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.