One more Iditarod is in the books. This marks my 10th trip down the trail, my second as part of the “trail team” or group of four that travels all 1,000 miles on snowmachine (or snowmobile, sled, snogo, etc). It is a daunting task that involves very little sleep and lots of cold extremities. Usually when I am about three quarters of the way through and right about the time frostbite starts settling in, I find myself asking why I keep subjecting my body to trips like this. Sitting in the darkness of night….or morning for that matter, waiting for a musher to come by so we can document their journey down the trail can become something that slowly chews at the back of your mind “I have a warm, soft bed at home”, “I miss my family”, “Sleep sounds nice”, “wait, where am I right now?”. All of these thoughts start swirling around in your head and begin playing tricks on you. But then we reach the final checkpoint before the finish line, Safety Alaska. 22 miles remaining in the race. A sense of accomplishment replaces all the other thoughts that tried to convince you that it was a better idea to just pack it in and go home. All the aches and pains in your body that come from miles upon miles of abuse that the trail dishes out fade away as you begin to see your first hint of civilization.
Let me stop here for a second and set the stage a bit. This race is unique. 73 mushers all going through a vastly similar experience to ours, but with one exception (well, several, but who’s counting). They have a camera team chasing them down the trail not letting them get any peace or quiet. Can you imagine just trying to finish your race. You are tired, you need a nap. You are taking a break at three in the morning, it’s pitch black, It’s just you and your dogs. Then you hear it. The first hint of an engine in the distance. You know what’s coming. Next thing you know a bright light is put in your face and there I am asking questions about your strategy for the race, how your dogs are doing. How are YOU doing…..1,000 miles of this. You can see how tension might become a major factor as the days go by. It is a dance that is played every day. The mushers know that without the camera team documenting the race, the fans all across the nation can’t see what’s going on. And of those fans, sponsors emerge. Maintaining a constant stream of videos being posted online up is essential to keeping the Iditarod a relevant and exciting adventure that people love to follow. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be amazing to get a little sleep without a camera guy watching from a distance?!
As the race gets closer to the finish, the leader becomes clear. And our efforts begin to focus more on capturing his or her push to the Burled Arch (the finish line in Nome, AK). This adds to the already tense situation. You are trying to win this thing, and what you thought was annoying before is now just plain irritating. Obviously fatigue has a lot to do with a lot of the tension on the trail. All of these mushers are insanely nice people. But when you add sleep deprivation, dehydration, frost bite, delirium, it can make even the cheeriest of people extremely grumpy. There are a rare few that maintain a chipper attitude towards the camera teams all the way up to the finish line, and to them, I say thank you for making my job easy. For the grumpy ones, I say, I get it. I wouldn’t like it either.
So here we are. 22 miles out from nome. The leader this year is Mitch Seavy, he has put up with us all the way here. As we knock down the miles, we re-double our efforts to show his approach to the finish line. And within 20 yards coming off the sea ice and reaching main street, his final 200 yards to the finish line….we stop him. That’s right. we literally STOP the race to put a GoPro on his sled to capture a first person view of his team crossing the finish line. With all the graciousness of a world class musher, the man obliges. As my guide is attaching the GoPro he congratulates him, and adds an apology for being a constant point of stress on the trail. Mitch nods, and says its not a problem. “It’s OK” he says “we did it. we made it”.
It’s that moment right there that keeps me wanting more. as much as this is a solo race, it is a team race. With hundreds of volunteers all taking their personal vacation time to help these mushers accomplish what so few could do, it is a truly amazing thing to witness. And he is right. Every year we make it. As a team we did it.
It’s always a pleasure working with the Iditarod Insiders. A dedicated group of people who love telling the stories of these mushers as they journey down the trail. To them I tip my hat. Till next year!