The last husky to reach the end of the Iditarod Trail arrived in Nome on Wednesday night, but this one was riding a man-sled instead of pulling a dog sled, and it differed significantly in other ways from the dogs that do the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
It was smaller, arguably cuter, clearly more cuddly, and it was stuffed. It was also a toy and a mascot and it had ridden north from Knik on the towbar of a sled pulled by Google software engineer Beat (pronounced Be-At) Jegerlehner, a 46-year-old Iditarod Trail Invitational competitor less weight conscious than most.
The Nome finished marked the third time the Los Altos, California resident had gone the distance on Alaska’s most famous trail.
“This was his fastest time,” said the Invitational’s Kathi Merchant, “but he still pulls a massive sled.”
Jergerlehner is, in that regard, the polar opposite of Tim Hewitt, the Pennsylvania attorney first to finish this year. Hewitt packs as little as possible in his sled, which enabled him to go 1,000 miles in less than 19 1/2 days.
It took Jegerlehner 24 days, three hours and 59 minutes, but that included being stalled by sickness at Finger Lake only about 125 miles into the race. He pushed through the illness, pushed on and powered to the end.
“If I could only do one race for the rest of my life, it would be this,” he has observed of the Invitational. “Not because it’s the “hardest” (seriously what’s the stupid obsession with that these days?) but because it enriched my life in many different ways, from meeting the most friendly and selflessly helpful people in the villages along the way all the way to at times being reduced to true survival mode (in the actual sense of the word – you might not survive).”
Jegerleher was on the trail with San Fransisco ultrarunner Steven Ansell, Hewitt, and Hewitt’s wife, Loreen, between Ophir and Ruby last year when they ran into a truly life-threatening blizzard. Jegerlehner pushed through, but a snowmachine had to be sent out to help the others.
Jegerlehner Wednesday joined a very select group in Nome. Only 60 people have finished the Invitational since 2000, and only six have finished it three times or more.
Behind Jegerlehner still on the trail were 50-year-old Eric Johnson from Ogden, Utah, who was closing on the last Iditarod checkpoint at Safety Roadhouse; and 53-year-old Klaus Schweinberger from Tirol, Austria. Both are Invitational veterans.