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Racing the Iditarod with a reality TV camera strapped to his head

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: March 12, 2018
  • Published March 10, 2018

Jessie Holmes fixes the runners on his sled Saturday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

GRAYLING — Iditarod musher Jessie Holmes has worn a camera strapped around his head during parts of the race this year in an effort to capture trail footage for the reality television show he stars in, "Life Below Zero."

But the device was no match for the realities of the Iditarod trail.

"The battery was dead in two minutes," Holmes said as he fixed his sled runners at the quiet and sunny checkpoint here Saturday afternoon. "All the good stuff was just missed."

Holmes, 36, is a first-time Iditarod competitor, the 2017 Kobuk 440 champion, a Nenana resident and, as his race biography says, "a television personality." He is one of six people in Alaska featured in a National Geographic Channel series.

Throughout the Iditarod, people in many villages along the way have recognized him from television, he said. A TV film crew is following him to certain race checkpoints. Not here in the Yukon River village of Grayling, but Holmes expects them later down the trail, in White Mountain and at the finish line in Nome.

Jessie Holmes rests in the David Louis Memorial School gym Saturday in Grayling. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

"There was this big storm and I went 5 mph for like five hours and I went off in the snow, but it was up to my waist," he said.

He lost the trail. His team became tangled. He had to unhook all of the dogs, turning them loose.

"We all worked to try to find the trail and then I called them all back," he said.

Exasperated, he thought he might scratch from the race but eventually decided to mush on.

"It was just all the perfect elements of reality TV," he said.

By Grayling, 530 miles into the 1,000-mile race, Holmes said he was about ready to lose the camera equipment the show had outfitted him with.

"They're starting to weigh me down," he said.

Holmes said working for a reality show is a lot of work. But, the gig pays pretty well. (Though, he said, he's not really supposed to talk about that.)

As for what he thinks of the show? Holmes said he doesn't actually watch. He doesn't want to start critiquing what he says or what he does.

"I'm just totally being myself," he said.