As mushers trickle into Nome for the next couple of days, so will stories of turmoil about what will be remembered as one of the worst trails in Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race history.
Aside from the top story -- fierce winds forcing Jeff King to scratch within the final 25 miles, giving Dallas Seavey the opportunity to pass Aliy Zirkle in Safety and capture his second title in three years -- there are the tales of dogs that led their masters and masters who led their dogs across treacherous terrain.
"I'll write a book," said Mitch Seavey, who was asked by KNOM reporter Laureli Kinneen to describe what happened to his team along the Norton Sound. "There's a thousand things that happened."
"It doesn't get any worse," Hans Gatt, a 13-time Iditarod finisher who placed ninth, said in a report by Iditarod.com. "Definitely the craziest Iditarod I've ever run."
"This was one trip I never thought was going to end," said hometown hero Aaron Burmeister, 38, born and raised in Nome, told the crowd that gathered on Front Street on Tuesday to watch him finish. "It was one thing after another."
If there was one common denominator among these words of woe, it was the story of bravery -- dogs pulling drivers and drivers pulling dogs through brutally strong winds and across slippery glare ice along the southern coast of the Seward Peninsula.
At the end of it all, mushers like Burmeister gave credit to his dogs for providing him the strength to resist pressing the emergency locator button that all mushers carried this year.
"It would have been really easy to get on an airplane and call it a day," Burmeister said. "But that's not what we do this for. That's not what I live for, or stand for.
"When we start something we're going to finish it. We had our share of challenges, but there was never a doubt we were going to make it to the finish line."
Burmeister called his dogs "all-stars" for making it across the glare ice on Golovin Bay, which mushers must cross before reaching the race's second-to-last checkpoint in White Mountain. He said the wind was so strong it blew the dogs sideways and halfway across the bay on their backs.
Once they got back on their feet, Burmeister said, he walked in front of his leaders and into the wind for seven hours, trying to get to the other side of the bay so the dogs could walk around the edge instead of going straight across. It was an impressive feat, considering six days earlier he severely damaged his knee while navigating the snowless Farewell Burn.
"We just happened to be out there when the winds were blowing 60 to 70," he told KNOM.
When Burmeister finally reached White Mountain, where all mushers must take an eight-hour layover, people at the checkpoint advised him and three other mushers not to leave at their scheduled departure time, that it was too dangerous.
A four-time Yukon Quest champion, Gatt took the advice and stayed put for an extra five hours, 43 minutes. Three others -- Burmeister, Jessie Royer and Ray Redington Jr. -- also extended their stay in White Mountain by more than five hours.
Then, just before 11 a.m. Tuesday, with the wind still howling between White Mountain and Nome, Gatt figured "what the heck" and charged into it.
"My leaders were outstanding, especially out there on the glare ice," he said.
Mitch Seavey praised his new, young leader named Wally, a dog that made his share of mistakes but got his owner out of some sticky situations.
"Wally gets a little anxious and tries to make too many of his own decisions," Seavey laughed. "I'd fall asleep and we'd be rolling along and I'd wake up and there's not a marker or trail scratch -- nothing in sight anywhere. And I was like, 'Wally, what have you done?' "
There was no napping Tuesday morning while Seavey tried to cross a sloping section of glare ice. The wind was blowing so hard from the north that the Sterling musher couldn't stand on his runners. The wind caught the sled and blew it south in the direction of open water. He said the wind dragged his team 100 yards backward.
"It just kept going and going and going," he said. "I thought, you know, there's probably an ocean over there somewhere."
Once the team got out of the wind, Seavey said, the run turned beautiful near Safety, but the lack of excitement led the driver to nod in and out of consciousness. With victory out of reach, the two-time Iditarod champion recognized he had at least one thing going for him.
"Every once in a while the finish line comes along and saves you," he said.
Reach Kevin Klott at firstname.lastname@example.org
Complete Iditarod coverage
By KEVIN KLOTT
Daily News correspondent