A finish for the ages
And a trail they'll never forget
A wicked storm blew the frontrunner into driftwood and ended his race. The same storm drove the frost-bitten new frontrunner to shelter in Safety. And the winner? He thought he was racing for third.
All of this happened in the last hours at the front of the pack in Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome. Jeff King's team hit the wall and the four-time champion scratched within sight of his fifth victory. Aliy Zirkle took the lead but took a break for her battered dogs and frostbitten hands. Then Dallas Seavey blew through Safety thinking that he dogs had done well and he was driving for third place.
The 2014 finish was reminiscent of 1978, without the one-second drama in the finishing chute. Thirty-six years ago, leading mushers "The Flying Andersons," Eep and Babe, couldn't hold the lead in a vicious storm. Eep scratched; Babe eventually finished sixth. Contender Emmitt Peters was penalized an hour's wait in Solomon for having accepted hot water at a previous checkpoint. That set the stage for the Dick Mackey-Rick Swenson finish.
So King was both prophet and historian when he said in White Mountain that a lot can happen in the last 77 miles.
The 2014 race bears out another truth, too -- those who say that the Iditarod has become an easier race over the years are wrong. This year's trail had no mercy, and the long scratch list included seasoned, accomplished mushers. It's a different, faster race than it was in the early years. But some fundamentals don't change.
You can't groom bare ground. You can't temper the wind. And a lot can happen in a lot less than 77 miles.
BOTTOM LINE: Congratuations to Dallas Seavey; he'll always remember the year that third was first.