Here Comes La Grande Odyssée

The race is on in France’s Haute-Savoie region, as the first stage of the tenth annual Grande Odyssée is now underway. Nineteen mushers are competing in this year’s LGO, with four mushers racing for the mid-distance UMES Trophy as part of the first stage from Les Carroz to Flaine.

Today’s official start follows a frenetic night in which race managers had to reroute part of the course due to unseasonably warm temperatures. Such temperatures are getting to be par for the course (to use another sports metaphor) in sled dog racing and other winter sports around the globe. Some of the qualifying races for this year’s Iditarod in Alaska had to once again be cancelled thanks to similar spring-like temperatures. In addition to limiting snow on the ground, warm temperatures are particularly hard on huskies used to running in frigid arctic weather.

You can find a list of this year’s LGO mushers here.

Three mushers in particular are favored to win this year’s race:

HavrdaRadek Havrda – A veteran from the Czech Republic,
the 40-year-old musher is the race’s only double champion,
winning in 2009 and 2012. Havrda has also finished
LGO in the top five in 2008, 2010, and 2013.

JuillaguetDaniel Juillaguet – The 46-year-old French veteran has finished
in the top ten of LGO in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, and 2006.
Thus far, he has finished every LGO he has entered. He came in sixth place in last year’s race.

PontierJean-Phillippe Pontier – Pontier has finished in third place in LGO in the past three years. The 40-year-old French veteran has finished in the top ten of LGO in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2006.

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PETAPOLOGY: PETA Apologizes to Iditarod Musher Paige Drobny

Paige Drobny and her dogs

Apparently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has a heart for animals of the human variety as well. Either that, or it’s trying to avoid a lawsuit.

A few weeks ago, I posted about the death of Iditarod musher Paige Drobny’s dog Dorado and PETA’s subsequent letter to the Nome District Attorney asking that Drobny and race organizers be held criminally responsible. The full text of the letter was published on PETA’s website.

A few days later, Drobny’s attorney sent a letter to PETA demanding it retract the accusations against Drobny or face a possible lawsuit.

Yesterday, the Alaska Dispatch reported that PETA has issued an apology to Drobny:

PETA has learned that Ms. Drobny had no way of knowing that a sudden storm was coming to the checkpoint area and is not culpable for Dorado’s death. PETA apologizes for suggesting that she was. PETA thanks Ms. Drobny for asking the Iditarod to make changes so as to supply shelter for all dogs dropped off at collection points along the race route in the future and is pleased that the Iditarod has agreed.

The statement goes on to say that “this cruel race should end—but until then, Iditarod organizers need to enact further reforms, including time limits on dogs’ participation and better supervision to prevent abusive training methods.”

Drobny is not impressed. In an email to the press, she takes issue with the way PETA places the apology within a general condemnation of the Iditarod. “We are bothered by the obvious attempt to bury this release in a larger piece of PETA propaganda, released on the weekend,” Drobny’s email states.

It is not clear if Drobny and her attorney are planning to move forward with a suit against PETA. “We are considering our options in light of this weak effort,” Drobny says.

Interestingly enough, PETA has still not removed from its website the original letter condemning Drobny.

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Until Next Season…

Aliy Zirkle's Dogs Howl

Aliy Zirkle’s team is ready to go outside the White Mountain checkpoint in 2013 Iditarod. Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News

This post ends my coverage of the 2013 Iditarod. I’ll leave you with the above photo of Aliy Zirkle’s dog team breaking into howls as they prepare to leave the White Mountain checkpoint. Can you hear them? They’re howling, “So long!”

I’ll be back to cover next year’s Yukon Quest and Iditarod. Between now and then, I’ll occasionally post mushing-related musings here or link to articles elsewhere that I find interesting. Otherwise, this blog will go into semi-hibernation until next winter.

It was fun covering the Iditarod. I learned a lot, and I hope my coverage next year is even better as a result of what I’ve learned.

Here are my three takeaways from this year’s race.

Fundamentals still matter

Martin Buser’s unprecedented 177-mile nonstop run from Willow to Rohn certainly made this year’s race exciting, and it seemed to toss a snow hook into the tactics of some of the other mushers. But in the end, his bold plan failed. He was a mushing Swiss Napoleon whose past victories apparently weren’t enough, and the Yukon River was his Waterloo. The rainy weather, combined with fatigue and perhaps a bad batch of water in Iditarod, upset the best laid plans of musher and dogs.

The lead changed often during this year’s race as mushers reacted to Buser and the unusual weather–high temperatures, rain on the Yukon. But in the end, fundamentals came out on top. Mitch Seavey ran a highly disciplined race, and he didn’t let Buser’s pyrotechnics, or anything else, sway him. Even as other mushers jockeyed for the lead, he stuck to his plan, never cutting rest short, never giving chase.

It will be interesting to see if Buser tries his plan, or some form of it, again in the future. Had he won, it would have changed the way mushers approach the race going forward. The fact that he didn’t win may change things too. Although no other musher had before attempted such a lengthy run to start a race, getting a big lead early and trying to hold it has been tried several times in recent years, by Buser and other mushers. As Buser said after the race, “it’s fun to try new things.” But the fact that Buser took it as far as he did and still came up short, and Seavey, who didn’t lead until Unalakleet, went on to win may signal the death knell of the ambitious big lead strategy. As Dallas Seavey told the Alaska Dispatch, “Everyone’s coming from behind and crushing it. People are going to start reassessing how far out ahead they want to be.”

As ever, tortoise beats hare.

Age doesn’t matter

After Dallas Seavey became last year’s youngest Iditarod champion at the age of 25, leading a pack made up mostly of other young mushers, there was talk that a page may have turned in the history of the Last Great Race, that youth and athleticism would become the determining traits of Iditarod winners. This year’s race put that theory to rest, at least for now, with 53-year-old Mitch Seavey becoming the oldest Iditarod champion, 43-year-old Aliy Zirkle finishing a close second, and 57-year-old Jeff King rounding out third. Four of the top ten finishers this year were over 50. One of them, Sonny Lindner, is 63.

Experience still counts. Never count an old dog out.

Don’t measure dog teams, or mushers, by how they look coming into checkpoints

Although it may be a positive sign when a dog team lopes into a checkpoint with tails wagging, heads held high, looking like they could easily go another hundred miles, it’s not a determining factor in which team will win the race. Aaron Burmeister’s dog team looked fantastic coming into most checkpoints. At various times, so did Martin Buser’s and Aliy Zirkle’s. Mitch Seavey’s dogs, on the other hand, often looked tired.

But looking tired may only tell you what kind of run a team has just come off of, not the kind of rests they’re getting or what their condition is in the race as a whole. Seavey seemed to have his run/rest cycle down to a science this year, because his team was consistently fast between checkpoints. They never faded, perhaps because Seavey rarely cut rest short, even if it meant allowing other mushers to overtake him. He gave his dogs the rest he felt they needed.

The same holds true for mushers. Who would have guessed when Cindy Abbott came into Takotna checkpoint that she had suffered a broken pelvis 300 miles earlier and would eventually have to be rescued outside of Kaltag? Aliy Zirkle, on the other hand, looked exhausted by mid-race. She probably was. But she went on to finish second and came close to capturing her first championship.

It’s tempting as you’re watching the Iditarod to look for that magic something that will tell you who will win. Who has the best leader? The best strategy? Which team appears freshest. Who is fastest between checkpoints? Who has the highest average speed? Who is taking the most or least amount of rest?

But a confluence of factors come into play in an endurance race. Being an experienced musher with a strong dog team, a good leader, and a smart strategy certainly helps. But luck also plays a part. Mistakes are made, even by the best. No strategy is perfect, and any strategy has to be flexible enough to deal with the vagaries of weather, dogs, fatigue, and whatever else the Last Great Race has to throw at mushers.

With this in mind, I’ll be back next year to make my best guesses. I’ll bring a dart board, a Ouija board, and a crystal ball.

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PETA, the Iditarod, and the Death of Dorado

Paige Drobny

Paige Drobny at the 2012 Yukon Quest

In an earlier post, I mentioned the unfortunate death of rookie musher Paige Drobny’s dog Dorado. Drobny dropped Dorado at the Unalakleet checkpoint on March 11. The checkpoint, which normally houses dropped dogs in two airport storage facilities before flying them to Anchorage, was overwhelmed with 135 dogs Thursday night after a plane that was supposed to pick some of them up was unable to land due to bad weather. There was only space enough to keep 105 dogs in the storage facilities. Thirty dogs, including Dorado, were placed outside directly behind the buildings to protect them from the wind. The dogs were last checked at 3:00am Friday morning, but after sunup it was discovered a snowdrift had passed through and buried eight of the dogs. Dorado was one of them. He died of asphyxiation. The other buried dogs were fine.

It’s not unusual for huskies to survive being buried beneath the snow. The dogs’ double coats allow them to withstand temperatures as cold as -80F, and there are many stories of huskies on and off the trail curling up to sleep during snowdrifts and emerging hours later unharmed.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) got wind of the Dorado incident and, according to the Associated Press, is now pressuring the Nome District Attorney’s Office to file charges against those it feels are responsible for the death, including Drobny.

This move is perhaps not surprising. PETA has been trying to put an end to the Last Great Race for years.

Now, according to AP, Paige Drobny’s lawyer has sent a letter threatening to sue PETA unless it retracts “unfounded allegations that (Drobny) left her dog unattended, that she is to blame for the death of the dog, and that she should be criminally prosecuted.” PETA has not yet received the letter and will not comment on the possible suit.

Meanwhile, the Iditarod Trail Committee, which refuses to comment on the PETA charges, yesterday put out a press release on its investigation into Dorado’s death and possible measures going forward to prevent similar deaths. Here’s an excerpt:

Members of the ITC Board and Race officials have begun discussions relating to possible measures which might have mitigated the outcome in this incident. It plans to meet with various stakeholders, including Dorado’s owners, and members of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club to discuss and determine ways in which to further enhance its dropped dog policies and procedures. As of this date, decisions have been made to construct dog boxes to be located at the hub communities of McGrath and Unalakleet, to arrange for more frequent flights which will have the effect of shortening the time that a dropped dog remains in a checkpoint, and to conduct even more frequent patrols of the dropped dog lots.

One would think PETA would be happy with the ITC’s willingness to take immediate steps to obviate future dog deaths at checkpoints. After all, this is the first time in the race’s 40-year history that a dog has died as a result of being cared for at a checkpoint. And thanks to improvements in dog care over the years, it’s the first dog death the race has experienced overall since 2009.

But PETA isn’t really concerned about improvements in dog care. It sees the very idea of the Iditarod as abusive to dogs and wants it to end. Period. Demanding criminal charges be brought against volunteers, vets, and mushers is simply a way to embarrass the Iditarod and drum up the support of PETA members.

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Mitch and Dallas on CBS This Morning

CBS This Morning

This morning, Mitch and Dallas Seavey appeared on CBS This Morning. It was a little odd watching mushers accustomed to the grim Alaskan wilderness in a perky morning show setting, but it was nice to see the race get some Outside publicity. Dallas especially seemed to take to it.

Here’s a link to the video: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50143215n

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More on Cindy Abbott

Craig Medred is an award-winning journalist who has written about the Iditarod and life in Alaska for decades. On Sunday, Medred reported in the Alaska Dispatch about Cindy Abbott’s ill-fated Iditarod run, and he corrects a couple of factual mistakes reported in the Orange County Register piece I linked to earlier.

Abbott did indeed fall on the ice and break her pelvis early in the race and eventually had to be rescued outside the Kaltag checkpoint 600 miles later. However, according to Abbott, she was not suffering from extreme hypothermia as originally reported.

Medred also reveals what the race cost Abbott, not only physically but financially.Yet through it all, Abbott is surprisingly upbeat about her experience: “I had a great experience. It was fabulous. It’s all good.”

The fact that Abbott was able to continue for another 600 miles after such a terrible injury is mind-boggling. Iditarod.com has video of Abbott coming into Takotna checkpoint, 329 miles into the race, and you would never guess by looking at her what she had suffered. At this point, no one actually knew what had happened to her, and apparently she wasn’t complaining. Talk about tough!

Here’s a link to Medred’s article: http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130317/rookie-musher-iditarod-proves-painful-good-experience

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Iditarod XLI Finishers Banquet

Finishers Banquet

The Finishers Banquet took place Sunday afternoon in Nome. Rookie Christine Roalofs was off the trail in time to receive her Red Lantern Award, the award given to the Iditarod’s last place finisher. “As a former volunteer who used to stand here in Nome at these banquets and watch the finishers get up here and accept their awards, I’m just as honored as I could ever be to be one of you guys,” Roalofs told the hall of mushers, race officials, and veterinarians.

Upon receiving his GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award for first musher into the Iditarod checkpoint, Lance Mackey joked that he would use some of the $3,000 in placer gold nuggets awarded to him to replace his missing front tooth. Mackey broke the tooth on the trail while biting into a piece of fudge. He more seriously added that he would buy his girlfriend some earrings.

It was the third time Mackey won the Halfway Award.

In addition to the seven-course meal Martin Buser enjoyed in Anvik as part of his Millennium Alaskan Hotel First Musher to the Yukon Award, the veteran musher was presented with a tray of $3,500 in one-dollar bills and a bottle of Dom Perignon.“I’m very much looking forward to ending my sober streak which started at Thanksgiving,” Buser said.

Receiving his Wells Fargo Bank Alaska Gold Coast Award, which he won for being first into Unalakleet, Mitch Seavey quipped, “I understand that when I arrived in Unalakleet I was supposed to be Aaron Burmeister.”

Burmeister led for much of the stretch from Kaltag to Unalakleet before Seavey overtook him, just beating Burmeister into the checkpoint.

Seavey received a trophy and $2,500 in gold nuggets for reaching the Bering Sea Coast checkpoint first, a nice addition to the $50,400 and brand new Dodge Ram truck he won for winning Iditarod XLI.

Here’s a listing of the awards presented at Sunday’s banquet. Looking at some of the checkpoint awards, it’s interesting to note how often the lead changed throughout the race.

Pen Air Spirit of Alaska Award (first musher to McGrath checkpoint)Aaron Burmeister

GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award (first musher to Iditarod checkpoint)– Lance Mackey

Millennium Alaskan Hotel First Musher to the Yukon Award (first musher to Anvik checkpoint) – Martin Buser

Wells Fargo Bank Alaska Gold Coast Award (first musher to Unalakleet checkpoint) - Mitch Seavey

Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Winner’s Truck Award (Iditarod XLI winner)– Mitch Seavey

Wells Fargo Bank Winner’s Purse (Iditarod XLI winner) – Mitch Seavey

ExxonMobil Mushers Choice Award - Mike Williams, Sr.

Alaska Airlines Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award – Jake Berkowitz

Horizon Lines Most Improved Musher Award  - Nicolas Petit

Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award – Mikhail Telpin

Sportsmanship Award –Cim Smyth

City of Nome Lolly Medley Golden Harness Award Winner – Tanner, Mitch Seavey’s lead dog

Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time from Safety to Nome Award - Ramey Smyth, 2 hours 19 minutes

Jerry Austin Rookie of the Year – Joar Leifseth Ulsom

Northern Air Cargo Four Wheeler Drawing Winner – Anna Berington

Golden Clipboard Award (presented to best checkpoint) – Ophir

Golden Stethoscope Award (presented to best veterinarians) - Dr. Sterling Thomas & Dr. Dirsko von Pfeil

Red Lantern (last place finisher) – Christine Roalofs

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Iditarod XLI Final Standings

Here are the final standings for Iditarod XLI. Listed are the mushers’ names, places of residence, number of dogs at the finish, and completion times. The letter (r) denotes rookies. Scratches and withdrawals are also listed.

Final Standings

1. Mitch Seavey, Seward, AK, 10 dogs: 9 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes, 56 seconds
2. Aliy Zirkle, Two Rivers, AK, 10 dogs: 9 days, 8 hours, 3 minutes, 35 seconds
3. Jeff King, Denali, AK, 11 dogs: 9 days, 9 hours, 21 minutes, 56 seconds
4. Dallas Seavey, Willow, AK, 7 dogs: 9 days, 10 hours, 20 minutes, 51 seconds
5. Ray Redington Jr., Wasilla, AK, 9 dogs: 9 days, 11 hours, 4 minutes, 54 seconds
6. Nicolas Petit, Girdwood, AK, 10 dogs: 9 days, 11 hours, 39 minutes, 13 seconds
7. Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Roros (r), Norway, 10 dogs: 9 days, 12 hours, 34 minutes, 0 seconds
8. Jake Berkowitz, Big Lake, AK, 15 dogs: 9 days, 12 hours, 34 minutes, 16 seconds
9. Sonny Lindner, Two Rivers, AK, 9 dogs: 9 days, 13 hours, 11 minutes, 2 seconds
10. DeeDee Jonrowe, Willow AK, 10 dogs: 9 days, 13 hours, 24 minutes, 39 seconds
11. Aaron Burmeister, Nome, AK, 9 dogs: 9 days, 14 hours, 19 minutes, 2 seconds
12. Ken Anderson, Fairbanks, AK, 11 dogs: 9 days, 16 hours, 9 minutes, 20 seconds
13. Peter Kaiser, Bethel, AK, 9 dogs: 9 days, 17 hours, 36 minutes, 34 seconds
14. Josh Cadzow (r), Fort Yukon, AK, 8 dogs: 9 days, 18 hours, 7 minutes, 37 seconds
15. Cim Smyth, Big Lake, AK, 11 dogs: 9 days, 19 hours, 8 minutes, 22 seconds
16. Paul Gebhardt, Kasilof, AK, 9 dogs: 9 days, 19 hours, 9 minutes, 32 seconds
17. Martin Buser, Big Lake, AK, 11 dogs: 9 days, 20 hours, 1 minute, 33 seconds
18. Jessie Royer, Darby, MT, 7 dogs: 9 days, 20 hours, 20 minutes, 15 seconds
19. Lance Mackey, Fairbanks, AK, 9 dogs: 9 days, 20 hours, 52 minutes, 14 seconds
20. Ramey Smyth, Willow, AK, 7 dogs: 9 days, 20 hours, 54 minutes, 56 seconds
21. John Baker, Kotzebue, AK, 12 dogs: 9 days, 21 hours, 49 minutes, 16 seconds
22. Brent Sass, Manley Hot Springs, AK, 8 dogs: 9 days, 23 hours, 24 minutes, 3 seconds
23. Michael Williams Jr., Akiak, AK, 9 dogs: 10 days, 1 hour, 57 minutes, 30 seconds
24. Michelle Phillips, Tagish, Yukon Territory, Canada, 13 dogs: 10 days, 2 hours, 22
minutes, 9 seconds
25. Jessica Hendricks, Two Rivers, AK, 7 dogs: 10 days, 4 hours, 57 minutes, 49 seconds
26. Kelley Griffin, Wasilla, AK, 9 dogs: 10 days, 9 hours, 47 minutes, 34 seconds
27. Curt Perano, Queenstown, New Zealand, 10 dogs: 10 days, 13 hours, 21 minutes, 14
seconds
28. Matt Failor, Big Lake, AK, 10 dogs: 10 days, 13 hours, 39 minutes, 46 seconds
29. Lindwood Fiedler, Willow, AK, 12 dogs: 10 days, 15 hours, 0 minutes, 52 seconds
30. Mike Ellis (r), Two Rivers, AK, 10 dogs: 10 days, 16 hours, 35 minutes, 13 seconds
31. Kelly Maixner, Big Lake, AK, 9 dogs: 10 days, 16 hours, 57 minutes, 36 seconds
32. Wade Marrs, Wasilla, AK, 9 dogs: 10 days, 17 hours, 5 minutes, 18 seconds
33. Allen Moore, Two Rivers, AK, 13 dogs: 10 days, 18 hours, 4 minutes, 21 seconds
34 Paige Drobny (r), Fairbanks, AK, 10 dogs: 10 days, 18 hours, 15 minutes, 54 seconds
35. Jim Lanier, Chugiak, AK, 10 dogs: 10 days, 21 hours, 8 minutes, 46 seconds
36. Richie Diehl (r), Aniak, AK, 11 dogs: 10 days, 22 hours, 32 minutes, 6 seconds
37. Travis Beals (r), Seward, AK, 11 dogs: 11 days, 1 hour, 10 minutes, 51 seconds
38. Justin Savidis, Willow, AK, 9 dogs:11 days, 1 hour, 12 minutes, 14 seconds
39. Matt Giblin, Sterling, AK, 11 dogs: 11 days, 1 hour, 20 minutes, 51 seconds
40. Karin Hendrickson, Willow, AK, 10 dogs: 11 days, 1 hour, 44 minutes, 48 seconds
41. Aaron Peck, Bezanson, Alberta, Canada, 7 dogs: 11 days, 2 hours, 9 minutes, 37 seconds
42. Kristy Berington, Kasilof, AK, 9 dogs: 11 days, 7 hours, 7 minutes, 17 seconds
43. Anna Berington, Kasilof, AK, 9 dogs: 11 days, 7 hours, 7 minutes, 55 seconds
44. Jodi Bailey, Chatanika, AK, 9 dogs: 11 days, 7 hours, 52 minutes, 2 seconds
45. Mike Williams Sr., Akiak, AK, 9 dogs: 12 days, 0 hours, 35 minutes, 50 seconds
46. Gerald Sousa, Talkeetna, AK, 10 dogs: 12 days, 2 hours, 20 minutes, 14 seconds
47. Louie Ambrose (r), St. Michael, AK, 12 dogs: 12 days, 5 hours, 18 minutes, 45 seconds
48. Angie Taggart, Ketchikan, AK, 11 dogs: 12 days, 8 hours, 50 minutes, 3 seconds
49. Luan Ramos Marques (r), Macae, Brazil, 15 dogs: 12 days, 17 hours, 8 minutes, 0
seconds
50. Mikhail Telpin (r), Yanrakkynot, Chukotka, Russia,11 dogs: 12 days, 19 hours, 27
minutes, 39 seconds
51. Cindy Gallea, Wykoff, MN, 12 dogs: 13 days, 2 hours, 24 minutes, 13 seconds
52. James Volek (r), Big Lake, AK, 12 dogs: 13 days, 9 hours, 12 minutes, 53 seconds
53. Bob Chlupach, Willow, AK, 11 dogs: 13 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, 40 seconds
54. Christine Roalofs (r), Anchorage, AK, 11 dogs: 13 days, 22 hours, 36 minutes, 8 seconds

Scratches/Withdrawals

Robert Bundtzen, Anchorage, AK: scratched at Shaktoolik with 15 dogs
Charley Bejna (r), Addison, IL: scratched at Unalakleet with 7 dogs
Jason Mackey, Wasilla, AK: scratched at Unalakleet with 12 dogs
Rudy Demoski Sr., Wasilla, AK: scratched at Unalakleet with 9 dogs
Cindy Abbott (r), Irvine, CA: scratched at Kaltag with 12 dogs
Jan Steves, Edmonds, WA: scratched at Eagle Island with 15 dogs
Gerry Willomitzer, Yukon Territory, Canada: withdrew at Iditarod with 15 dogs
Michael Suprenant, Chugiak, AK: scratched at Iditarod with 13 dogs
David Sawatzky, Healy, AK: scratched at McGrath with 13 dogs
Newton Marshall, St. Anne, Jamaica: scratched at Nikolai with 13 dogs
Scott Janssen, Anchorage, AK: scratched at Rainy Pass with 16 dogs
Ed Stielstra, McMillian, MI: scratched at Campbell Airstrip with 12 dogs

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Iditarod Dog Dies

Dorado

Dorado was part of musher Paige Drobny’s team.

Sad news. On Friday, Fairbanks musher Paige Drobny’s dog Dorado (pictured above) died at a dog lot in Unalakleet after being buried beneath a snowdrift. Drobny had dropped Dorado from her team at the Unalakleet checkpoint last Monday because he was showing signs of stiffness.

It’s routine for mushers to drop dogs at checkpoints if they’re injured, ill, or overtired. The dogs are flown back to Anchorage to be reunited with their owners at the end of the race.

Dropped dogs in Unalakleet are housed in two airport storage buildings. However, a storm on Thursday kept a plane scheduled to pick up some of the dogs from landing. As a result, there were 135 dogs in the lot that night, an unusually high number.  A hundred dogs were kept in the storage buildings while 35 dogs, including Dorado, had to be kept in a spot behind the buildings where volunteers felt they would be protected from the wind.

The dogs were last checked at 3:00am Friday morning, but between that time and daylight a snowdrift passed through and covered about half a dozen dogs. When volunteers realized what had happened, they began digging furiously for Dorado, but by the time they found him, he was dead. None of the other dogs were harmed.

A necropsy on the five-year-old dog determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation as a result of being buried in the snow.

It is the first Iditarod-related dog death since 2009.

Sled dogs can withstand temperatures as low as -80F, and it is common for such dogs to curl up during blizzards and survive burial beneath the snow. It is not known why Dorado died and the other dogs survived. Dorado showed no signs of illness before the storm, other than the stiffness coming into the checkpoint.

It is unknown at this point if Dorado’s death will lead to changes by the Iditarod Trail Committee in how dropped dogs are housed.

Drobny said on her Facebook page that she was “deeply saddened” by the death. Her husband, Cody Strathe, who is also a musher, said there was a sense of sadness among the musher community in Nome upon hearing about Dorado.

“Nothing can be done now to change this, we are still collecting the facts and will be putting pressure on ITC to make recommended changes before the next race occurs,” Strathe told a reporter. “We have a tremendous amount of support amongst this year’s mushers, and we just hope that this horrible accident can help future sled dog events.”

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Iditarod XLI Ends with a Red Lantern and a Roll in the Snow

Christine Roalofs

Christine Roalofs receives Red Lantern Award in Iditarod XLI.

Iditarod XLI is officially over. At 1:36 this afternoon (AKDT), rookie Christine Roalofs was the last musher off the trail, crossing the Burled Arch in Nome in 54th place. Well-wishers dressed in green for St. Patrick’s Day lined the chute cheering on her dog team. “That was epic!” Roalofs exclaimed to Iditarod Race Marshall Mark Nordman as he welcomed her with a hug. “The worst and best two weeks of my life.”

Afterwards, Roalofs showed her lead dog Nighty some love, rolling around with him in the snow. “You saved our butts out there, big guy,” she told him.

As the last musher off the trail, Roalofs was presented with the Red Lantern Award from Wells Fargo. She then completed the tradition of blowing out the Widow’s Lamp, marking the official end of the race.

Below is a list of the mushers who came in 46th through 54th place. It includes the mushers’ names, residences, number of dogs at the finish line, and completion times. The letter (r) denotes rookies.

46. Gerald Sousa, Talkeetna, AK, 10 dogs: 12 days, 2 hours, 20 minutes, 14 seconds

47. Louie Ambrose (r), St. Michael, AK, 12 dogs: 12 days, 5 hours, 18 minutes, 45 seconds

48. Angie Taggart, Ketchikan, AK, 11 dogs: 12 days, 8 hours, 50 minutes, 3 seconds

49. Luan Ramos Marques (r), Macae, Brazil, 15 dogs: 12 days, 17 hours, 8 minutes, 0 seconds

50. Mikhail Telpin (r), Yanrakkynot, Chukotka, Russia, 11 dogs: 12 days, 19 hours, 27 minutes, 39 seconds

51. Cindy Gallea, Wykoff, MN, 12 dogs: 13 days, 2 hours, 24 minutes, 13 seconds

52. James Volek (r), Big Lake, AK, 12 dogs: 13 days, 9 hours, 12 minutes, 53 seconds

53. Bob Chlupach, Willow, AK, 11 dogs: 13 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, 40 seconds

54. Christine Roalofs (r), Anchorage, AK, 11 dogs: 13 days, 22 hours, 36 minutes, 8 seconds

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