The trouble-plagued year of Dave Straub's Iditarod finally came to an end in McGrath on Saturday. The first musher to sign up for Iditarod 2000, the Willow dog driver had a nightmare experience in training when a dog team veered onto the George Parks Highway and was hit by a truck. Three dogs were killed. He eventually made it to the Iditarod starting line, but it was slow going from there.
Still, he made it over the Alaska Range, and thought he had things under control until he encountered the glare ice outside of Rohn. His sled skidded out of control and went over. "I hit my head hard on the ice," he said. "You don't train on glare ice." Part of the problem, Straub said, was his brake, which lacked the carbide studs that provide at least some braking on ice.
In retrospect, he said, he should have known something was up when Iditarod veteran Lavon Barve gave the brake a funny look at the Wasilla restart, "but there's a lot of things you don't know as a rookie. It's just rookie stuff. Stuff you just need to learn by being here." Straub said he wanted to press on with this Iditarod but realized he was far behind schedule and his team wasn't looking particularly strong.
"I just knew coming up here (to McGrath), this was a place I could get out of easy." His team was on a plane back to Anchorage on Saturday. Straub said he will be back for next year's Iditarod.
Where the buffalo (and huskies) roam
Eagle River musher Rich Bosela spent more than a day on the Farewell Burn after his lead dogs decided to take off after a trio of buffalos near the trail. Bosela said he still doesn't know what got into the dogs, which have never chased any large mammals before.
But when they saw the bison, part of a herd that lives in the Farewell Burn, they jumped off the trail and led the entire team in a cross-country pursuit.
"It was a free for all," he said. Bosela finally got the team stopped, but then the leaders didn't want to break trail cross-country back to the Iditarod Trail. Bosela had to lead them back, and "after that we were all kind of shook up, so we camped out."
All were in McGrath on Saturday. All looked to be doing well. Bosela was happy there were no more buffalo zones ahead on the trail to Nome.
Mush on, if it pleases you
Neen Brown from Cherry Hill, Australia -- the sheep rancher running her first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race -- had a strange command for her dog team in McGrath on Saturday. "When you're ready," she told the lead dogs. They started ahead, wandered over to some old straw, and started looking for food other dogs had left uneaten. Apparently, they weren't ready. But then Brown didn't appear to be in any big hurry. She was running near the back of the race.
Steady as he goes
Fourth-year musher Mike Nosko of Wasilla left Ruby late Saturday afternoon confident that he was going to catch several teams in front of him. He thought a bunch of teams had gone out too fast and were destined to falter. They got sucked into chasing the leaders, he said, when the best strategy is for each musher to run his or her own race. A lot of research has shown that the fastest races -- whether run by animals or humans -- go to the people who run even paces or negative splits (faster at the end than at the beginning). Given that, it has been noted that every second too fast at the start of the race can translate into minutes too slow at the end. Nosko said he had conserved his team to the Yukon. He was hoping to prove the old adage true.