As he powered towards the famous buried arch finishing line at Nome, John Baker was cheered on by fellow Inupiats.
They were delighted that at last a true native Alaskan had won the race, and their drums welcomed him in to a deafening beat.
And there was another cause for pride: John and ‘ Team Baker’ as he calls his dogs, (see picture right – looks like Velvet and Snickers leading) had done this in the fastest time ever: 8 days 18 hrs. 46mins.39 secs, beating previous record time set by Martin Buser in 2002 of 8 days 22 hrs. 46 mins 2 secs.
Second in was Ramey Smyth, who also beat the record with a run of 8 days 19 hrs 50 mins 59 secs. As well as running so well, Ramey had been spreading the message to help cancer patients – don’t smoke – and don’t drink – all the way along the trail.
The 39th Iditarod was the fastest for overall time taken by leaders, and there will be double celebrating along the Alaska coastline and interior tonight one of their own has at last bought the Iditarod trophy home. Incidentally, there are always two trails, that alternate each year, to give every tiny Alaskan community along the way the chance to be part of this race. This year it was the turn of the Southern route, which is generally regarded as taking longer, as it is slightly more miles.
3rd Hans Gatt
4th Dallas Seavey (having won the Yukon Quest earlier last month, this youngster from a famous mushing family is going to have to wait for the ultimate prize
5th Hugh Neff
6th German-born Sebastian Schnuelle
7th Ray Redington
8th Peter Kaiser
9th Ken Anderson
then came three women,
10th Jessie Royer
11th Allie Zirkle
12th – feisty DeeDee Jonrowe, the battling mastectomy survivor with pink-booted team
and Lance Mackey, fellow cancer survivor, has made it to Nome in 16th place. Followed by previous winner Martin Buser.
Conditions must have altered somewhere on the trail, as veterans are still to appear in Nome. No doubt it will come out, but Lance, being Lance, isn’t blaming anyone for his lower placing than he hoped after his last four Iditarods when he came in first. That’s life!
Scotsman Wattie McDonald, strong supporter of children’s cancer charities, arrived in in 36th position, up on his placing in the 40s last year. But this time he only had 12 dogs, and for someone who carefully nurses his dogs, rather than pushing on and dropping those that don’t keep up – this shows that conditions must have been tough this year.
The rest of the field of 48 teams (originally there were 61 starters) are still strung out behind, and it will probably be another 2 days before the last one in gains the Red Lantern prize.
But the first Rookie (first time runner) has made it in, at a very creditable 28th position. French-born Nicolas Petit got into the race by a fluke, when the kennel owner for whom he worked, Jim Lanier, had to scratch as he needed an urgent hip operation. So Nicolas stepped in, and Jim must be delighted at how well he did with his team.
Dream come true
He has been in Top Ten finishers 12 times since he first raced in the Iditarod in 1996; and this race win must be even sweeter, when he reflects back that he so nearly won it before.
He had been leading, when the trail became obliterated; he thought he had gone off course and wasted precious time getting back – when he was on the right trail all the time. But sadly this cost him his lead that year.
Three of Baker’s dogs
Very fast, mixed types
Typical husky type – with plenty of power
Size of teams – 16 seems a lot of dog to handle, particularly when running through forests and across rough, cut-up terrain, but in the old days when dog sleds provided the transport across Northern America, it was not unusual to have teams of up to 60 dogs to haul freight – and these freight ‘trains’ would have been using Malamutes, the largest of the huskies.
Some people today, particularly in Britain where the traditions of dog sledding, rather than going flat out to win, still prevail, there are some teams that will use Greenlands. They are slightly smaller than Malamutes, but still big dogs. Raol Amudsen loved them, and probably won over Scott in the race to the South Pole because Scott relied on mechanical transport or ponies – Amundsen put his faith in his dogs.
Dogs here are Greenlands, belonging in musher Jim Ryder’s team. As you see they are powerful and very attractive dogs – real powerhouses in a team.
After Amundsen’s South Pole triumph, the Swiss company building the Jungfrau mountain railway ran in to snags. The terrain was too steep for mules to transport the building materials, so they asked Amudsen for help, and he bought in a team of Greenlands. These endeared themselves to the workmen and the locals, so that when the railway was finished, and the Directors made murmurs about what should they do with the dogs (with possible solution copying Inuit tradition and destroying them), there was an outcry. So the Greenlands stayed, had superb kennels built half way up the mountain, and every day go to work on the Jungfrau train in their own carriage, either up to the top in summer, or down to the valley in winter, giving dog sled rides to tourists.
999 and Other Working Dogs – published by WSN. Buy it off Amazon or Police Dog Equipment site http://www.elitek9.com/999-and-Other-Working-Dogs/productinfo/BK16/
Has a long chapter giving basic history, details of different husky breeds, and anecdotes about famous sled dogs and their exploits.
If you are hooked
Have already have had enquiries from readers – “how do we get there? and when is best time to go?”
Alaskans are very hospitable, but being stuck out on the furthest peninsula away from UK, the journey needs planning.
When you get there, the Iditarod office or tourist board are people to contact as there aren’t many hotels outside the cities. But local Alaskans are very hospitable, and friends who have booked in to B & Bs are delighted that most owners also have something to do with the Iditarod – so have become firm friends talking it over.
British Airways offer daily connections from Heathrow to Anchorage, Alaska via Seattle (onwards on Alaska Airlines) and also in the summer via Dallas Fort Worth (from 01May, onwards on American Airlines) and via Chicago (from 09 Jun, onwards on American Airlines).
Each of these options has a connection from Manchester to Heathrow.
In addition, for the Chicago option it would be possible to use the AA-operated codeshare flight direct from Manchester to Chicago to connect onto the onward flight.
To surmise, this gives a number of options for ‘lead-in’ fares.
To give a couple of examples (return including taxes/fees/charges) fares in June from Manchester via Chicago start from £891.20;
from Heathrow via Seattle or Dallas in May starts from £881.53.
To book visit www.ba.com or call 0844 4930787
If you have become hooked – and love the sport as much as I do, please click through with a small donation to Breakthrough:
Don’t forget Ramey Smyth is running with a powerful message, one ably supported
by Breakthrough – DON’T SMOKE. He feels passionately about this, with having
experienced cancer in the family.
For latest finishers and other info: www.iditarod.com
John Baker www.teambaker.com
Ramey Smyth www.homestretchkennel.com
Hans Gatt www.gattslediom.com
Dallas Seavey www.iditaride.com/seavey
Hugh Neff www.laughingeyeskennel.com
Lance Mackey www.mackeyscomebackkennel.