim and was greeted by Sebastian Schnuelle as we were in 32ndposition with the sun staring to go down. I could feel it getting colder. I did all the dog chores, put the dog jackets on and went inside to get some rest and eat. Elim is known for the kids to be very active around the checkpoint and the teams. They were very loud and constantly in and out of the checkpoint, which made it hard to get any rest. I went outside to get things ready and it was the coldest it’s been the entire race, -20. We rested 6hrs. 58min.
Elim to White Mountain (46 miles) 7hrs. 35min.
This section of trail travels up very steep grades climbing Little McKinley, steep downhill’s and onto Gollovin Bay. We left Elim and this year the trail was going overland instead of on the sea ice. It’s the hardest part in the final leg of the race. Again, my team is not a fan of going up steep hills and we had a hard time. I helped the team get up every hill and I was very exhausted! The trail again was pretty slow and soft. Once we reached the top, I could see the lights of Golovin. It’s not a checkpoint but we go right through the town and continue onto White Mountain. It was a very cold during this section and I was glad I had put in my foot and hand warmers before leaving Elim. We had 18 miles to go before our mandatory 8-hour rest in White Mountain. I was so excited that we made it this far with all the different problems we had since starting the race. The last 18 miles is very flat and boring, the dogs kept looking back at me, probably thinking why we didn’t stop at Golovin. The sun was starting to rise and the team was moving very slow. I could see White Mountain and we pulled into the checkpoint. I completed all the dog chores, went up to the checkpoint, did my mandatory (drug) urine test as its required for all mushers to do at the checkpoint. I ate some food and took a nap. I went through my entire sled and put things that I no longer needed in my return bags as we only had 77 miles left in the race. I booted up the team and was heading to the finish with 11 dogs! We rested 8hrs. 24min.
White Mountain to Safety (55 miles) 7hrs. 37 min.
This section of trail travels through rolling tundra, ridges, the Topkok Hills and onto the beach lined with driftwood. This can be the most dangerous part of the race as its know for hurricane force winds (80 mph) called the “blow hole” which are natural wind tunnels that has knocked out many mushers in past years. The blowing wind and blowing snow can take you right off the trail on the sea ice. We left White Mountain with the team moving very slow as this seems to happen with a lot of mushers. Once we were out about a mile or so, the team was moving along. The sun was shinning bright as can be. We made our way up the steep hills and the sun was now starting to go down. I took several pictures, as it was a great sunset to watch. Oak and Aspen were barking at times going up the hills, its fun to watch them do this. They always make great running partners. We continued down the trail and were getting close to the “blow hole”! I zipped up my parka and was prepared to get through it. The winds picked up in that area quite a bit. Yukon and Marble seemed to be struggling with this area. I stopped and loaded Yukon into the sled and snacked the dogs. We finally made it through that area and could now see the light of the Safety Roadhouse. I could see several headlamps behind me and knew that I would be passed since I was going to drop two dogs. I pulled into Safety and told the vet that I wanted to drop Yukon and Marble. I was quite surprised, as these two dogs were never dropped from a race before. They were tired and it was the best thing that I could do for them, they gave it their all! I also had to shorten my gang line as I had fewer dogs on the team. The dogs again wanted to stay at the checkpoint but we continued on. We rested 16 min.
Safety to Nome (22 miles) 3hrs. 37min.
This final leg of the race goes up and over Cape Nome and onto the beach to the finish. We were going slow out of the checkpoint, but started a steady pace about to go up Cape Nome. This was again very hard for us to climb up to the top. I helped the dogs the entire time telling them we are almost there guys, great job! Once we reached the top, I could see the lights of Nome in the far distance. I said to myself “we are finally here” and I thanked each one of my dogs” The Northern lights were dancing behind me with nice colors of green shinning along the sky. We were getting closer to Nome as the lights got brighter. Brown and Maple were going back and forth on which side of the trail to take. It caused them and the swing dogs to get tangled up so I had to stop the team and untangle them. This caused the team behind us to pass us on the final 2 miles. I heard the sirens go off in the distant as that meant we were 1 mile from the finish line. I continued to thank the dogs for doing an outstanding job during this hard Iditarod! We pulled into the chute with 9 dogs and were greeted by checker Julie Johnson, race marshal Mark Nordman and race vet Stu Nelson. Jason Tranchitella, Pete Konefke, Rebecca Daugherty and several others who flew into Nome were also there at the finish to congratulate us. These three made sure all the kennels were put together in the dog lot in Nome so the dogs could fly back home. I was very happy with finishing my forth Iditarod and proud of my team! It’s a feeling that you cannot explain unless you have done it! We all worked very hard for five plus months to train the team so we can get to the finish in Nome. It definitely takes a lot of energy; time and money to accomplish something like this. I do all the training myself with my own dogs that I have raised from puppies. They are a great group, super friendly and fun to work with, they are definitely my family!
The dogs that finished were (lead to wheel) Brown, Maple, Aspen, Oak, Kodiak, Grizzly, Black, Slate and Willow. This was Maple and Slates first time on finishing. All the others have finished two-four Iditarod’s.
A big Thank You to everyone that has sponsored us and helped us out in any way! Without the continued support to the team and me, we could have not competed in the race! We appreciate it very much!
In closing, overall we had a great time despite having several problems with the sled, trail conditions and dealing with my diabetes. We didn’t give up and made it to the end. I’m not sure about the 2019 Iditarod as I’m unsure about which dogs would be able to complete it again, as several will be retiring and I don’t have any litters on the way. This means I would have to purchase or lease some young dogs to be a bit more competitive. I would also consider on having a handler to help out with things but is another added expense. Please continue to follow on Facebook and Iditarodmusher.com for updates with the kennel.
All dogs are back home and are in great shape!
We finished the race in:
11 days 14 hours 43 minutes 6 seconds
Thank you very much,