Monday, October 7, 2013

Puppy Training

The 'Avenger' puppies scout out the 440 trail for the first time!
Photo by Katherine Keith

The 'Genius' puppies LOVE to run!
Photo by Katherine Keith
While much of the training focus is on the dogs that will be racing in the 2014 Iditarod-preparation for 2015 begins now.  These puppies are now four months old and LOVE to run and play.  

The two litters are within a week of each other.  The Avenger Puppies consist of Wonder (wonder woman), Natiri, Stark, Thor, Hawkeye, Flash, and Shadow (White Shadow).  There might have been a small bit of creative liberty taken with the names.

The Genius Puppies are called Plato, Newton, Einstein, Mozart, Currie, and Patia (short for Hypatia).

These 13 puppies have Team Baker running fast and making us very excited for 2015!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Road Training

Road Training 10/4/13.  Photo Taken by Nick Adler

Until the snow officially sticks and the ice is thick enough to travel on-Team Baker divides training time between the road and the tundra.  Yesterday the teams ran on the road 7 miles for the first time.  Our Suzuki Mini-Truck is used to control the speed.   The gang line is attached to the front of it.  Among other benefits, this type of training teaches the dogs to pass by other distractions, such as cars, bicycles, dog walkers.  It is also great for the mushers who get to sit inside and drink coffee :-)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Freeze Up for Team Baker

Photo of Kotzebue Sound from Dog Yard by  Nick Adler 10/1/13
As freeze up arrives in Kotzebue, Alaska, Team Baker has been gearing up for another exciting year of racing.  The dogs have been training on the tundra through out the summer and they certainly can smell the snow in the crisp air.

There are many exciting things happening this fall.  We welcome our newest handler, Nick Adler from Indiana, and are thankful for our handler from last year, Andrew Brown.  Team Baker is off to a great and strong start and look forward to updating all of you on events and training moving forward. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day After Report

As usual, the day after the Iditarod winner reaches Nome is like the day after a vacation ends—things to catch up on and  a  return to the routine that race followers suspend for   a few days every March.  There are still teams to finish, including  John Baker, but obviously the suspense of the race is mainly over.

My congratulations to Mitch Seavey for his second win.  I stated here I was pulling for Aliy Zirkle, but that doesn’t prevent me from acknowledging  the top effort Mitch made in getting to Nome first.  Little tidbits from published reports suggested it was not an easy run for him at 53 years old.  Why would it be?  It is hard for anyone, and at 53  he has to feel his years more than a 25 year old kid.  Mitch appears to be in good shape, but try going  that long with very limited sleep sometime.  Awaking from a short deep sleep at  a checkpoint can be painful.

The end result seemed to result from Seavey’s ability to go fast when the trail became better on the way into Nome.  Zirkle was gaining ground until  coming over the last hill at Topkok, and then Seavey started pulling away.  Zirkle claimed second place as she did last year.    The remaining placements reflected a bit of juggling in the last  100 miles, as teams faded and came on strong.  One big jump was made b y last year’s champ Dallas Seavey, and  a couple who fell back  were  Aaron Burmeister and  Martin Buser.   Those two fades were noted earlier here, and teams  who slow down a bunch on the trail rarely gain back their speed.

What happened  to John Baker?  Others who are in Nome to greet him will provide us more of the story, but throughout the race his speed was off the pace needed to compete for the  top few spots.  His finish will  likely be in the 20-21 range, which would be only the fourth time he has finished in the 20’s  including his rookie year in 1996. His lowest finish was  23 in 2008.  He is in good company however,  running right near  4 time champ Lance Mackey and  frequent top  10 finisher Ramey Smyth.

This  has not been a great year for rural Alaskan  racers.  I doubt any one of them would say they  have done as well as they hoped for at the start.  The last couple of years have been good for  rural racers  and   fans  in the  Bush came to expect better things each year, but the Iditarod rarely allows  racers to get better every year.   There are too many things that can go wrong, and when they do, the result is often a long slow ride to Nome.  I had a plan for those kind of events when I raced.  Rather than continue on in a race where big problems developed, I would scratch and plan for the next race. I had no sponsors to worry  about, and I had a job  at home that  needed my attention. I hated moving slow in a race.  Professional racers often have to continue on for business reasons.  The excitement of the Iditarod wanes after the first few teams finish, and for those still making their way to Nome,  is can be a dreary ride. Often racers in the middle of the pack announce  their retirement when they reach Nome, and they remain  retired until they show up at  the starting line the  next year.

Once again I would like to thank Team Baker for asking me to take part in this event  through their web page. Anyone paying attention knows that dog racing is  a passion for me, and commenting  here is just part of that.  The Iditarod and other  dog races that grew up around the Iditarod   are purely Alaska events that  attract the attention of the most of the state and  countless people around the world.  They reflect a primitive means of travel under harsh conditions that appear impossible to many.   I am still amazed  that this event  can happen each year.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Suspense by Myron Angstman

So it came down to this: all the  predictions  have been tossed aside, and  the final run to Nome will decide this year’s Iditarod.  That rarely happens, and right now its very hard to  determine  who has the edge.

Some are suggesting Aliy Zirkle because she gained so much on the last run into White Mountain. That means a lot, but the eight hour rest  might change that dynamic to favor Mitch Seavey.  He has had a faster team much of the race, and could recover that advantage  with rest.  Trail conditions are also a major factor.   Yesterday the trail was bottomless sugary snow, and  that  may have favored  Zirkle.  She has had the most animated, lively team among the  leaders according to reports all along the trail, and  that kind of team handles  bad trail better than one starting to lose interest.  No one has said much about the condition of the trail remaining, but one thought is there will be  a lot of snow machine traffic, and  in recent years, more traffic means more lousy trail for dog racing because of the style of tracks on newer machines.

I am picking Zirkle,  but  that’s only because I’m not afraid of being wrong.  Eight hours rest is substantial but might not be enough to overcome what was an obvious speed advantage Zirkle had yesterday.  She should  speed up too with the long rest, and  observers note that she  is  a fanatical ski poler, which counts  in the final going.  Because   TeamJohnBaker allows me to say whatever I want on this page, I will admit I am pulling for her.  I  have several reasons, but first is a desire to see  people win their first Iditarod.  Zirkle has certainly earned  such a reward with  years of hard work, and a strong second place finish  last year.  She has also raced in the Kuskokwim 300,  my favorite race,  which earns  her points.  She is smart, capable and  well respected in the racing world, and of course she is a woman.  Many of us appreciate the fact that  this sport allows  men and women to compete evenly, and it has been a while since a woman won.

It will be the most  closely watched  last lap in the history of the race.  Most recent races have been pretty much over at White Mountain.  Earlier races  which were close had little coverage, by comparison.  Once in a while, we would get a  snow machine report  during night finishes or an airplane  report during the day.  The radio would report  “Swenson is ahead by about 2 miles at  Topkok”  but  such reports  were often followed by “Swenson is stopped  and Butcher  is gaining fast” so we had no way of knowing for sure.

This time  we will know mile for mile how this  classic  event is  ending.  It should be fun.

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rollercoaster! By Myron Angstman

The race has changed dramatically during this run from  Koyuk to Elim.   All my previous picks  can be disregarded. We all have been reminded   why it is foolish to handicap  a long distance  dog race. There are too many variables.   We have four teams sitting in Elim, several more close by, and the race from White Mountain  to Nome should a  doozy.    That might be spelled wrong but you  get the idea.

What appears to be happening from this distance  is there is some weakness up front,   and no one has the ability to simply stay on the trail without  stopping  from Koyuk to  White Mountain. That allowed the teams a ways back to tighten up the gap, and now we have  a bunch of teams who could win it on the last run.  Basically the fastest team  leaving White Mountain within a few miles of the first team out is likely to win, and we won’t know who that is until tomorrow.

It is likely to be the most exciting finish in years.

In and out of Koyuk by Myron Angstman

Jeff King pulled through Koyuk without much of a stop to take the lead away from Mitch Seavey. Those two, barring a big run from Zirkle or Redington, seem to have the only shot for this year’s title, at least from the long range view out my window in Bethel. King has the edge, mainly because he is in first and moving fastest. I have noted his moving speed has been the highest throughout the race, but he was a ways back until Unalakleet where a strong run from Kaltag moved him into contention. In recent years, with an eight hour rest at White Mountain, that checkpoint has become the unofficial finish line, as the winning team is usually the first team in there. Even a tired team at White Mountain is hard to catch after 8 hours of rest. So if King maintains his 6-8 mile lead until White Mountain, he is the likely winner.
We know the King has a fresher team right now because he gained about ½ hour on the run into Koyuk. Observers noted that Seavey looked tired coming in, which is understandable after the pace these racers have maintained for days. His realization that King has the faster team certainly contributes to his weariness. Along with having the faster team, King also has the most rest throughout the race (the two factors contribute to each other of course). King held back a bit in the early part of the race, and now it pays off.
Redington and Zirkle can’t be ignored. They had strong finishes last year and they have had good runs this year to be where they are today. But they were close to two hours behind Seavey arriving in Koyuk, and that is a major gap at this point in the race. Burmeister and Ulsom are in the same group, but moving a bit slower so are likely out of the running for first.
John Baker pulled into Shaktoolik 17th, and has a big challenge to make his way into the top ten based on his current moving speed. He arrived in that check point about four hours after the tenth place team DeeDee Jonrowe. He is now on his way to Koyuk.
Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. Read more about dogs, law suits and rural Alaska gossip by checking

Up the Coast by Sam Towarak

When you go to the checkpoint to meet the dog teams, you suddenly realize the Iditarod race is about how your team is doing and not worried about the teams in front or back of you. Often times you hear mushers talk about how well your team is doing and how much care is going to get the dog team into peak condition. This year is one of those year where this is a race of individuals striving to do their best with the team potential that remains.

This has been a challenging Iditarod given the extremely warm temperatures, the wet rain/snow conditions, dealing with a strategic change of two mushers, the Yukon overflow (pictures showing dogs swimming- mind you not walking across overflow) and heavy snow that makes an uneven trail as well as mounds of snow needed to climb over in order to continue on the trail. Usually mushers come into Unalakleet talking about how they will move on to Nome in anticipation of how many positions they will advance. This year has been about needed dog care in order to maintain position.

You got the sense that teams as high as number 6 were worried about how they can maintain position. Even more daunting is the knowledge of the top five that teams higher than they can falter back at any moment in the race. This race revealed that the current situation ( a sudden storm) was not the reason for slowing down but was an accumulation of the past days events. One musher thought he was in the 30th position when in fact, he was in the top ten- an indication of the struggles of individual racing. The challenges facing the Iditarod were never more apparent.

We see mushers crossing the Norton Bay today. Mitch Seavey has command of the lead in terms of position, time ahead and team speed. His methodical work and consistency has reaped benefits of leading across Norton Bay. Two of the top five mushers showed great enthusiasm about the progress of their team. Two of the mushers showed the rigors of the trail as they were affected by the hard work and lack of sleep from the prior days.

The average age of top five crossing Norton Bay is 42 with three being 36/37. Last year we were talking of a youth movement and the changing of the guard. This year shows that the veterans are back with a vengence. The grit and determination had to have started with last years finish which included the young mushers. Martin Buser changed his approach to the race with the goal of winning the race, something that has eluded him since 2002. Veterans set the tone for the race this year.

Sensing the need to give the dogs better care to improve their position has been the mantra of this race- The Last Great Race

Sunday Night by Myron Angstman

Six teams still are in the running, according to my unofficial calculations, and among those six one is fading from contention.   Aaron Burmeister has run a wonderful race,  but is losing ground tonight on the run to Shaktoolik, as he did on the run into Unalakleet.  That probably means there are only five left, Seavey,  King, Zirkle,  Ulsom and   Redington. Those teams were the first six out of Unalakleet, and  the next one out, Berkowitz is  probably a little late leaving if he hopes to catch  the teams in front of him.

Among the leaders, King has the fastest moving team so he  might have a slight  edge, but  at this stage of the race speed can disappear quickly if a team is pushed hard.  This is the tightest group of front runners in recent memory, and the prospect is for an exciting finish.  That  is not always the case on the Iditarod when someone pulls away the last couple of days.

John Baker has moved up well in the last  few days, and has a real shot at the top ten now.   He has done it  by sticking to a routine  he knew his team could handle,  hoping that  the teams in front would  battle each other hard  enough to wear out and  slow down. In some cases, that has happened.  John often moves up in the  standings at the end, which  means his  team  has been used well and has plenty in reserve.  That style of racing doesn’t always mean first place, but  for John is usually means top ten.

Another rural racer Pete Kaiser  had a good run to Unalakleet after waiting longer than some at Eagle Island.  He was down to 10 dogs  there, which is a little low  that far from Nome. Best guess is he gave them extra rest to make sure he had  enough dogs  on the coast.

Night owls will watch the  tracker closely tonight because  the race could be  mostly decided by tomorrow.  Shaktoolik is a place where  racers sometimes blow right through in a last effort to make up time.  The run from there is about  60 miles to Koyuk, and  that makes about a 100 mile run from Unalakleet.  At this stage of the race that is a long haul with a  major break, but it has been done.

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 10, 2013

Sunday Morning Report by Myron Angstman

Mitch Seavey will  soon be the first team into Unalakleet, followed shortly by Aaron Burmeister.    At  least two teams a few miles back on  the trail stopped for a couple hours,  and  the two front runners didn’t.  Aliy Zirkle  and Joar Ulsom each could go through   Unalakleet with just a short stop.   Because  of these staggered rest periods, it is difficult to say who has the advantage now.  There are a number of other teams within 20 miles of the lead, very close for this stage of the race.

John Baker has moved up steadily and now the tracker shows him in 12th position, his highest for the race.  Right now he is in good position for another top ten finish if all goes well.   Including his rookie year in 1996, John has finished out of the top ten four times, racing every year.  While every racer would like to win every year, all of the top contenders agree that a top ten finish is a realistic  goal for a contending team every year.

The order arriving in  Shaktoolik,  the next  check point after  Unalakleet,  will give a much clearer picture of who is still in the running.

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

The Sloggy Commute on the Portage by Sam Towarak

As I write this blog (Sun morn, 745am), Aaron Burmeister and Mitch Seavey are neck and neck to win the First to the Coast award just having left the Chirosky River and hitting the Snowmachine heaven highway (faster than prior to Chirosky as they are on a well used ice trout fishing route). is a surprise and not a surprise for the position he is in. Everyone was impressed with Mitch’s post 24 hour run to the Yukon which is the not surprised crowd. The surprised crowd had heard that the energy expended to the Yukon was enough to slow him on the Yukon but that didn’t materialize.

What happened on the Yukon? Well a day before the mushers traversed the Eagle Island to Kaltag run, some snowmachiners from Kaltag brought the much needed food drops to Eagle Island. Their comment upon returning to Kaltag was that “whoever swims across the overflow on the Yukon is going to win the race”. So the mushers most affected by that episode spent more time resting and trying to get their dogs to rebound from the run on the Yukon.

Teams took longer than expected resting in Kaltag. We went up to Old Woman cabin & Tripod Flats cabin to meet the mushers. It was a blue sky kinda day and beautiful country. We spent some time at the first cabin setting up heat for the cabin and clearing the snow from the front entrance. We made a vain attempt to repair the BLM lamps but were unsuccessful as both lamps were inoperable. BLM does a good job in stocking the cabin so that a person caught in cold weather will be able to survive. Well one of the needed survival operations for the cabins was to clear the path to the outhouse and we did that at both cabins. The Tripod cabin was body length in depth and 40 feet in length so there should to some happy mushers to visit the half moon door.

Oh the race. The trail was reported to be punchy but groomed from Kaltag to Tripod to Old Woman. Some energy would be expended and dogs needing tender love and care needing some rest are taking it at Old Womaan cabin. Three mushers, Martin Buser, Jake Berkowitz and the Norwegian all stopped at the cabin this morning. That strategy may not backfire if any of the three decide to pick up their food bags and straw and head towards Shaktoolik where there is another cabin just before the Foothill drop to the Shaktoolik flats. That cabin is important as there has been many a person who falter on the Skk flat during bad weather. This strategy would work even better if the musher leaving from that cabin bypass Shaktoolik and head towards Norton Bay where there is a less stocked cabin at the entrance to Norton Bay. You ask if anyone has tried this and its has been only thought of by past mushers like Charlie Boulding.

There is very little overflow on the Portage trail, but temperatures during the day makes it a hot run. Thus explains also the long rest needed. I feel Martin Buser has banked his rest for one more strategic move or he is trying to maintain the speed of the team (usual answer to the media). He still remains a contender to the two mushers ahead of him.

Finally John has left Kaltag and 1:30am which would put him into Unalakleet around the noon hour and after if he makes one steady run from Kaltag.

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

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Late Night out of Kaltag by Myron Angstman

The tracker tells us that several teams left  Kaltag and are moving slowly. The first  18 miles are  reported to be chewed up trail, and the teams are  displaying that.   One new name on the contender list is Ray  Redington. He has  had impressive times lately, and he is in position to make a bug push now.  Keep an eye  on him.  Dallas Seavey has moved back into contention as well.

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

Back of the Pack by Myron Angstman

As the  back of the pack makes their way to Eagle Island I am reminded of one of my favorite stories about that place.  For many years Ralph Conatser  lived at Eagle Island and served as checker.  I visited Ralph and his wife Helmie and their son Steve often,  and  soon learned that  Ralph  was  great at telling a story.  Some of his stories probably can’t be printed on the Team Baker website, but  this story is   PG rated.

It seems a group of six mushers bunched  up at the very  back of the Iditarod and were very slowly making their way to Nome a  few years back.  They had a hard time making it to Eagle Island because of blowing snow which quickly obliterated the trail, much like today  on that same stretch.  When the group  reached  Eagle Island they were worn out,  and settled in for a couple days of rest.  Ralph was anxious to  get them on their way and wrap up his job as checker,  and  get back to enjoying his quiet life  on the Yukon.  The leader of the six, a race  veteran,  approached  Ralph with a question about when a snow machine could be expected  to come by headed for Kaltag. Ralph told them it rarely happens after the race passes through.

Right about then Dean Painter showed up from Grayling to pick up the left over dog food for his team.  Ralph devised a plan.  He asked Dean if he wanted to hire on to put in a trail to Kaltag. Dean agreed, and said $50 per racer seemed about  right.  Ralph floated the idea with the six racers, who quickly rounded up $300 cash.  They returned with the  money and handed it over to Ralph, who was serving as the middle man.  Ralph took the money to Dean, who  unhitched his  sled and took off for Kaltag.  Now for a man from rural Alaska,  a contract such as this is not for some time in the future. Once Dean  was paid, it was  time to leave, even though it was about 6 am.   One fact increased his  desire to leave quickly—the next village  up from Kaltag is Nulato, where adult beverages can be purchased.  Grayling and other  villages in the area  are dry.

About a half hour later, the musher rep came back to Ralph and asked when Dean would be leaving, and was shocked to learn he had already taken off.  The six  racers  hurried to prepare  their teams and took off about  an hour later, just as it was good light.  Ralph watched them leave  his place, and for the first stretch of river the trail was easy to see, protected from the wind.   All six were in a bunch, as they slipped out of sight around the bend.  From his long years on the Yukon,  Ralph knew that as soon as they got around the bend, the  stiff north   would leave them with a blown in trail,  scarcely a sign of  Dean’s  $300 contract from there to  Kalskag.  But  they were gone,  and the checkpoint was closed.

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

Saturday on the Iditarod by Myron Ansgtman

The Iditarod tracker has more information deep in its pages than anyone should really look for, if they have a real life.   I apparently don’t cause I spend a lot of time checking it out.  Today’s check reveals a few items of interest.  It does not appear that  Martin Buser can hold his lead. It is down to about 10  miles now over Aliy Zirkle  and a few more miles over a bunch of other teams. The lead has evaporated on the trail, as the chase teams are moving  somewhat faster than Martin.   At least one, and perhaps a bunch of teams will pass him in the next day or two.

Who has the best  shot at winning right now?  There are a number of  teams  still  in the mix.  One team that continues to shine is  Jake Berkowitz.  In addition to having the fastest travel time between the last two checkpoints, the tracker shows that he has his fastest speeds at the end of those runs.  Most of the other teams, including speedy Mitch Seavey, slow down a bit at the end of a long run.  To check that you need to go to the tracker and click on analytics, and  study the graph.  Tedious work, but  not as tedious  as running a dog team for days on end.  By the way,  faster speeds  at the end of a run usually mean the team has greater endurance than  one  that slows down at the end of  a run.  And after all, this is a race of endurance.  One can assume that as the race draws to a close, the team that still has speed at the end of a long run can  remain moving if needed to gain time, while the slowing team might have to stop.

The three teams mentioned above are  currently  Buser’s main  competition, but others are right there as well.  The rookie  Joar Ulsom  is  drawing more attention as he goes, and is certainly a factor.  Sonny Lindner is  a bit back but moving hard.  Jessie Royer has yet to take her eight hour layover  but is emerging as a  threat and don’t count  out Jeff King, who just took his eight hour and has the fastest moving average speed for the   whole race.

Trail conditions, weather, and plain old luck will figure in as well.    Also, weight of the mushers could be a factor.  There is a reason why  they use light weight jockeys in horse racing.  It allows the horse to move faster.  The same applies to  dog racing.  Anyone who wants to slow their team down on a training run adds 50 pounds to the sled.  Using a GPS, you can remove the weight and  notice an increase in speed. Obviously the dogs expend less energy pulling a lighter load as well.   We don’t know the exact weights of the  contenders, but I can  tell you what  appears obvious from seeing these  racers in person.  Berkowitz is the heaviest among the front runners,   and several racers are substantially lighter. That makes a difference all the time, but more so on uphill portions of the trail, and there are a few of them left.  In a  close race, that is surely a factor.

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

Mushers on the Yukon by Sam Towarak

Hello race fans, especially Iditarod race fans. I have held quiet till the dog teams have arrived in my back yard. We hope to jump into a snow machine and head up the Portage later today. Myron has done an excellent job in covering the race so far, I have thoroughly enjoyed his blogs.

So far the move by Martin Buser at the beginning of the race has paid off. When we concluded the last blog I had about improving the way for the mushers to improve their race, I thought that efficiencies in the early part of the race was one area to improve but I did not have a run to Rohn with minimal rest in mind. I watched John Baker in the early part of the race to look for efficiencies and I agreed with everything he had done given the circumstances he was in (warm weather with dogs that have trained all year in very cold weather). That said, I am very happy with his current situation given the warm weather so far in the Iditarod. Mind you the weather is an anomaly given the cold February we had faced.

Another note on Martin Buser’s lead. Earlier this year Martin participated in the Putty Johnson 450 Memorial & I observed his second team in action near Old Woman. I noted that the team was trotting with similar movement to the Clydesdales we see on television. The dogs were trotting in a team rhythm and their postures were upright (similar postures seen by marathon runners). There was only one other time I had seen this before and that was watching John Baker’s two running teams in the 2009 Kobuk 440. I commented to Martin that the team’s gait was similar to how John’s teams trot and asked him if he was changing his style of speed & long rests to trotting long distance. His reply was that he is sticking to using speed and sticking to how he always runs the race. However in his reply, I sensed a change of direction in his approach to the Iditarod never knowing that he would run to Rohn- what a stroke of genius.

If you ever watch teams of the top contenders like John Baker running during late stages of the Iditarod, you are missing out on watching a thing of beauty. Another note worth mentioning in this blog is that the dog food destined for Eagle Island did leave Unalakleet on Friday via Ryan Air Transport to Kaltag. There should be some bags at Eagle Island. Related to late food drops, the weather has been very moist with visibility limited for the Iditarod air force to do their job- its been a logistical challenge.

Finally, the weather on the coast should be a non-factor to the mushers as its predicted for low winds, and mid teens to twenties. However there is predicted to be snow today in the Portage (energy expended- more dog food to carry) but that has been decreased from 4 inches to one-two inches. The challenge of the Iditarod has so many variables, I am surprised these professional mushers can adapt.

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

Friday, March 8, 2013

Up the Yukon by Myron Angstman

Martin Buser  has a substantial lead, and   he won’t give it up without  a fight.    He is a veteran racer with some winning experience, and he hasn't  done so well recently.  It is quite possible he will never hit the Yukon  with  a big lead again.   He won’t be waiting for anyone.

That said,  no one among the chase pack is going to concede first place just yet.  There are a number of teams of interest in that group, but the one that  has caught my eye from the stats is  Jake Berkowitz.  Before the race he would have figured as a dark horse, based on performance in other races this year and the past.  Few would have predicted  a win for him.  But I first spotted his time coming into Takotna from McGrath, which was fastest on  the trail.   The reported times are not always perfect, for a lot of reasons,  but  his reported time was consistent  with other  flashes of speed he had shown earlier.  Today, he had another  fast run to Grayling from Anvik, tops among the front runners by ten minutes in a run listed as 20 miles,  at the end of a long run from Shageluk.   Those end of run times count, because they show that a team has speed plus endurance.  White Mountain, the next to last checkpoint which is often viewed as  the unofficial finish line, is obviously at the end of a very long run, and  Berkowitz has shown that he is likely to be at  the top of his game during  that last  stretch.

Rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom is running third right now and catching some attention.  For a rookie he is running in pretty fast company, but he does have a bundle of experience.   He has moved up rapidly in the last two days, and it is in this stretch of the race that such moves really mean something.    John Baker  has what seems to be an  insurmountable task in catching so many fast teams.

There was some suspense on the trail today as Martin Buser headed out of Grayling to Eagle Island before the  dog food and straw had been delivered to that location.   At last word it was on its way from Kaltag in less than ideal flying weather,  but at least there were no mountains in the way.  The Yukon is wonderful for that  well  known Alaska navigation system known as IFR, short for  I Follow River. 

Between Eagle Island and Unalakleet, big moves from the chase teams can be expected.  Sometimes those moves pay off, other times  they leave a team resting for hours along the trail.  Keep an eye on the tracker.

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

Anvik by Myron Angstman

Martin Buser has a  22 mile lead over his nearest  rival Mitch Seavey  as of  11:15 Friday.  Seavey  is moving a bit faster, but  that’s about three hours of trail time at  current speeds, and  that is not a trivial amount.  Speeds vary from hour to hour, and  no one should  count Buser out of winning at this point.    Zirkle,  Berkowitz  and  Burmeister are the others in the mix right now according to my fool proof analysis.  By fool proof, I mean there is no proof  I am not a fool.

John Baker moved up a bit more with some serious non- stop pursuit,  and he is nearing  Anvik where he will likely take his eight hours.  That will put him  something like 12 hours behind  Buser,  and  in need of a storm to tighten things up.

This morning  Buser said he thought  his dogs were a little sick from drinking the swampy yellow water at Iditarod.  Of course that reminds me of  a story .  When I pulled into that checkpoint I was more than thirsty. In those days, no one carried bottled water, and my thermos bottle had been empty of coffee for a day.  It was  the middle of the night, and -30. The checker pointed me to the water hole in the ice.  There was a small metal dipper laying nearby. The first order of business was a drink of water.  I dipped into the hole with the extremely cold pan and got a  pan full of yellowish water.  In my headlight, it  looked like it might  still have some Iditarod gold in it.  There was no option.  Bottoms up.  It went down with a swampy flavor, tinged with a metallic overtone from the cold pan.  It was so bad, I had another pan full, and then put some in my thermos.   I don’t doubt Buser’s dogs are a little sick.

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 7, 2013

Martin's Lead- Quick Update by Myron Angstman

So I was wrong.   Martin  Buser looks like he is extending his lead on the run from  Iditarod to Shageluk, and if that happens he becomes the favorite to hold on and win.    He started slowly  this afternoon, but kicked in  later  and right now is about 25 miles ahead of the nearest team.   Wow!

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

In and Out of Iditarod by Myron Angstman

Martin Buser was the first out of Iditarod, but is moving slowly.  Next out was Aliy Zirkle,  20 miles behind Buser.   She might not beat him into Shageluk, but will surely gain a bunch on him.   Keep a good eye on this segment, because  a strong run  to the Yukon will elevate  any of the front runners into likely winner status. 

John Baker has advanced a bit and  will arrive in Iditarod  in the early evening.   He and his team  must not like the 45 degree temperatures on the trail, but they have passed a  number  of teams today.

The trail from Iditarod to Shageluk brings to  mind an earlier trip up the same trail I made in 1979.  I was a rookie and  moving slowly.  I left Iditarod at -30 in the early morning.   I went all day, up and down the hills, hoping the top of the next hill would reveal the familiar sight of the Innoko River.  It didn't take forever to get there, but  it sure felt like it.   As I topped yet another hill  standing by the trail was a man I knew from a previous hunting trip to Shageluk.  The fellow was  the official greeter for the village, and met every boat that stopped in the summer, without fail.  He had some mental challenges,  and had a difficult time communicating.  I thought I  must be very close to the village, because this guy was standing along the trail. He motioned that I should give him a  ride.  I  declined,  because I was barely  moving  with my current load.  We had a  short  but animated visit, and he expressed as well as he could how happy he was to see me.  I waved and moved off for what surely was going to be a short ride into the village at about midnight.    About 1 am, I pulled into the checkpoint,  moving at about 5 mph.   I learned from people at the checkpoint that  my buddy had  eagerly awaited my arrival, and decided to walk along the trail  until he found me, about five miles out, at  -20. 

He showed up later and I thanked him as best I could.  He still loves the Iditarod, and attends the banquet each year in Anchorage, where he now lives.  Recalling that  stop on the trail still warms me up a bit, as it did that night.

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

Storms and Strategy by Myron Angstman

It sounds like a windy day on the  Iditarod trail. As I gaze out my window in  Bethel, about 150 miles south of  Iditarod,  the wind has  picked up a bit, and appears to be part of a system moving toward  Iditarod and the Yukon River, next up on the trail.   Bad weather is  a significant part of Iditarod racing, although in recent years the race has had fewer big storms that  in earlier years when the race actually  ground to a halt at times.  This storm doesn’t look like it will stop anyone yet, but big winds and warm temps can make a messy, slow trail.

We are too far from the action to determine who might suffer the most from a soft, blown in trail, but there are a lot of hills between Iditarod and Shageluk, and  conventional wisdom points to stronger dogs getting the edge over faster dogs.  I know in my experience, I  used fast trotting dogs that bogged down horribly in soft snow-they wanted  nothing in their way.  Lighter weight,  well conditioned racers also have an advantage  going up  hills in such conditions.

With all that factored in, the first couple of teams to emerge out of the hills on to flat going  at before Shageluk are without doubt the teams  to beat in this  race.  Martin Buser is likely to  be the first team out of Iditarod,  but  historically his dogs shine  on hard fast trail.  The  next team out could well be  Aaron Burmeister and after that it gets  clouded.  One team moving up right now is Pete Kaiser.  His team has been moving a bit slower  in the early part of the race, but he  is a light guy, well conditioned, and  might be well suited for just the kind of trail he will  soon encounter.

Lance Mackey and  Sonny Lindner  are on their 24 hour break at Iditarod. They will leave after a bunch of teams, and that could turn out to be an advantage for them if the trail is the type that can get packed down by  the earlier teams.   John Baker is  50 miles from Iditarod at this writing,  and he needs a slow down up front in order to climb back into contention.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Frontrunners Ophir to Iditarod by Myron Angstman

While there isn’t a whole lot going on with most teams on their 24 hour break, there is obviously something unusual happening between Ophir and Iditarod. The three teams out there, Lindner, Mackey and King, have been starting and stopping frequently, especially the first two, which is not normal  for front runners.  I suspect weather or trail conditions are the reason but  we will soon find out as  Mackey nears the check point.    If they have had tough going, it becomes a factor in the race.  They have had a much longer run than anticipated, and  it may move them back in the standings if the following teams experience  better going.

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

24 hr Rest Mid-Day Report by Myron Angstman

Three  items of  interest while most of the teams rest in the afternoon heat.  John Baker provided  an exclusive interview to a reliable reporter today, and stated he was feeling good about his team.  He expects to pick up the pace now, with dogs that are strong and eating well.  According to the same source,  he sounded  rested.   He will have a lot of teams ahead of him, but certainly is not out of the running.

The second  item of note is the arrival of Martin Buser in Takotna.  Buser came in and left Takotna  about 9 hours before  Aaron Burmeister is able to leave tonight.  That is a  big chunk of time, especially because Martin has a  fast team and lots of savvy.

The final item is the fact that Sonny Lindner is now the first team on the trail.  Sonny is a serious veteran of this race, winning rookie of the year in 1978.   He and I raced the Coldfoot Classic in 1986,  in the Brooks Range.  At one stop  Sonny noted a veteran racer pass us  and he said to me “If you ever see me doing one of these races  after I am 50 years old, promise me that you will shoot me”    Sonny is now 63, and  each year I remind him of his request.

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

Wednesday in Takotna by Myron Angstman

The  run from Nikolai to Takotna  reveals much about the contenders in this year’s race.  But for many years I have focused on the run from  McGrath to Takotna  as a very good barometer of what  might happen from there to the finish. Why?  Because it is a short run at the end of a long run for most teams, and  how well  a team performs  when tired is a strong indication of how they will perform  towards the end of the Iditarod.   

What do those run times show?  The fastest team in that run might surprise some—Jake Berkowitz at 2:08.   After that comes  Lance  Mackey at 2:10,  Mitch Seavey at  2:11,  Pete Kaiser at 2:12,  and Sonny Lindner at 2:12.  Others a bit slower were Aaron Burmeister,  Aliy Zirkle, and Dallas Seavey.  Not included on this list are some  names that no one should ever count out,  Martin Buser, who has yet to make the run,  John Baker who travels slower than  these teams  most of the time but still manages to move up, and  Rayme Smyth who  often makes a mad dash the last half of the race.  

Mackey didn’t take his 24 hours at Takotna, but clearly is the  man to watch right now. His overall moving speed  is high, and last night’s times show that he hasn’t slowed down yet.  His four titles suggest he knows how to win, and no thinking person would make a huge bet against him at this point.

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 5, 2013

Out of Nikolai by Myron Angstman

Myron Angstman
Last night I mentioned that  the order of departure from Nikolai is an important  factor in deciding who is a contender in the Iditarod.    There are a bunch of teams out in a fairly short period of time, way more than normal,  and that means it is too early to draw many conclusions.   Aaron Burmeister left first, and what should  we make of that?   Well, Aaron had a good race last year, and has too much experience to run out of Nikolai if his team wasn't ready.  It is also true that his team had a good run in  the Kuskokwim  300 earlier this winter with Tony Browning driving.  But there is one negative that must be considered.   Distant fans can now watch the average traveling speed of each team, courtesy of the GPS mounted on the sled.  This measures the average speed recorded by the sled whenever it has moved since leaving  Willow.  I have every reason  to trust the accuracy of the moving average, and Burmeister is at 8.3 mph,  slower than the three teams right behind him.  Other factors figure in of course,  but that differential must be overcome at some point.   Teams rarely speed up after the first few days of a race.  Some slow down however,  and that is what will have to happen for Burmeister to hang on to his short lead. 

How can a slower team be leading?  Obviously he has taken less rest, but that can only work  so long before the speed factor favors the faster team.  The faster teams gets more rest, while the slower team and its driver get less rest. I have often stated over the years that in distance racing its not how fast a team goes when it is going fast, its how fast they move when they are going slow that determines  which team will win.    Some of the key speeds I am looking at are these: Zirkle 8.5,  Mackey 8.9,  Mitch Seavey 9.0,  Gebhardt 8.3,  Jonrowe 8.7, and  Buser 8.9,  and Royer 8.4.   None of those teams are far from the top spot, and all could be a factor.  Two fast teams are back a bit at this writing, Mike Williams Jr.  at 8.6 and King at  8.9.  One notable team moving very slow is defending champion Dallas Seavey, moving at 7.3  mph.  On a dog trail the difference between Mitch  Seavey at 9 and Dallas at 7.3  is dramatic.  Think how fast a car going 90 passes you when you are driving  73 on a freeway.  But as soon as I wrote this sentence, I noticed on the tracker that Dallas is  moving fast, and  is now traveling in tenth place.  Go figure…

John Baker is  also moving slower than he would  like, at 7.7 mph.  He is often slower at this stage  and  somehow catches up, but rarely has he had  this many good teams in front of him at Nikolai.   A few of the  teams on the trail to Takotna will falter because of the rapid pace  thus far.  Most of these teams will take 24 hours there to rest up.  Some snowy weather is forecasted, which could alter the speed of teams significantly. 

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

Monday, March 4, 2013

Evening Report from Rohn by Myron Angstman

Martin Buser appears to be taking a long rest in Rohn, likely 24 hours, which will have him leaving in the heat of the day,  which is certainly a negative in  warm temperatures.  Several  other teams are leaving Rohn this evening after a short rest.   In recent years, many have gone through to Nicholai without a major stop.  Many of the main contenders have now arrived in Rohn, or will shortly.   

This next run is the one that starts to sort out the contenders from the pretenders.  Most  years, the first few teams that leave Nicholai are the  teams to beat.  And of those teams the ones with the best travel times to  Takotna move to the top of my list.  The Farewell  burn is no longer the challenge it was in the early years after the fire, as much of the downed  timber  and stumps have  disappeared.  In much of Alaska fires create a real mess by burning the roots of trees partially as the tundra burns, allowing the trees to blow down easily in later years.  Now young trees are growing in the burn and  the trail is much easier to follow as well.
John Baker made an impressive run today.  At my last writing he was languishing at the rear of the contenders, but a more or less non-stop push from that point will have him in Rohn shortly.  He is certainly within striking distance of the leaders, but there will be a bunch more catching up to do.

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

Willow to Rohn by Myron Angstman

Lots of talk today about Martin Buser’s 19 hour run from Willow to Rohn, by the far the fastest it has ever been done.   What’s he up to?? Well from a long distance it looks like he may have gambled on weather and trail conditions.   The first team to travel on a recently set trail,  with a bunch of snow and warm conditions, can often have a much better traveling surface than the subsequent teams.  This is because the  thin surface that sets up, after the trail breakers go through, turns to mush after a few teams churn it up.  When it is cold and a trail is set for a while,  it holds up well to a bunch of teams. My guess is Martin discovered this was the kind of trail in front of him, and off he went. He was first out of the chute, he has a fast team, and tons of experience with which to pull off such a run.

Whether it will work or not remains to be seen.  If  he had noticeably better trail than the teams behind him  for 160 miles, he gained an advantage of course.  But did he use up so much energy that the team will not be able to compete at a high level the rest of the way?  We will watch that and other issues closely. It is worth noting that Matt Failor pulled off the same run in just two hours more time.  Using the above theory,  the second team to travel such a trail has the next best trail, and so on down the list.  Failor is a former handler at Buser’s kennel, and is running the Buser second team.  That’s some  kind of “B” team.  

What does that mean for the teams that are further back including John Baker?  If the trail is soft and the temps are warm,  I doubt John is happy where he is at as this is written, leaving Finger Lake in 45th place, at mid day, running in the warmest part of the day, up hill.   And the worst part of that is the number of strong teams that are a long way ahead.   Playing catch up is John’s forte, but if the catch-up is too long, the task becomes daunting.

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 3, 2013

Iditarod Re-Start Summary by Myron Angstman

Someone asked me today whether  the  weather  is always this good for the start of the Iditarod. The short answer is no.  The first start I ever watched was in Anchorage  in 1975 at -20.  The mushers leaving were dressed like old trappers, and modern racers would laugh at their equipment.  But lately the weather has been spectator friendly, and that contributes to a festive atmosphere  at Willow Lake.   Today it was in the high 20’s,  and  good spirits  prevailed in the starting area.   But someone should tell the Iditarod they need an announcer who is  stronger on his Alaska geography.  An event of this magnitude can’t have as many mistakes on their  booming PA system as we have heard for the past few years.

This report is abbreviated because of the amount of travel involved on starting day,  complicated by  mechanical problems  with my airplane. But no analysis means much the first day. Some of the faster teams go very fast, and if they happen to have an early starting time they look like they are leading the race.   But it takes a day or two to begin sorting the teams out, and all I can tell you tonight is there are a lot of nice looking teams  on the trail.   Martin Buser is   running way ahead at this moment, something like 16 miles, but he will take a long stop soon.   At the other end, Russian racer  Mikhail Telpin is near the back of the pack.  He is  likely to stay towards the back.  Mikhail is running dogs from his homeland that are traditional work dogs. They move slowly, but are extremely powerful and a treat to watch move down the trail.  The Iditarod  has room for teams like that—they make it the  international event that it is.

Tomorrow  I will try to identify some of  the teams that have successfully made a fast start, and those who have lagged a bit too far behind for the first 24 hours.  Meanwhile settle into watching the  GPS tracker, the best innovation for  race spectators ever.  20  years ago I thought I was on the cutting edge when I convinced Iditarod Headquarters  to send me faxes every couple hours, based on calls from checkpoints that were at best sporadic, yet people would call my house day and night to find out the latest news.  Now we complain when a tracker fails to report every  few minutes.  For newcomers  to this site, John Baker has a history of starting fairly slow and moving up in the last half of the race.   Buser, on the other hand, often starts fast, and when he doesn’t its usually a sign things are not quite right with his team.  Folks expect big things  out of his team this year, because he and his son Rohn combined their two teams into one.   Keep an eye on  Martin.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Iditarod XLI Ceremonial Start


Myron's Analysis
The ceremonial start of the Iditarod  has become a spectacle in downtown Anchorage, essential to the race  and its fans.  Over the years, many racers have privately grumbled about the hoopla, which has nothing to do with the more serious business of competing in the race. But, most now recognize that it has become a fixture.  And what an event it is.

Thousands of fans line the street, the loudspeaker reverberates for many blocks from the starting line, and  teams and handlers put on quite a show as they make their way out of town.   Every team has two sleds and three passengers- the racer, a handler, and  a paid Iditarider.  Many teams have developed matching costumes for their handlers.  Interviews, autographs, pictures, waves— all part of putting on this unique Alaska event. Team Baker  has a huge group of handlers, one per dog it seems, and each has a leash on the  line as they march to the starting line. Early Iditarod racer, ken Chase, pointed out that in the first years of the race, Anchorage was the actual start, and he recalled going to the starting line with no handlers. Obviously, 10 or more handlers are not needed, but it is a chance for more folks to take part in the event. As my daughter Sarah said as she helped a team to the start a few years ago, it made her feel like she was helping in the race, even though she wasn’t.

For some old timers, the ceremonial start represents a sort of reunion....a chance to check in with the small but far flung community of long distance racers who seldom interact outside of this event. A stroll down the starting area today put me next to friends I hadn’t seen since last year’s start. Some are still racing! Rudy Demoski  first took part in the 1974 Iditarod, and is back now at age 67. Sonny Lindner raced in the 70’s and is still at it. One notable old timer missing from the field for the first time in recent memory is five time champion Rick Swenson. A bad back, and  a few dogs short of the team he wanted to have in the race caused him to withdraw late. Others just walk the street.  Past champion Dick Mackey, at 80, still looks like he could handle a team of dogs. Another champ, Joe Runyan, gathers information for the Iditarod web page and produces excellent reports.

Rural Alaska is well represented in this year’s race. In addition to John Baker from Kotzebue, there are seven other teams who qualify as rural mushers: Louie Ambrose, Josh Cadzow, Richie Diehl, Demoski,  Pete Kaiser, and the Williams  pair, Mike Sr. and Mike Jr. This is a welcome change from a trend away from rural teams a few years ago.  Not only  does Bush Alaska have a good number of teams, but also high quality. Three of the seven are serious contenders for the top spot, and a couple more are likely top 20 teams.

Many race commentators spend  the days before the race predicting the winner.  Not so here! There are about a dozen teams that would easily qualify as serious contenders to win, and another small group that could surprise and end up on top.  There are too many variables to make a reasonable prediction of who will win before they start racing.  Predictions start to make some sense after a few days of racing, so stay tuned.  Meanwhile, if you are within driving distance, catch the real start at Willow tomorrow.