Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day After Iditarod40 Finish

Myron's Analysis
The morning after the Iditarod finish is often a bit of a let down around Angstman Law Office. Close watching of race progress starts Sunday night after the teams leave Willow, and consumes a lot of energy. The sources of information available to fans have mushroomed in recent years, and I can only scratch the surface of them and still remain partially coherent. The part that is still coherent has the following observations.

Youth is served. There are a bunch of new faces showing up in the contending spots, and that’s a good thing. An aging group of stars is a concern for any sport. In fact there have been not enough youngsters moving up the ranks in recent years to assure the future of the sport of long distance racing. That appears to be changing. The daunting task of becoming proficient in the Iditarod is obvious. Occasionally a racer starts from scratch and makes the grade, but most often young mushers we have seen recently come through family operations that have existed for years. But kids around this state have young role models to follow, and there is a path to success for beginners.

One big finish illustrates that point. Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak grew up in his family’s kennel and started racing shorter races in the Bethel area a few years ago. He had good dogs to pick from, and a good mentor in his namesake, but he paid his dues in obscure races in the Kuskokwim Delta that few race fans follow. Williams had a phenomenal run in the late stages of this year’s Iditarod and finished eighth, just minutes out of seventh. He has become a legitimate contender for the future.

John Baker had an unusual finish, dropping to ninth after running higher throughout the race. A top ten finish is the actual goal of most competitive racers when they start the Iditarod, and once again John has accomplished that. I mentioned elsewhere yesterday that some research is needed on who has the most top ten finishes in recent Iditarod history. My impression is that Baker is near the top of that list. John completed the race in his usual good spirits. John rarely displays any of the frustration that sometimes erupts when tired racers aren’t doing as well as they might have hoped.

Little attention was paid to the fact that many teams were stacked up in Shaktoolik for a while because of tough winds. That created a big gap between 18th place and the rest of the field. High winds are notorious in that stretch of the trail, and this of course is not the first time teams have waited there. One time many teams were there 2-3 days and organized a basketball tourney in the local gym.

My congratulations to Champion Dallas Seavey and all the racers for taking part in this singular event. It is an event like no other, and is captures the imagination of fans like a magnet. Observers like myself sit in front of a computer and try to imagine what is going on in the dark of the night in the middle of the wilderness. The progress is slow, but continues non-stop. There is always something to report and to discuss.

Long distance racing has some critics, folks who believe the event is too hard on dogs. It is hard in the sense that maximum exertion is hard for all who try. But that is something entirely different than suffering. Reduced to its basics, race dogs are tuned into the idea that their next meal and resting spot is somewhere up ahead. They also soon figure out that the faster they get there, the quicker their meal and rest. So the maximum exertion they put out has a purpose for them. Fast moving teams have better athletes, perhaps a better plan for feeding and resting, and maybe more experience at the daily drill. It is fanciful to suggest that a callous musher could obtain such performance by means other than proper care. If the care given falls below a certain level, the dogs will not perform. In addition, race officials who monitor the teams at each checkpoint would quickly see shortcomings in care.

Dogs that are on a strict training and racing regimen are in good physical condition. To suggest that a fat, out of shape couch dog is better cared for is simply wrong. Who had a better week, me sitting and watching a computer screen, or Jim Lanier, in his seventies and still challenging the elements on the trail? The same applies to race dogs as compared to Tanner, the red dog pictured above who spent much of the week sitting on my lap.

Finally, let me thank the Baker family for asking me to take part on this web page. Watching and commenting on dog racing is a long family tradition at the Angstman house, so writing down a few observations was easy. Whether of not it made any sense is another matter, but since readers were not charged to read, they might have gotten their money’s worth. Speaking of money, it is still a fact that most people who take part in the sport of Alaska dog racing are unpaid volunteers. That includes putting on the races, and putting teams together to take part. There are a few paid positions here and there, but not many, and rarely high pay. Thus, to conclude, I would like to commend the thousands of volunteers statewide who keep the sport of dog racing alive and well in Alaska.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Outcome of 2012 Iditarod

Myron's Analysis
The departure times from White Mountain this morning leave little doubt about the outcome of the 2012 Iditarod. There might be some slight shifting of teams, but the top five should finish in the same order they arrived in White Mountain. That means Dallas Seavey should become the youngest racer ever to win the race. Aliy Zirkle will likely get her highest finish ever in second. Ramey Smyth will drop back one spot from his second place finish of last year. Aaron Burmeister will get his top finish in fourth and Pete Kaiser will also have a personal best fifth. 

That leaves Team Baker with a possible sixth place finish. For many of his supporters that would seem like a poor finish when in reality he has been a frequent top ten finisher in the past few years,  and of course has won once, and has two third place finishes. For John, driving a very strong team with less top end speed than some, things have to fall in just the right place in order to finish first. There are so many variables in each race that contribute to a team’s finish that it would be impossible to list them all. Suffice to say, this year they didn’t all fall in the place for John.

One thing is unusual about John’s finish this year. It is rare for Team Baker to drop back in the standings in the last couple days of the race as happened this year. That suggests things were not right once he hit the coast and his comparatively long rests there indicate that as well. John will be able to shed some light on that subject soon. Right now he is locked in a tight battle with Mitch Seavey for that sixth spot as they approach White Mountain.

There is another youngster Mike Williams Jr. making a bid for the top ten. At this point he is about five miles behind Baker and Seavey, and moving well. He has never cracked the top ten before.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Day 10 with Sam Towarak


Sam's Analysis
A song by the Bee Gees comes to mind when the first musher arrives in White Mountain and that song is “For Whom the Bell Tolls” . The bell peals every year in that community- showing their Spirit.

As we write this blog, Dallas Seavey is pulling the hook to head to Nome. He has over an hour lead on Aliy Zirkle and two hours on Ramey Smyth. I thought yesterday that there was some vulnerable moments that were not seized upon. Anticipating the trailing mushers, Dallas Seavey employed some defensive tactics of his own by moving about 10 miles out of the checkpoint watching from a vantage point to see if any mushers would leave the checkpoint, both at Elim and at Shaktoolik. Also there was a decrease in the speed at certain points in the trail, which may have allowed for a pass. Yet no one was poised to seize the moment.

Ramey Smyth. After his mishap early in the race, Ramey ran a very conservative race staying out of the equation till late in the race. Than he ran an impressive run to make a shot at the top five. For a while, I thought he was going to go pass Aliy after Elim but chose to stop and rest his dogs for the final push to White Mountain. He was within a mile of Aliy when he stopped to rest. Now that is an impressive run and Ramey may have stored it in his memory saving the potential moment for the run to Nome. Ramey Smyth is an accomplished musher who grew up around dogs his entire life. His parents both ran the early Iditarods so he lived around that knowledge base. He trains his dogs to pick up speed at the end of long runs, and the run to Nome could be no exception. He and his brother are notorious for having the fastest run from Safety to Nome.

What about Mitch Seavey and John Baker? Right now, they are racing to White Mountain and are six miles short to taking their eight hour in White Mountain and are poised to try for one or two top five slots which they have to share with Ray Redington Jr. who is in the caravan with the two mushers. I think Joe Runyan hit the nail on the head when he analyzed the two mushers (John and Mitch) He said that both mushers has set up a plan to win the race and nothing else. When that was not apparent, other mushers passed or caught up with them. The other mushers (especially Peter Kaiser ) had set up a plan to place in the top ten unlike the two mushers.   It became apparent when John Baker took a long rest at Koyuk- if he were contending for a top finish, he would have gone non-stop to White Mountain. Instead, he stopped in Elim for another rest, hoping to keep up the speed of his dogs. I might mention here also that if Jeff King had still been in contention, he would have affected other mushers strategies and could have possibly been the one who would have taken up the opportunities to take the lead.

I think the Iditarod reenergizes the race when they have a new champion and younger mushers with a following show good promise and potential to challenge the veterans. One of the younger mushers, Michael Williams Jr. is poised for a top ten finish although the fight will be close for him to get the 7-10 slot. Once these mushers experience this kind of finish, they will have figured out how to maintain a top ten finish or finish in a higher position in future Iditarods. I think the veterans like John Baker will readjust their strategy to include how to deal with the cadre of new mushers. We might mention that with the last few years, the race has been won in near or record times so adjusting strategies are limited in what can be done. I think efficiencies early in the race can be done where time is saved but still able to run a conservative race.

People will remember this race as a heavy snow year with a well groomed trail. This has been a plus for the Iditarod because it has minimized dog injuries because of the abundance of snow. Also the fact that the pace has not slowed because of deep snow. The Iditarod is challenging year to year because of the change to environmental and atmospheric conditions. The majority of the scratches happened later in the race and that is a testament to the quality of the teams plus the requirements to qualify to run the Iditarod. If I may digress, in one of the early Iditarods, there was a rumor that a dog team actually made up of strays or unproven dogs. Needless to say, that team scratched at Knik. The musher involved denied the makeup of the team and we will never know if that was true that the dogs were unproven team. The Iditarod has set up the race today so that teams people see at the start line are proven teams capable of finishing a 1000 mile race.

Let’s conclude by discussing the last day of the race. Dallas Seavey is now on the run to Safety and than to Nome. On his tail will be Aliy Zirkle and Ramey Smyth. Doing the math and looking at a probable speed of each team, I am estimating Dallas Seavey’s run to Nome to be about eleven hours. In order for Aliy Zirkle to catch Dallas Seavey the GPS tracker would have to say that she is going 7.63 mph or better in order for her to catch Dallas just for a race down front street. Similarly, Ramey Smyth would have to show 8.27 mph on the tracker. This is assuming Dallas is averaging about 7 mph which he is very capable of doing given his progress so far in the race.

Congratulations to all the mushers on yet another exciting year- Iditarod 40.

Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Anticipating the Finish

Myron's Analysis

I would like to declare a winner in the 2012 Iditarod, but its still too close to call. Dallas Seavey obviously has the edge but with 100 miles to go, too many things can go wrong to declare him the winner with Aliy Zirkle in sight behind him and a formidable Ramey Smyth 10 miles back. The most obvious issue would be a carried dog, but there are numerous other things that could go wrong to erase a 2 mile lead. I can however make some wild prognostications.

The top eight are fairly firmly in place. After the above three teams, destined for the top three spots, we have five other teams that have made some space for themselves and are likely to remain in the 4-8 spots-Aaron Burmeister, Mitch Seavey, Pete Kaiser, John Baker and Ray Redington. Expect some jockeying there. Aaron's tracker is not working but if he has been moving for the past couple of hours, he would seem to have fourth place sewed up, as the others are still in Elim.

Brent Sass has a good handle on rookie of the year, running in 14th place at Koyuk. Another Kuskokwim racer Mike Williams Jr. has a shot at the top ten. One musher looked like he made the best move in the race today. Veteran racer Bob Chlupach briefly appeared as the number three team on the Iditarod update page, with a travel time of about 7 hours from Ruby to Elim. Man was he moving. Mistakes happen but that was a bad one.

Folks are gathering in Nome for an expected finish tororrow. The lead teams will start taking their mandatory eight hours in White Mountain around midnite tonight, and leave for Nome in the morning. That will make for a finish in the early evening, perfect for fans. The weather is typical coast weather, clear, cold and windy. I took a short run with 14 dogs tonight in similar weather. It was pleasant. Beautiful sky, great trail and happy dogs. But it was nice to unhitch after an hour and go inside. Imagine how it feels after 900 miles, when you just keep going.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Baker Honored Back Home

While John and his dogs have been competing in this year's Iditarod Sled Dog Race, folks back home are cheering him on, and today, John, received the honor of being the NANA Shareholder of the Year.  

NANA Regional Corporation is an Alaska Native Corporation fully owned by more than 12,700 Inupiat shareholders and each year recognizes a shareholder who shows leadership within the community and NANA region, contributes to the community and NANA region, shows political involvement in his or her village, region, or state, helps preserve the Inupiat culture, and makes other contributions that benefit the overall lifestyle of NANA Shareholders.

Robert "Dad Dad" Sampson, with NANA Regional Corporation, presented the award and said, "While we are happy to share John with the rest of the world, we are proud to call him one of our own."

There have been a multitude of challenges the teams have faced in the 2012 Iditarod, including heavy snowfall on the trail and extremely cold temperatures, proving this is undoubtedly the world's most grueling sled dog race in the world. But today John shifted his focus, from the intensity of the trail  and stiff competition, to being named as the recipient of this prestigious award. He was deeply moved and said, "This is the greatest award I can receive. What higher honor is there? Being acknowledged by your own people is very meaningful and humbling."

A video of John was shown during the meeting attended by more than 700 people in Selawik, Alaska, and he received a standing ovation.  A touching tribute as John continues up the trail with perserverance and determination.

Monday Afternoon Update by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis
Dallas took his straw a little ways out of Elim and camped. Once again he will be able to see Aliy coming and maintain a lead.  Still to close to call at this point, that’s for sure. I don’t have the times yet, but when they were moving, they had similar speeds on the last run.  

Smyth and Kaiser are moving up. Smyth will be in third shortly, and a little later Kaiser will likely be in fourth. Both are strong finishers, Smyth for many years and Kaiser just a few because he is only 24 years old. John Baker knows the Kaiser team well, and said in Anchorage the team he feared most at the end was Pete Kaiser.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Monday Morning by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis

Two teams seem to be in the running for the top spot in 2012. Dallas Seavey and Aliy Zirkle are the only two out of Koyuk as of this report, and time is running out quickly for anyone else to give chase. Seavey seems to have the edge in speed, but this run, possibly straight through to White Mountain, will tell the story. In the early going, Zirkle seems to be hanging tough about one mile back, a slight gain in the first hour. Its been a while since a woman won this race, and a lot of folks would like to see Zirkle pull it off.

There has been some juggling behind these two. Aaron Burmeister and John Baker have held third and fourth for a while, but Pete Kaiser has moved into fifth with a speedy team that has moved up steadily. Another rising team is Ramey Smyth, who reached Koyuk right after Mitch Seavey in seventh place. He will likely pass Mitch today.

Sebastian Schneulle reports from Koyuk that Baker can’t seem to get his team cranked up the way he would like at this stage of the race. His report on Ramey Smyth is worth reading on facebook. Smyth has a different style than most Iditarod racers. The modern drivers are normally well equipped with high tech equipment. Not Smyth. I saw his sled at the Willow starting line. It included two pieces of birch, branches cut from trees and trimmed with an axe, which were lashed to the sled as replacement parts for railings that had broken. He said the rough repairs were stronger than the original pieces. For dog coats he uses old woolen blankets draped completely over the dogs. He was one short in Koyuk so he used his parka for the last dog. Sebastian pointed out that Smyth had sick dogs at Nicolai, and was 30th team into Takotna. His advance into the top ten is very typical-he almost always comes on strong at the end of the race.

Sebastian also reports that the teenagers in Koyuk were taken with Dallas and Pete, both young and too handsome to be dog racers. His report reminds me of an earlier time when Sonny Lindner was the heart throb on the trail. One time in Nome, Lindner, Rick Swenson and myself were seated at a table when the waitress showed up. “Are you guys mushers?” There was some acknowledgement that we were which caused her to look closer. Looking at Lindner she stated “Oh, I remember you, you’re the cute one” We made him leave the tip.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day 8 with Sam Towarak

Sam's Analysis
People in Unalakleet greet the mushers with their beautiful parkas, getting into the Iditarod Spirit.

A couple days ago, we were talking about the veterans in control of the race and today, we see a little change happening. Dallas Seavey has taken the lead, stopping about 10 miles out of Shaktoolik on the trail to Koyuk with Aaron Burmeister, Aliy Zirkle and John Baker choosing to stop in Shaktoolik. The run across the Norton Bay will happen with below zero temperatures. Teams are running out of time to try and catch the leader.

Dallas Seavey’s team coming into Shaktoolik looked very impressive so Dallas took advantage of that and went for 10 miles more before stopping. Mushers will stop on long runs to snack or rest the dogs. Most of the teams stop their teams at regular intervals to allow the dog’s body to recoup and regenerate their bodies. The colder temperatures will dehydrate the dogs so more watering is needed to keep the dogs hydrated.

The “three musketeers” was broken up today when Jake Berkowitz had a knife accident cutting his hand and he was withdrawn from the race given the severity of the cut hand. The other two, Ray Redington Jr. and Peter Kaiser continue to impress the field with the speed of their dogs. Another veteran, Jeff King scratched from the race about 11 miles out of Unalakleet due to sick dogs. He also stated the well groomed trail set up by the trail breakers and the speed of the race as a result of the nice trail.

More team have scratched today including Pat Moon who was driving Middy Johnson’s team. Pat cited the small dog team that he was driving (down to 7 dogs) as reason for the scratch. Expect more scratches further up the trail due to the cold and tough conditions faced so far in the race.

The race is down to the four teams in and out of Shaktoolik. Like earlier stated, options are decreasing for the mushers to disrupt the leader. A bold move can happen overnight or tomorrow to see if there can be a change in the top position. We also could see a race from White Mountain to Safety and who knows, maybe a front street showdown.

Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska.

Sunday Evening Report by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis
Events of the past hour have clarified the situation regarding the race for first in the Iditarod. Dallas Seavey blew through Shaktoolik and has a nine mile lead at this writing over both Burmeister and Zirkle, who are stopped in the checkpoint. It would take a dramatic event to derail Dallas from his first win at this point. Chasing a faster team is difficult at best, and the longer the gap, the harder it is. Neither Zirkle or Burmeister would have let Dallas go unless there was a serious need to stop. Earlier today, Burmeister maintained a 2 mile gap for some distance after Dallas caught and passed him leaving Unalakleet. That suggested some parity. Zirkle also maintained a steady gap after the early miles of that leg.

It is too early to declare the race for first over, but there is an obvious front runner who is likely to win. There are a couple of notable departures from the race as well. Jake Berkowitz was withdrawn from the race by officials after he suffered a serious hand wound on the trail while cutting meat for dogs. Both for his safety, and that of the dogs he must care for, the decision was made at Unalakleet to pull him from the race. That is the second time in two years such an incident has ended the race for a strong racer. Last year it was Mitch Seavey who cut himself. He told me before this year's race it was clearly the right decision, although he tried to convince the race marshall he was able to continue. No second guessing is needed here. No racer would be pulled from the race by the experienced race marshall Mark Nordman unless it was a serious situation, and witnesses say it was for Berkowitz.

Jeff King scratched, his first Iditarod scratch ever I believe, after a tough run from Kaltag. I have scratched a few times, and as a recreational musher I did so when things went sour and it was no longer fun. I only wanted to win or place high. If the dogs were not doing well, all of us felt better after we stopped. I always had something better to do than crawl to the finish line. I'm guessing King does too.

There is no shortage of stuff written about this year's race. I read much of it. Aaron Burmeister gets lots of ink for being a heavy smoker, and somewhat out of shape. Let me defend him. Aaron is a veteran racer who has paid his dues by performing out of the limelight most of the time. He has his best run going this year, by far. He's a good guy and a person who promotes dog racing anyway he can--not himself, but the sport of racing. I am delighted to see him do well in this year's race.

ADDED FOLLOW-UP: Dallas Seavey may have stopped on the edge of the ice 10 miles north of Shaktoolik for a good reason. From that vantage point he could see several miles behind him and  start moving  when a team approached.  If he had stopped in the village,  a following team could leave right with him, a big advantage for the  slower team. This way he keeps a lead and still has  chance to rest his speedy team.  We will see if this is his plan, because Zirkle is approaching his resting spot as I write this note.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Sunday Morning Report by Myron

Myron's Analysis

The stage is now set for one of the best coast runs in the recent history of the Iditarod. That possibility is based on the number of teams still in the running at Unalakleet. As of this writing, eight teams have arrived within five hours of the leader Aliy Zirkle. Four of those eight teams are moving faster that Zirkle, and the last three of those eight teams are probably the fastest teams in the race. (I haven’t checked speeds way back in the pack where there is sometimes a very fast team taking big breaks at checkpoints) With that set up, there can still be a lot of jockeying for position.

Dallas Seavey has the edge based on team speed and current position. Zirkle had almost an hour lead into Unalakleet, but is moving slower than Dallas. Burmeister has the biggest string of dogs (15) and they are the best eaters among the leaders, and of course calories consumed are like gallons of gas poured in your car. They determine how fast and far you can go. Defending champion John Baker has a history of strong runs along the coast. The temps on the coast right now are brutal. I think that helps Baker, who trains in Kotzebue where warm winter days are rare. Certainly he can’t be counted out, but it is hard for a slower team to catch a faster team that is out ahead. That is Baker’s task now that he arrived in fourth place.

Another former champ Mitch Seavey appears to be fading. His long run from Takotna to Ruby might have left his dogs a bit low on energy. The next three, Redington, Berowitz and Kaiser rolled into Unalakleet with good times and reportedly lots of energy. I sense they might be a bit too far behind (4-5 hours) to contend for the top spot, but look for them to move up.

It is likely there will be two long runs for most of these teams to White Mountain. Because of the 8 hour mandatory layover in White Mountain, that check point has become more or less the de facto finish line. I haven’t done the research, but it is rare for the first team into White Mountain to lose its lead by Nome.

What is it like to be on the sled as the finish line approaches? I have done enough racing to pass along what it was like to be among the leaders in a tight contest. The lack of sleep becomes less of a factor because of the excitement level which builds as the race reaches its final stages. Intense concentration on the events in front of the sled consumes the racer. The dogs are scanned constantly for any sign of problems. The racer knows the gait of each dog, and is by now very used to the speed of travel and energy displayed by each dog. Any change in those factors is a cause for concern. Occasionally a dog will stop pulling for a short time for reasons I never understood. The line would go slack, and I would hold my breath worried that I would have to carry that dog, which was the cause of more than one lost race for me. I would watch the dog intently, sometimes to see the dog gradually fade to the point where I had to put it in the sled. Other times the problem would pass and the dog would fall back into rhythm. Time then to return the focus to the rest of the team.

How far should I go before a short snack? Keep an eye on the trail markers. Losing the trail for even a short time is a disaster in the late stage of a race. Where is the team ahead of us? Where is the team behind us? Is my headlite bright enough? Man am I thirsty, but my juice is frozen. I could sure use a pee break right now, but too much hassle. All these thoughts and more used to race through my mind as we moved along the trail. Long hours on the back of a sled can be boring at times, but not in late stages of a tight dog race.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sat. Evening Report by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis

This report comes shortly after the first four teams departed Kaltag for the coast. At that time, Zirkle held a 9 mile lead, leaving about 1 ½ hours before Baker. Among the first four teams, traveling speeds have about evened out. The next team to leave will likely be Dallas Seavey, and his speed is still a bit faster than the teams ahead of him. If he can maintain that speed advantage, he will likely win. But from Kaltag to Nome, lack of rest can drain away speed from teams that are used to resting a bit longer. It is worth noting that this year, like most years, Baker is moving just as fast now as he did most of race. That is how he has moved up at the end of most of his races, and that’s how he won last year.

There is a group of fast moving teams running 7-9, which includes Kaiser, Berkowitz and Redington who have caught the eye of at least one savvy race watcher. Sebastian Schnuelle, an experienced racer, is running the trail with a snow machine and he reported today from Nulato that those three racers could barely stop their teams when they pulled into Nulato a few hours behind the leaders. Leaping and barking dogs are a good sign this late in the race. Further on the trail spy work informs me that of those three teams, Bethel youngster Pete Kaiser has a slight edge in speed. Any team ahead of those three teams that falters will be following them into Nome.

Notably missing from the front runners are a few teams that figured to be in the running. Lance Mackey has stated he has no chance to win, and neither do Martin Buser , Hugh Neff or Paul Gebhardt. The Iditarod is unkind to teams that falter, because the long distance involved tends to magnify shortcomings that develop as the race develops. The two top rookies Brent Sass and Josh Cadzow are running neck and neck at 20 and 21 in the standings. Both are accomplished racers with strong showings in other races before entering the Iditarod. For anyone interested in reading about another kind of rookie run in an old time Iditarod, check this link.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. R
ead more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Day 7 by Sam Towarak

Sam's Analysis

Unalakleet residents drive up to Old Woman cabin to replenish the wood, groom the trails, establish a trail for stopping, and serve as hosts to any visitors coming in. The late Paul Johnson was a loyal host and he will be missed. The spirit of Old Woman, part of the Spirit of the Iditarod.

Well, today and last night belonged to Aliy Zirkle. She did not use any of my scenarios but she managed to recapture the lead. The lead she had in Kaltag was about 3 ½ hours- which is getting close to being a checkpoint to checkpoint game. The game involved means the leader comes into the checkpoint four hours ahead of the next musher and rests at the checkpoint until the second musher comes in, than leaves for the next checkpoint. We are close to that playing out and one of the remaining contenders needs to step up to the plate to counter Aliy’s lead.

The 90 mile run to Unalakleet lately has been done in one run by the leader which follows another long rest in Unalakleet in order to continue up the coast. Let’s talk about Mitch Seavey and possibly what happened to his lead at Ruby. Mitch chose to do the run from Cripple to Ruby without a rest, and it affected the speed of his team. Losing that speed cost him some options and Aliy in her brilliance, chose to eight hour in Galena.

Two new mushers have joined the fray and they are Aaron Burmeister and Jeff King. Aaron has developed a system that works for him, and in order to perfect the system- it needs to finish in the front. We will see if he unleashes his dogs from the 8 mile limit he has imposed to gain some speed and improve in position. Jeff King is a surprise because he had retired and his dogs were not Iditarod proven but with his mushing skill, he has managed to be up front with the leaders. He can be a musher of concern if he unleashes the stored energy of his dogs at any remaining time of the race. He is to be congratulated for his good showing regardless.

Martin Buser and other mushers are amazed at the pace of the race. Martin says that there are “lots and lots of mushers in the top 30 and are packed in a tight 10-12 hour window“. The top contenders have brought about some separation and those six look to be amongst the contending field for the top position. Aliy Zirkle can win the race if she can do the Portage run to maintain her 3 ½ hour separation. However, I expect someone to move up with her to give her a run for her money on this particular portage run.

From Kaltag forward to Nome, there has been a group of mushers who raced that portion of the trail earlier in the Paul Johnson 450. I will be curious to see if that familiarity on the part of the dogs benefit Aaron Burmeister, Dee Dee Jonrowe and Peter Kaiser who raced in the 450. The perk maybe in how the dogs respond to the trail and pick up on running speed knowing how close they are to concluding the race.

The race on the Coast will excite the masses. This race is far from done and we can expect some surprises still- that’s why they play the game.

Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Day 6 by Sam Towarak

Sam's Analysis
Students in a Bethel Immersion school are excited to follow Peter Kaiser as he races the Iditarod. They yell Cingumaarput Nacuk! which translated means "Good Luck Pete (Nacuk is Pete’s Yup’ik Eskimo Name)" Want to thank Virginia Lincoln their teacher for the translation. Getting into the Iditarod Spirit in Yupik.

Aliy Zirkle made an interesting decision to take her 8 hour in Galena. What this enabled her to do is to make the run from Galena to Kaltag with minimal rest, take 6 hours plus in Kaltag and continue over the portage to the coast. Her arrival just before 4pm will allow her to leave just before midnight. Where does that put her in comparison with the top three mushers?

Mitch Seavey left Ruby for Galena at 2pm and that puts him into Galena around 8:40pm tonight. Most of the mushers will check into Galena and check out with items from their bags continuing the journey back down the Yukon to a spot on the trail known as Bishop Rock. I expect all three mushers to do that. Theoretically, it puts them over 3½ hours ahead of Aliy Zirkle. Remember that the top three teams will stop and rest at Bishop Rock. Let’s assume that will be for 3 ½ hours. Than you say that Aliy is running neck and neck with the leaders, but she also will probably feed her dogs at Nulato, lets say for 2 hours. That puts her 1 ½ hours behind the leader.

Aliy Zirkle increases her options by the Galena 8 hour mandatory rest,. Depending on how she feels her dog team is, she can do a couple of things. She can feed her dogs than get back on the trail. The next option will invite a few chuckles but she can actually increase her rest at Nulato to 4 hours. What this allows her to do is to pick straw (or just dog/personal food)at Kaltag and continue over the portage to the coast. She can stop at either of two shelter cabins 49 miles or 39 miles from Unalakleet if she finds her attempt to recapture the lead has not materialized. The one thing I don’t think she will try is to run from Nulato to Unalakleet in one long stretch run. People may remember that this is what Lance Mackey did and it resulted in an Iditarod win. I think that is a once in a lifetime feat that probably will not be done for a long time.

We have not talked about a John Baker strategy to take the lead by the coast but the potential lies there. He may wait to see if the Zirkle vs. Seaveys countermoves play out to see if it affected the speed of the two Seaveys. What he also may be waiting for is for the younger Seavey race with the older Seavey at some point on the Yukon or the Portage. This could affect either of the teams with regards to speed and John could take advantage of that on the run from Unalakleet to Koyuk. We will know by the interviews at the Kaltag or Unalakleet checkpoint to see what the goals are for the teams that are in the top ten. Many times it becomes a race to maintain position or improve upon.

Modern Iditarods have not seen a large group of mushers who can be in contention and having four mushers aiming for the number one spot on the Yukon keeps it an interesting race.

Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska.

Friday Evening by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis

Run times and on the trail observations seem to suggest that Dallas Seavey has emerged as the fastest team among the frontrunners. Note that he had the fastest time on that all important run into Takotna, which has often been a key to later success in the Iditarod. Pure speed often shows up well on the run down the Yukon River with decent trails and on most days a tail wind. But for some reason, the Baker team is just 10 miles behind him as I write, and still in a good position. I am not able to confirm this next thought by asking John, but I am confident that in the next day or two you will see him pull into a checkpoint behind the Seaveys, grab his food bag and keep on going. Already the speeds have become closer among those three teams, something that was predicted here a couple of days ago. When he pulls that move, he might catch the faster teams at a time when they are not ready to keep going and all of a sudden its a different race.

There are other teams who have moved up in the standings and are worth noting. Aaron Burmeister is a former Nome guy, and thus favored by rural guys like myself (this job does not require me to be impartial). He has apparently put together his best team and is moving well. Another rural guy, our home town Bethel hero Pete Kaiser, seems to have the fastest team in the top 20, and is also moving up. He has run carefully, stopping when the urge might have been to keep going. He might be too far back to win, but he has a good shot at the top five. And don’t rule out Jeff King either. He is moving well and not far behind. I haven’t mentioned Aliy Zirkle, who is actually out front right now. She has an 8 hour break yet to take, so her lead is temporary, but she is running her strongest Iditarod ever. Of course she can’t be counted out. And by the way, isn’t it wonderful that Alaska’s most famous sporting event allows women and men to compete equally? Because of the strong showing by women in this race over the years we have sort of taken that fact for granted, but it still is an oddity in big time sporting events.

Readers of this blog likely cruise the internet for other race information. If so you should check the website for Pete Kaiser. My son Andy is the guest blogger, and a quick check of that page will reveal that he knows more about this stuff than his father. Someone even tracked him down for a national radio interview which is posted on that page. The Kaisers and Bakers have a lot of typical rural Alaska connections, and one of the connections is that the Angstman family roots for both of them. Pete grew up in the Kuskokwim 300 family of races, and at this moment he is the pride of Bethel.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Beyond Cripple by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis
Mitch Seavey’s  powerful run from Takotna to Cripple has  eliminated several teams from  consideration for the top spot in this year’s Iditarod, but the race is far from over.  Already, Aliy Zirkle has made a statement by blasting through Cripple with a six  minute stop, and  Seavey followed with less rest than might be expected after his long  run.  That tells me Seavey is not ready to write off his nearest  challengers, and right now that list includes his son Dallas and John Baker, in addition to Zirkle. I am  making a second group of  King, Mackey, Jonrowe, Lindner, and Ekran, all of whom arrived  in cripple four or more hours after  Mitch  Seavey.   History, and  a significant amount  of guessing, tells me this group of five mushers still is in the running,  but the racers not yet in Cripple as of this report, written at 7:45 pm, are  long shots.

Since this is John Baker’s web site, let’s talk about his chances.  I am reminded that he has made up more than  3 hours on lots of powerful teams  after reaching the Yukon many times.  I’m not really sure how he does it.  His team seems to gather momentum as the race progresses. Knowing him as I do, quite well,  I assume he was pleased to see  Mitch leave  with about 4 ½ hours rest.  That amount of rest is a little light after a  100 mile run with minimal stopping.  If anything will slow him down, its reduced rest.  Baker can thank Zirkle  for that favor.

Someone asked me today how Mitch pulled off such a run.  Of course I don’t know exactly what happened, but I have been on a few magical long runs myself, and perhaps I can shed some light on how they happen.  For those who aren’t aware of ancient history, I once competed in lots of  races.  I had an excellent bunch of dogs (I still do) but I had mixed results. I was a passionate  recreational musher ( I still am).  And here is what I remember. Once in a while in a long race, I would leave a checkpoint for a crucial run that would either make or break my race, and  after a  few minutes the dogs would work out the kinks and it was like someone  lit their tails on fire. Every dog’s line would go tight as a banjo string, the leaders would  bear down, and we were on our way to an unforgettable run.  I remember  three such runs of 100 miles or so, and two meant  big wins, one time over George Attla and  the other over Susan Butcher. The third time I came in second to Jeff King by a  few minutes, but in the process we both took seven hours off the Kuskowkim 300 race record.   When I say I remember them,  I mean they are chiseled into my memory. I can recall moments from those runs like they are still happening. The dogs, the weather, the trail,  and the feeling, its all still there.

But I have no idea how those runs happened.  I  know I had good dogs, and they had good food and training, but then why did the same dogs  do so poorly on their next race or the race after that?  Maybe the pros of today could  answer that question, but I can’t.  It might relate to the same situation that exists in basketball when one team hits 60 percent of its shots one night and wins, and  hits 30 percent a few days later and loses.  It might be how the stars were lined up.  Who knows?

Whatever the reason, Mitch  Seavey pulled off a run that put him a leg up in the race, and if he wins, he will remember that run for a long time.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Iditarod Inspired by Trina Landlord

Trina's Perspective
Last fall, when I got the phone call that I was being considered to write a feature column about Inupiaq Iditarod champion, John Baker, I was honored and it brought me back to the day that he won and the pride that “one of our own had won.” At work, we hung up a sign in the window that read, “Arigaaa! Velvet, Snickers and John Baker!”

A few days later from that initial phone call, his sister and I flew to Kotzebue together for the weekend. I stayed at John’s mothers house, watched him run his dogs on the tundra and interviewed him, his family and Team Baker. Just like going home to Mountain Village, life in rural Alaska is at a different pace and friendly people said, “Welcome to Kotzebue.”

Since then, I’ve heard stories, observed and met many people who are inspired by John and his perseverance to achieve his dream of winning the Iditarod. One such person is Athabascan artist, Rose Albert. Yesterday, she dropped off artwork at the Alaska Native Arts Foundation in downtown Anchorage where I work. Rose was the first Alaska Native woman to run the Iditarod in 1982. Still inspired by the race today, she carves yellow cedar boxes and creates paintings of the Iditarod.

In her first art piece she brought to the gallery, Rose hand carved and painted a yellow cedar box of John Baker. On the top lid is of a scene of John mushing through Rainy Pass. The front of the box has three pictures side-by-side; one is of John holding his leaders – Velvet and Snickers – after the finish of the race; the middle picture has John waving to the spectators and fans; and the third is John sitting at the finish line with his two leaders on each side of him with flower bouquets around their necks. Just above the pictures is John’s motto, ‘Dream, Try, Win.’ On the left side of the box, John is tending to one of his dogs and on the right side of the box, John is arm-in-arm with his children. This cedar box sold today!

In her second piece, she painted John mushing through Rainy Pass. The spectacular, majestic mountains in the background shows the beauty of Alaska. There is a marker that is guiding the mushers through the pass. 

Artist Rose Albert with yellow cedar box and painting
Rose was born in Kokrines and raised in Anchorage and Ruby, which marks the halfway point on the northern route for the Iditarod.
Ariigaa John, good luck!!

Freelance writer of Yup'ik ancestry, Trina was born in Bethel, grew up in Mountain Village and Anchorage, Alaska and Pennsylvania. Check out her blog "Eskimo to the World" blog at:

Day 5 with Sam Towarak

Sam's Analysis
All across Alaska and America, classrooms introduce the Iditarod to their students. In 2003, students in Unalakleet even learned to sing an Iditarod song. Students learning and getting into the spirit.

At 3pm and later in the afternoon, mushers are beginning to trickle into the Cripple checkpoint. Two mushers who started their run to the front did so from Nikolai to Takotna the day before were Mitch and Dallas Seavey. They appear to be in the lead arriving Cripple with John Baker moving into third place. The field is still backed up but there was some separation most notably Mitch Seavey with a 216pm arrival into Cripple which is a good hour and half lead over the next musher, and quite possibly more. The question remains in this race, was it a good time to project yourself into the lead and cushion yourself. The run to Ruby will tell if Mitch can sustain that lead, because if he does sustain, it will be hard to catch Mitch on the harder surface trail of the Yukon.

Conditions of the trail tell that the 25 miles to Cripple were the most difficult to traverse. The trail breakers talk of getting off their snow machines only to sink waist deep into the snow. We will hear complaints of how bad the trail is and I say welcome to the rigors of the Iditarod Sled Dog race. Mushers know now why snowshoes are required for if the team fell off the trail, you would need to pack it down in order for the dogs to get back to the trail.

While we heard of the nice conditions before the Alaska range, we can now expect mushers in Ruby to talk of the tough trail from Ophir to Ruby. In fact, there has been some change in the positions of the race, some of it can be attributed to the trail conditions. If Mitch can have his team maintain their current speed on the next leg, it will be very hard to make any move to catch him unless a storm and poor trail conditions show up. We have also seen where in this section of the race whether it be on the South or North section, the lead team falters a little due to a number of factors. Finally, we will want to see how much rest time Mitch takes at the Cripple checkpoint and whether he can maintain his momentum going into Ruby. He definitely is of top concern right now to the top field of mushers. That field by the way has changed some as a result of the run from Takotna to Cripple, and you may see the beginning of a contending field.

There are pluses and minuses to doing a speed move from Nikolai to Cripple incorporating the twenty four into the equation. The slow field now gets an earlier opportunity to cut into the rest time, which could slow down teams that need rest in order to maintain speed. Assuming Mitch takes 5 ½ to 6 hours rest in Cripple, someone may be able to go on only 4 ½ hours rest and arrive into Ruby about the same time. Well you say, than with 8 hours rest in Ruby, Mitch will go flying down the Yukon, which is true but still there will need to again be some rest time. All these variables provide for an interesting next few days and stay tuned for the drama on the Yukon.

Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska. 

Dash to Cripple by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis
Mitch Seavey’s dash from Takotna to Cripple is shaping up as a classic run. He should arrive in Cripple shortly, and will have a significant lead when he does. The trip has been close to non-stop, yet he has maintained speeds from 8.5 to over 9 mph the whole trip. Previous reports here have noted that John Baker has a slower moving team and succeeds only when the faster moving teams slow up. If Seavey doesn’t slow up, he will be tough to beat.

Seavey also managed to avoid the afternoon run which most champions prefer to do. He will arrive in Cripple in early afternoon, rest comfortably in the sun, and be off again in the late afternoon as the temperature cools. One other advantage of being near the front also works for him—reports from the trail say the snow conditions are dry, meaning the snow doesn’t pack well. The early teams over the trail after it is set by the trail breakers get a better surface than the later teams.

However, no one should concede the race to Mitch Seavey just yet because Nome is a long way down the trail, but today’s move clearly gives him an edge right now.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Dropped Dogs

What does it mean when someone drops a dog?

The term ‘dropped dog’ refers to the canine athletes who have been taken out of the sled dog race.

Why would someone drop a dog?

Dog care is a top priority for mushers and race organizers. Stuart Nelson, chief veterinarian for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race describes the possible reasons for dropping dogs at:

What happens to the dog?
Dropped dogs at the Millennium Hotel in
Anchorage with Iditarod vets and volunteers
A musher ‘drops’ the dog at an official checkpoint in the care of veterinarians and volunteers who care for the animal. The Iditarod Air Force transports the dog from that particular checkpoint to Anchorage where a loving team of Dog Drop volunteers care for them until they are brought to the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and the dogs are cared for by inmates until the musher’s kennel representative picks up the dog.

Team Baker Dropped Dogs

In the early part of the race John dropped two dogs. Race rookie, Angel, was dropped at Finger Lake and Sprocket at McGrath. These two are new to the team and have done an exceptional job so John is disappointed they will not be making the journey to Nome.

Angel watches as the team
moves on from Finger Lake

Sprocket says goodby to
the team in McGrath

Craig and Leslie host Team Baker
dropped dogs during the race
When the dogs arrive in Anchorage they are picked up by friends, Craig and Leslie, who give them lots of love and attention. For the dogs it's kind of like going to a doggie spa with treats, massages, and leisure walks. Then, they fly in style with Northern Air Cargo, to Kotzebue where they will be welcomed home by rest of the dogs and their handlers, Maret and Dan.

Angel and Sprocket both exhibit a love for racing and contributed greatly to the 2012 Iditarod team. They will be missed!

For photos of all the dogs see the team roster at:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesday Observations by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis
Yesterday’s report mentioned  the importance of  watching speeds into Takotna in handicapping the rest  of the Iditarod.   The teams streamed into that  location in a bunch last night, and the  information available tells us  a lot about  what to expect from here on out.

The first team  coming in will not be the first to leave. Aliy Zirkle  started earlier than some of the other front runners, so she and everyone else  will watch as Mitch Seavey heads for Ophir early tomorrow.  He will be free to leave a few minutes ahead of Zirkle, and then  Dallas Seavey is scheduled to leave  third.   There are a bunch of other teams  ready to follow that group a bit later, and that group includes John Baker.

The speeds coming into Takotna reveal that Dallas Seavey was noticeably faster than anyone else. He made up a bunch of time from Nikolai.    Other speedy teams included  Mitch Seavey,  Jeff King, Ray Redington, Sonny Lindner, Gary Willomitzer,  Michele Phillips, Pete Kaiser and Jake Berkowitz. Kaiser had the second fastest time from McGrath to Takotna.  These speeds are important but do not tell the whole story.  Baker is well known for traveling a bit slower  than some of the other top teams. Zirkle also has that trait.  In a race like the Iditarod,  Baker’s method of neutralizing the speed of his opponents is to make longer runs,  sometimes forcing  the faster  teams to run longer than planned and possibly slowing them down in the process.  With so many speedy teams  bunched at Takotna,  that strategy will surely get a test in upcoming days.

No one’s strategy can cover all possible situations. Weather and trail conditions are always a factor, and they can foil either the front runners or those who hang back a bit.  The front runners can burn up a lot of energy building a lead only to encounter conditions that slow them down or even  force them to wait at some location.  On the other hand,  those a bit behind can encounter  conditions  that cut them off from the lead pack.   Barring such problems,  it appears the top six in today’s standings are in the best position to challenge for the top spot in this year’s race,  (Zirkle, two Seaveys, Baker, Redington and King.)   Teams  behind that group would have to make a dramatic move somewhere to move into the top group.  They are disadvantaged by the fact there are so many teams ahead of them,  all with a lot of race experience and decent speed.

As this note is being written, Martin and Rohn Buser  raced through Takotna, but don’t be confused by that information. They both still have to take their mandatory 24 hour break on up the trail, so their lead in the race is not really a  lead.  In fact, both are running quite a ways off the pace.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Day 3 with Sam Towarak

Sam's Analysis
Each year, a Spirit Award is given by Pen Air for the first musher to McGrath. Kudos to Danny Seybert and the entire Pen Air crew for promoting the Spirit of the Iditarod.

The mushers are a few miles from McGrath and moving towards their 24 hour. If we were to stop the Iditarod right now and let everyone take their 24, there would be some surprises. We wondered in our last blog about the changing of the Guard with the younger mushers moving up. While old timers and long time followers of the race can be proud of the veterans that occupy the top positions. Why, even Rick Swenson is currently in eleventh place out of Nikolai with Dee Dee Jonrowe in twelfth place with Sonny Lindner leaving in the fifteenth position. This assures the public that these perennial favorite mushers are still contenders and should always be considered as serious competitors.

There are over 20 teams on the 48 mile trail heading for McGrath from Nikolai with more poised to move forward at any moment. This will crowd the 24 hour favorite spot, Takotna. Look to see some mushers moving up to Ophir to take their 24 just to maintain some quiet rest time for themselves and their dogs. Than the mushers in the thirtys to be happy with their 24 in McGrath.

The twenty four hour has another twist that can affect the race and that is the time adjustment. Remember that all mushers left in 2 minute intervals from Willow so the first musher has a jump on the other competitors so the equalization time comes at the 24. Musher Ray Redington Jr who left in second position (Number 1 goes to the Honorary musher) will have to spend 2 hrs and 12 minutes longer for a total of 26 hours and 12 minutes. The last musher, Ryan Redington will only spend 24 hours as he has no extra minutes to spend. This levels the playing field for the rest of the Race. Ryan can tell Ray Jr that he gained over 2 hours without even lifting a finger. Two hours translated into miles can change the playing field. Look to see the time adjustment on the rest of the field and it could actually change some positions in the race.

Snow continues to dominate the race. It has caused the dogs to expend more as well as lose the trail. A couple of the lead mushers took a dead end and had to turn around. The snow is dry and powdery and can put the leaders in a lot of stress just trying to stay on the trail. John Baker in an interview in Nikolai said his team faced the challenges and he has never been so proud of his team. Mushers are dropping very few dogs and that is the plus of an abundance of snow. Believe it or not, the challenges of the snow will be even more when the mushers head to Cripple and Ruby. You will find a lot of weary mushers who probably are yelling gee and haw in their sleep when they reach the Yukon.

The 24 hour break comes at a good time for my blogging, I'll be back on Thursday evening.

Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska. 

Good Old Days in McGrath by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis
As the lead  teams pass through McGrath,  Iditarod race history becomes an important topic. Recent race followers  may have a hard time imagining the early years of the race when McGrath  was the focal point of the first half of the race, with hundreds of race fans  crowding  in, and racers spending  long hours stopped in the  community.   The focus of those early years at McGrath was the famous local business known as McGuires Tavern.

There was an early Iditarod  special on TV, narrated by some British  dude who traveled the trail by helicopter and  reported on what he saw.  He described  McGuires as “one of the world’s greatest pubs” and it probably seemed that way  after a few days on the trail without  a drink.  In fact, McGuires was a meeting spot for rural Alaska, and during the Iditarod crowds  packed the place, for a chance to buy a beer, or two, for the mushers who stopped for a little break.  It is a  commonly  known fact that at least two Yukon River  racers probably lost the Iditarod by staying too long at Mcgrath, and most of that time was spent at McGuires.  By too long I mean a day or so.

I actually spent a little time at McGuires,  but it was only to gather material for this blog.  I feel the need to report on those events.  One time I spent an evening  at McGuires with a  race  veterinarian,  who was not supposed to drink  because of an ultimatum from his wife.  He convinced me at about 2 am to call her from the bar pay phone to tell her he was  on duty, working hard late at night. It didn’t work. The bar noise was  obvious. He was divorced soon after.

Another time I was called at 4 am for legal help. The caller said he had been assaulted  during the  race at McGuires and wanted to know if he could sue the assailant. I was a little groggy and  decided to ask a few questions.  “Where are you calling from” I asked.  “I’m on the floor under the phone at McGuires”. He explained that is where he landed after the assault, and he had had his friend dial me up immediately.   By morning he forgot he had called.

Then there was Freight Train, a local legend.  Freight  Train was a cat skinner in the local gold mines, who liked to drink at McGuires. One time during a race he copied the old  TV stunt of smashing  a beer can into his face, except he used a glass. It broke, so did he, and he left with  a huge gash in his face.  He apparently went to the local health aide for stitches and returned  in an hour to order another drink. He died  a few years later as a fairly young man, and his obituary  stated he died of too much fun, and most of it was at McGuires.

One other famous story involved a western Alaska pilot who stopped for a few beers at McGuires on his way to Anchorage. The bar is located right on the airport parking ramp.  He left the bar drunk, and flew west instead of east. When  the troopers found him a few days later on the bank of the Innoko River,   his first words were “What took you so long”  It didn’t take very long at all to revoke his flying permit.

McGrath held its own race  called the Mail Trail 202 for many years and McGuires was the race headquarters.   It was quite the spot.  All  that is in the past.  Tonight, there is likely a small group there, but most nights visiting McGuires is like going to a haunted house.  You sense the presence of the old timers, but they aren’t  there.  Few mushers stop for more than five minutes in McGrath, and for that reason the race fans that do venture along the trail tend to congregate in Takotna where more many mushers take 24 hours.

I had a beer at McGuires when I raced in 1979, and  one more in Takotna when that bar was still open. That was a different Iditarod.  It is likely no racer will visit McGuires this year, and it might not even be allowed.  But a little flavor of the race has been lost by the  calculated way in which it is run today.  The good old days weren’t always that good,   but when it comes to the Iditarod, they really were.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking