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: