Monday, March 5, 2012

Day 2 with Sam Towarak

Sam's Analysis

Each day in a rural Alaska face book, a lady runs a trivia question on the Iditarod, now that’s the Spirit.

Day 2 of the Iditarod, and the mushers are moving. Yesterday, we thought the mushers never go a 100 miles and I was busy doing the math. I know there was a rest period included in these jaunts so it seems it was not a steady run without a little rest. As I write this blog, the mushers are entering Rohn and John Baker is in that top group approaching Rohn.

When the lead mushers arrived in Rainy Pass today, a “gentle snow” started falling on them and it got thicker as the other mushers checked into Rainy. Everyone was complimenting the trail committee for the well groomed trail, and the speed of travel is indicative of this. I completely missed the arrival time into Rohn and am scratching my head on that one, but it does indicate a longer rest was taken not all at once but packed into the last three checkpoints. What happens in Rohn will be the one item to watch with regards to rest time, and there is going to be some eye staring, restless naps, when and who makes the first move to Nikolai, and the abundance of dog teams congregating in Rohn. This will make any contender uneasy to see such a large field at this stage of the race.

Word has it that Ramey Smyth may have fell asleep than fell off his sled and lost his team which cost him some time. His team was secured by Rohn Buser. Ramey may have had some help from Jeff King to reach Ramey’s team which is allowed in the race. We hope that this is just an embarrassment and has no bearing on Ramey’s chances to win the race. We stress that the Iditarod is now a game of inches and those “inches” take a more significant effect on chances to win the race.

I have not heard from anyone on the toll the snow falling at Rainy has on any of the mushers. Light snow falling still necessitates more energy consumption by the dog teams which means more time tending to the dogs’ feeding. It was encouraging to see Dee Dee Jonrowe come into Rainy Pass with her dogs still barking. I am amazed at the quality of dog running the Iditarod today. This is a good time to mention the vet check and screening that was done in Anchorage to make sure the dogs are fit to run the race. More advances have been made by the Iditarod Race with regard to dog endurance that any other endurance dog sport, and these advances have been used in the rest of the dog world. Now people know one of the reasons Vets follow the race as it is a nice laboratory to learn of all these advances being applied in the field.

Tonight, we follow the mushers as they set up for the run to Nikolai. There will be a short break from abundance of snow but not for long as deep snow is still the mantra on the approach to the 24 hour. If we look at the top 20 going into the 24 hour, will we notice a changing of the guard with the younger mushers occupying most of the slots? Take note of that, and make your own judgement. The other item to look for is the number of mushers congregated going into the 24 hour, meaning separation of the top ten teams by only 2 hours and the top 20 by 4-5 hours. I noticed this trend in the mid distance races and it could still be happening in the early part of the race.

We can expect more separation on the runs from Takotna to Ruby as has traditionally happened. Also by Galena, we can almost define a contending field. As mentioned before, this is a race done in segments but with common traits on strategy. We have not seen a team “stove up” in the modern Iditarod- where the dogs just refuse to continue running. This has happened in early Iditarods but not in the modern era. When you listen to interviews at Ruby, you will hear that mushers want to have their dogs rest so they can maintain speeds. This is why people are amazed when they see the leaders push their teams to the extreme without any “stoving “ happening. This is another example of the advances the Iditarod dog has made with regard to long distance racing.

Tonight, we see our last day of good action until we rest up for the 24 hour. We want to know the moves each team makes and whether it affects them for the run to Ruby.

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

Up the Trail Together

During the first two decades of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race people said it could never be a spectator sport. Then along came social media. Today, following the race is not only possible from any place in the world; it can also be extremely exciting with a multitude of sites presenting a variety of perspectives. Each one helps spectators who cannot actually be there in person, still they can 'be out on the trail'.

John Baker at Willow re-start
Seeing the start in person is special, exhilarating, and obviously a must for race fans. Those who were at the Anchorage start and Willow re-start may feel like the Iditarod excitement is over but it’s only just begun! The good news is that getting out to each checkpoint is not required if you want to ‘follow’ the race. It is very possible to be on top of what’s happening out on the trail virtually.

We encourage you to do your own searches but to get started here is a list with just a few of the sites to visit.

First, go to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race website at for the official race updates, both written and video stories, with play-by-play commentary at each checkpoint along the trail. While visiting the Iditarod website check out each musher’s bio and visit the link they include for their fans to follow. Many have some sort of race update source.

Follow with Alaska's on-line news site, Alaska Dispatch, for on-the-spot Team and Trail stories by a team of knowledgeable race analysts including Iditarod veteran Zack Steer at:

Ben Matheson and Laureli
Kinneen with KNOM Radio
Commentators from Nome, Laureli Kinneen and Ben Matheson, are exceptional at getting in-depth interviews for KNOM Radio at
 Blogs to check out include the Anchorage Daily Newspaper at with Kyle Hopkins for the Iditarod Live Sled Blog; and the Iditablog with Josh and Nate Sobie at

There are so many more more sites and each one a validation that there is no doubt the Iditarod is a spectator sport! And Team Baker is proud to be in the midst of it all – both real-life and virtually.

Team Baker has a network of volunteers comprised of contributing photographers, writers, and race analysts who are pooling their talents to provide information, updates, and analysis - not just about Team Baker but about the race in general. We have a few sites intended to provide a space for all race supporters, and especially the communities that host a checkpoint along the Trail, who want to be connected to each other. 

We want to share our enthusiasm for this amazing race with everyone and have created the following: A website to provide information about John Baker, the dogs, and their Arctic home. Go to  A Facebook page to provide quick bits of info plus photos and video. Go to: and follow John Baker Iditarod Update. We are also tweeting on Twitter with notes about what is happening. Go to: and sign up to follow John Baker @ teamjohnbaker. Finally we are Blogging with stories and insights providing more detail, color and in-depth race analysis at this site

If you’ve caught the Iditarod fever we’re thrilled to share the journey all along the trail right up to the finish in Nome with you. We invite everyone to contribute photographs, share stories, and give race insights. Let’s enjoy the ride up the trail together!

One final note about the importantance of spectators is perhaps best described by John Baker who reminded us that "there would be no race without all the people, volunteers and fans, who support the Iditarod." Check out the video clip taken at the Iditarod banquet to hear his comments at:

Fun Iditarod-Ride

Team Baker walks to the start line
in downtown Anchorage

The ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is crazy fun with hundreds of dogs and thousands of people. On this one day each year there is a designated trail from downtown Anchorage to the BLM Campbell Creek Science Center which is approximately 8-miles. Each dog team has an individual lucky enough to win a bid for a thrilling ride in the sled. 

Crawford, Simeon, and Laura
at the Anchorage start

This year John had Simeon Patkotak, Sr. from Barrow as the Idita-rider in his sled. Simeon's enthusiastic smile began before getting in the basket. During the ride he waved to the crowds of people cheering along every inch of the trail. And Simeon was still smiling long after the ride ended. 
Simeon Patkotak, Sr. with John and
Crawford Patkotak in second sled

It was truly an honor for John to have Simeon with him. These days there are very few sled dogs in Patkotak’s hometown and the opportunity for him to travel with dogs is reminder of a time when dogs were an integral part of life for the people of the Arctic.

When Baker and the Patkotak family visited later, the conversation about the brief ride rekindled memories and produced new stories. 

Check out the video of the ceremonial start at: