In a relay steeped in Iditarod history, Ryan Redington delivers race legend’s ashes to Nome

NOME — If there was a reliable trip to Nome, it was on the sled of musher Aaron Burmeister. In his 21 prior starts in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Burmeister reached the finish line each time.

So when Burmeister scratched this year in Unalakleet, it was a surprise to both mushers and mushing fans.

In the 2024 Iditarod, Burmeister had been ferrying some special cargo: the ashes of his friend and Iditarod legend Howard Farley, who died in January at 91. Before Farley died, he had encouraged Burmeister — who’d announced in 2022 that he was stepping back from the race — to return in 2024.

Farley was from Nome and was considered one of the race’s founding fathers, working alongside Joe Redington Sr. to launch the Iditarod in 1973.

“Howard promised me he’d be there at the finish line for me,” said Burmeister, who mushes out of Nenana and grew up in Nome. “When he passed early, we were going to get him to the finish line. The family gave me the honor and asked me to carry him across the trail.”

So it was only fitting that after his scratch, Burmeister passed on Farley’s ashes to Ryan Redington, the 2023 champion and grandson of Joe Redington Sr.

“There’s a lot of family history all the way down,” Burmeister said. “No matter what, we were going to get him to the finish line. There’s no better way than to send him the rest of the way with a Redington.”


[As the Iditarod faces an uncertain future, these Redington teens dream of keeping it alive]

Ryan Redington arrived in Nome on Wednesday night, finishing the race in 14th place. At the finish line, Redington said it was an emotional handoff between the mushers.

“(Aaron) said, ‘You just have to promise me one thing, you’ve got to finish,’” Redington recalled. “I looked at him once we got Howard on the sled and I said, ‘No problem.’ I was going to finish for Howard. It was an honor to bring him with.”

[Our favorite photos from the 2024 Iditarod finish]

At the finish line, Burmeister joined Redington to complete the final few yards of the trip and hand the ashes to Farley’s family.

“We were happy that Aaron asked Ryan to keep going and bring him the rest of the way here,” said Howard “Chugie” Farley Jr., whose family lives in Nome. “It turned out to be a relay race.”

He said all 10 of Howard Farley’s kids were at the start of this year’s Iditarod, exchanging plenty of stories and memories of the race from their childhood.

“We knew (Ryan’s) grandpa when we were kids,” said Melissa King, one of Farley’s daughters. “We used to call him Uncle Joe when we were little and always here at the headquarters.”

[Thrilled and tested, the top 10 Iditarod mushers arrive in Nome]

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.