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Fog of Iditarod

Lanier rescue

Anna Bondarenko’s worried Facebook post about her husband Jim Lanier

As the story came to be told and grew, there was a lone hero because stories are best that way.

Reality is more complex and sometimes confused by the fog of war. And then, too, in the male-dominated world of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the efforts of a woman with a significant part in the story are easily overlooked.

Even more so if she has from time-to-time been at odds with the powers that be in the Last Great Race because she believes the 49th state should be free of big mines, and they don’t.

That one of the mining companies, Donlin Gold, is a major Iditarod sponsor only adds another layer to what may, or may not, have shaped what has come to be the Legend of Scott Janssen.

In reality, Janssen was a commendable performer – maybe even a heroic one – who put himself through some serious misery to aid the rescue of Jim Lanier. But there was other key performers overlooked, most especially 34-year-old Monica Zappa from Kasilof who with an assist from 47-year-old Brett Bruggeman,  an endodontist from Great Falls, Mont., came first to Lanier’s aid.

Zappa “and I tried our best” to rescue him from the now famous “Solomon Blowhole” east of Nome in the early morning hours of March 16, Bruggeman said Thursday by telephone from his home in the Lower 48. But in the end all the duo managed to do was move Lanier and his team near the trail.

That move, however, was pivotal. Had it not happened, and had Lanier gone back to stay with his team stuck off the trail, Janssen might as easily have passed the 77-year-old musher unseen as Lanier friend Larry Daughtery had done before.

Bruggeman credits Zappa with wading through this year’s unusually deep coastal snow to reach Lanier’s team, and then leading the dogs across the beach and through a tangle of driftwood atop the barrier island to get them lined out on the trail to the Safety Roadhouse.

“She got Jim’s team untangled,” Bruggeman said. “She got them over to the trail.”

She and Bruggeman almost got them moving on the way to Safety Roadhouse, too, but they didn’t. If they had, the big story at the end of the 2018 Iditarod wouldn’t have been a story at all, which is the history of so many untold Iditarod stories.

Snapshots in time

In the world of Iditarod, things are seldom as they at first seem or as they are first told. Reporters glean only bits and pieces of information. Many mushers tend toward introversion. Accounts of events along the trail often need to be pried from their lips.

But there are a few who love to talk, and they are drawn to the media the way the light attracts the moth. They shape the narrative, and then the narrative grows.

A story is begun and builds upon itself, and it is rare for anyone to go back and piece together what really happened. The Iditarod, for its part, doesn’t care how a story gets relayed as long as the story promotes the race.

As for the people who are supposed to be in the business of sorting fact from fiction, well, by the time the Iditarod reaches Nome, reporters are pretty much worn out. They’re happy to see the winner crowned, and if a story of daring-do – as with the Legend of Scott Janssen – falls in their lap while they are still stuck in the City of the Golden Sands, they are happy to take what they are given and run with it.

To reconstruct what actually happened takes time, of which reporters usually have too little, and energy, of which most reporters are drained by the Iditarod finish. It is easy to overlook some of the players and easier still to simplify complicated chains of events.

It is probably to be expected that if a story like the one about to be told is finally written, it will be done by a magazine writer freed the burdens of daily deadlines on the Iditarod Trail, or by a reporter back in Anchorage allowed the luxury of a good bed, eight hours of sleep each night, and the time to ponder why the story being told seems to be missing key elements.

What you are about to read is a reconstruction of what happened to Lanier on the home stretch of the Iditarod this year. It is based on interviews with Bruggeman, Lanier and more than a half-dozen others, some of whom asked to remain nameless so as to avoid problems with Iditarod, which just happens to have a gag rule.

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Not-so-Safety beach

The story begins with a sick and struggling Lanier on the sled runners behind a dog team dropping down out of the Topkok Hills to frozen and snow-coverd Safety Lagoon in the early morning darkness on March 16. Four hours earlier, he had departed the White Mountain checkpoint after the race’s mandatory, 8-hour rest.

The rest hadn’t helped to cure the bronchitis that had left him badly ill, but the weather forecast for the Bering Sea coast ahead looked good.

A veteran of 19 Iditarods, the 77-year-old pathologist from a suburb just north of Alaska’s largest city knew he was taking a risk traveling the trail in poor health, but he figured everything would be fine as long as it was fine.

Almost immediately on coming out of the hills, however, he had a problem. The north winds were screaming south through the blowhole. Gusts to 40 mph, maybe more, picked up snow and blew it across the trail in a wall of white that made it impossible for Lanier to see his lead dogs only about 50 feet ahead.

Thus he did not notice when the veered left off the race trail cutting across the snow-covered ice of the Safety Lagoon in favor of pioneering their own route along the Bering Sea on the wrong side of the barrier islands that form the lagoon.

What had begun as one problem was now two problems for an old man alone on the trail. Behind him somewhere, though, was friend and fellow musher Larry Daugherty, whose team left the White Mountain checkpoint only three minutes after Lanier’s. Daugherty was planning to help escort his sick and ailing friend to the next checkpoint at the Safety Roadhouse.

A doctor from the Anchorage bedroom community of Eagle River, Daugherty considered Lanier a mentor and an inspiration. When Lanier’s fast-moving team opened a gap on Daugherty’s team in the barren Topkoks, Daugherty figured it was a good sign Lanier was on a fast pace to the finish.

If Lanier had a problem along the trail, Daugherty was sure to catch up. Daugherty did not expect the older musher’s dogs to hang a left at the bottom of the Topkoks and head for the Bering Sea. He was chagrined to find upon arriving in Safety, the last checkpoint, that Lanier had not passed through and instead disappeared in the night.

Alone and off trail

Back behind on the trail, with the wind howling, Lanier figured out the mistake his dogs had made when he saw Daughtery’s headlamp scoot by to the north. Lanier started  trying then to lead his team back over the crown of the barrier island to the trail on the far side. The task was difficult due to an unusually large amount of snow and the significant volume of driftwood that accumulates on the Bering Sea beaches even though they are north of the end of the continent’s forest.

Sick and tiring, Lanier made progress, but eventually stalled out. The time was near 4 a.m. But potential help was on the way. Behind Lanier and Daughtery, a steady stream of teams was flowing out of White Mountain.

Jansen at 1:37 a.m., Zappa at 1:49 a.m., and Bruggeman at 1:52 a.m. were the first.

Zappa and Bruggeman quickly passed Jansen on the trail. About an hour after Lanier stopped, they came down out of the Topkoks and spotted a headlamp off the trail toward the ocean. Traveling together in the blow, they paused to ponder the light, but decided to move on down to the trail because of the difficulty in getting through the driftwood to the far side of the island.

They did not go far before they encountered someone walking toward the trail from the beach. That was Lanier, who told Zappa his dogs had wandered off the trail and were stuck.

The winds were howling, and Lanier was not in the best of shape. He said he couldn’t use his hands very well. They had been compromised by past frostbite, which made him more vulnerable to problems in the cold.

Zappa and Bruggeman hooked down their teams and Bruggeman stayed with them while Zappa headed off with Lanier to get his team. They found the dogs in a tangle about 200 yards away.

Zappa untangled them. Lanier wasn’t able to provide much help, but once Zappa got the dogs ready to go, he was able to get on the sled as she steered the dogs back to the trail. Lanier, at that point, expressed confidence that if one of the other mushers took the lead to Safety, his dogs would follow.

Near rescue

Lanier said that if that didn’t work,  he would push the SOS button to summon help. Bruggeman started his team down the trail. Behind him, Zappa hooked down her team again, got of her sled, and went back to line Lanier’s dogs out to follow hers.

At that moment, her team bolted, apparently excited to chase Bruggeman. Zappa let go off Lanier’s lead dogs and rushed to grab her sled.

Lanier’s last view of Zappa was of her behind a team headed toward the sea. He was left fearing she might go over the top of the barrier island and end up in the same mess he’d been in. As Zappa gee’ed her dogs back onto the trail out of sight of Lanier, she was left hoping Lanier’s team was hot on the chase.

They weren’t. They’d stalled again along the trail.

At that point, Zappa and Bruggeman decided the thing to do was to continue on to Safety a couple of hours ahead and inform Iditarod personnel there that Lanier was in serious need of help. Meanwhile, back in Nome, Lanier’s wife, Anna Bondarenko, was watching the stalled satellite tracker on her husband’s sled and telling Iditarod officials something appeared wrong.

Bondarenko knew the trail. She in 2004 earned one of the belt buckles given only to Iditarod finishers.

As Bruggeman and Zappa left Lanier on the trail, they were thinking he would push the button to start a rescue. They were later surprised to discover at Safety that had not happened.

Janssen

As Bruggeman and Zappa were making their way through the storm to Safety, Janssen was  coming down out of the Topkoks. Shortly before 6:30 a.m., he encountered Lanier’s team. Janssen, like Bruggeman and Zappa before him, tried to get Lanier’s dogs moving.

He helped Lanier line the team out and started for Safety only to suffer a replay of what had happened to Zappa. His team bolted for the sea. Behind him, Lanier’s dogs got moving this time only to have his sled get stuck on a stump. Janssen got his team stopped, hooked them down and came back to confer with Lanier.

Things were going from bad to worse. Lanier’s eyes were freezing shut in the wind, a not uncommon occurrence. The eyes tear up to protect the corneas from freezing. The moisture accumulates on the eye lashes. The lashes freeze together. The ice needs to be scraped off.

Now, however, with both teams stopped, neither team was wanting to get going again. The dogs were nestled in at ground level, happy now to wait out the blow.

The situation was not good. Janssen decided it was best to pull out a satellite phone, dial up his wife, Debbie, waiting in Nome, and ask her to inform Iditarod officials there was trouble on the trail.

What transpired next is unclear, although the Iditarod later announced it started a rescue operation at 7 a.m. Expecting a rescue reasonably soon after the phone call, Janssen and Lanier huddled in the lee of one of their dogs sleds to wait.

Old friends, they joked and shivered and told stories as best they could to kill time. The rescue they were expecting, however, was slow to materialize. By the time a trio of cyclists in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a separate Iditarod event, pushed their bikes out of the storm and into the scene, Lanier and Janssen had been waiting for more than an hour and were cold despite being well dressed for the conditions.

To add to the mushers’ problems, Janssen had taken his gloves off to do something while helping Lanier, and the wind had whisked the gloves away. He told cyclist Phil Hofstetter his fingers were now so cold he can’t dial his sat phone. Hofstetter took the phone and dialed Debbie’s number again. Husband and wife had a heated discussion, possibly focused on why rescuers had yet to arrive.

Lanier had by then spent almost four hours out in the near-zero cold and the wind and was in  bad shape both psychologically and physically. At age 77, he confessed later, he was thinking that if he died out on the trail, so be it.

As Hoftstetter was helping Janssen, Cable was digging through the dogsleds of the two mushers looking for a SPOT radio tracker and signalling device.  Each musher carried two trackers issued by the Iditarod.

One tracked the sleds at all times no matter where mushers went. One was a back up tracker and offered mushers an SOS button to signal for help if they got in a dangerous situation. The SOS meant disqualification, but it was a potential lifesaver.

Cable and Janssen discussed what to do after the SPOT was found, and Janssen said push the SOS button. Cable did.

The GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center picked the signal up at 7:46 a.m. Unable to reach the designated Iditarod contact, it called Alaska State Troopers at 7:52 a.m. to report an emergency beacon had gone off along the Iditarod Trail.

Troopers by then had already been alerted by Nome search and rescue that Iditarod had asked for search assistance. With a search underway and the beacon pushed, troopers authorized a helicopter to fly to Safety to evacuate any mushers brought to the checkpoint in need of medical attention.

Luckily, neither Janssen or Lanier would need hospitalization.

The cavalry

Zappa and Bruggeman pulled into Safety at 8:20 a.m. to find Jessie Royer there. An Iditarod veteran and a top-20 finisher in the Iditarod just over, Royer had taken a snowmobile from Nome to Safety to meet fellow Montanan Bruggeman.

He and Zappa told Royer about Lanier’s problem, and how he planned to push the button. Royer told them no button had been pushed, apparently unaware state troopers had contacted Nome search and rescue about the distress signal.

Royer then headed out into the storm to find Lanier and Janssen while Zappa and Bruggeman took off on the trail to Nome.

Back with Janssen and Lanier, the cyclists had decided there was not much more they could do. Dressed lightly for travel, they were starting to freeze in the wind and decided it was time to move to generate some body heat.

With the button pushed and a call made to Debbie, they assumed rescuers were on the way. So they resumed their own march toward Safety and Nome.

But just to be sure things worked out, they stopped at Johnson’s Camp a couple of miles down the trail to text with Hofstetter’s wife in Nome to make sure the SOS message went through. Yes, she informed them, troopers had been notified, and a rescue was underway.

By then, Royer was speeding down the trail and Nome search and rescue was coming fast behind. Lanier remembers Royer helping him struggle to his feet and get on a snowmachine. By then, other machines were arriving to help Janssen.

By late morning, the two mushers were in Safety. By that afternoon, looking little the worse for wear, Janssen was sitting down with John Thompson, a reporter for KTVA-TV, the official station of the Iditarod, to tell his tale.

“This, for the foreseeable future was my last Iditarod,” Janssen said. “I don’t lament not crossing (under) the burled arches. Had a great time laying in the snow, feeling like I was dying…. so did Jim, with my friend. That’s what it really came down to in this race.”

Janssen had already told friends he planned to run for a seat on the Iditarod board of directors once he stepped away from the race. Two days after his arrival in Nome, mushers who had already gone on record demanding the resignation of Iditarod Trail Committee Board Chairman Andy Baker, voted Janssen the race’s Sportsmanship Award for 2108 for his role in helping to save Lanier.

A couple mushers later volunteered they wanted Janssen on the board to replace Baker. Janssen was by then basking in his 15 minutes of fame. The Washington Post recounted a heroic struggle to rescue a friend and survive. It was made-for-TV material, and the story went round the world.

“On a final call to his wife and family, Janssen confessed he did not know if they would make it out alive,” wrote Kyle Swenson. “‘I didn’t think I was going to die,’ Janssen explained to The Washington Post. ‘I knew I was going to die if someone didn’t come along.'”

 

He survived to become a hero, and Zappa, Bruggeman who’d labored in the cold and wind and dark to manuever Lanier and his team into position to be found, were forgotten along with Royer and the nameless members of Nome search and rescue who drove into the coastal maelstrom to retrieve Janssen and Lanier.

It was a big, complicated story, and stories are best when they are simple.

 

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44 replies »

  1. Steve I don’t doubt your rescues as genuine . But keep in mind some breeds do carry some form of autistic behavior gene . Particularly when confronted by strangers. In my opinion it’s common for sled dogs not to trust strangers. Usually as a result of marginal socialization. It’s very hard to fully socialize a sled dog . Kids seam to do the best job as they don’t baby the pups they treat them as full sentient members . I have had one dog named queen who seamed to pass on an instinctual fear of strangers I am unable to overcome. So Susan is right about some dogs . I have heard Seavey dogs may have anti social genes but that’s not proven. I have 4 pups out of a Seavey dog and they are excessively friendly. They were raised by my kids so had full attention. From birth . Yes it’s very hard for us to part with dogs even when sold for breeding but I consider it a service to the dog and acknowledgement of their efforts. That doesn’t stop the drama and tears when they leave . I try to play the hardened person to deal with it . Sacrifice emotions so the dog can have a fuller life . IMO .although there are some I can’t bear to part with. Especially older leaders . I suspect many people are that way .

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    • kids are the best way to raise pups. no doubt about it. all the dogs we turned over to Katie’s care when she was still in the house were socialized to the point of wanting to run up to everyone they saw because they thought all people were on earth to be their friends. it sometimes took some effort to untrain that. there are actually people who get scared to have a dog charge them even if it looks friendly.

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    • Ramey,
      There is no “Autism” gene that has been found in people or dogs….if so can you name which gene it is?
      Behavioral disorders do not even have blood tests that can diagnosis them…they are purely subjective based on observation by a trained psychiatrist of which Susan is not.
      This is why ADD and other “disorders” in DSM are controversial (homosexuality was listed for many years).
      You are missing the point…
      Sled dogs are abused from life on a chain and this is where their lack of trust for human hands comes from.
      I saw Dallas’s lot…sad eyes peering out of those barrels and short chains on stakes.
      A life in those conditions would make any of us seem “Autistic”.

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  2. Hah ! Steve a neighbor! Hilarious! Good day to you my friend! Perhaps we should make this a tradition! Agree to disagree. To bring out info and opinions. Perhaps we could start a comedy show! Let’s chat again on channel medred !

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    • Ramey,
      Perhaps we could push for some meaningful reform in the treatment, care and kennel structure for sled dogs in Alaska…like a tether ban.
      I was thinking about your comments and how anyone not born here is “not Alaskan enough” by the old dog’s standards.
      U and other Alaskans should realize how hard many folks work to move up here and what we give up to make the pilgrimage and transition….as well as education and experience that “greenies” may bring to this 49th state with a depressed economy (PA’s GDP is over 10 times that of AK)
      Lastly,
      I feel if Joe Reddington can come up here from PA years ago and start this large dog lot shit show, then I can come up from PA and homestead like him and work to END the mess that he started.
      Seems only fair.

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  3. Mr Hawkeye. I want to reiterate I made a mistake and apologize for not speaking to you with respect. It obviously wasn’t a good show of character on my part . I just have a habit since youth of defending those who don’t defend themselves. I am sure it will pop up it’s head again . For now Again many apologies! And truly thank you for teaching me a lesson in communication! A weak spot I have . Have a great day !!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ramey,

      No worries.
      I enjoyed my day.
      I actually used my name (Steve) to comment today and my email: steve.stine@yahoo.com

      But since I started a wordpress blog (called Hawkeye Alaska)…
      It uses that as my handle.

      I always had a problem with hypocrisy…not saying that I see that in you, but that is how I see the ITC and many mushers.

      I am not out to get anyone, but I also do not see the romance in commercial sled dog races or tour operations.
      I see recreational mushing much differently…originating from that 1K year history on which you speak.

      I also do not expect you to feel comfortable with my opinions…as they are my own.

      I am against dog lots, constant tethering and puppy mill operations.

      I try to keep my focus issue based, not personal.

      That is not going to change.

      Happy trails and muddy paths this Spring.

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  4. Mr Hawkeye. What is so angry in your soul that you drives you to assume things about others and stand on a perch proclaiming others guilt ? To answer your statements about dogs . Yes like all of us they get old . I truly wish it wasn’t true . If I could bring back all my close dog team mates I would be a happy camper. I hope to meet them in the next world if there is one . I have never put down a dog at the end of its “useful life” the term you created. the mushers I know revere dogs the older they get. It is almost a competition amongst us who has had the oldest veteran . Yes sadly when a dog has a medical problem beyond a veterinarians ability to reasonably resolve ,some of them do get put down . As my border collie just was when a tumor on it’s stomach caused it’s contents to leak . Most sled dogs stay surprising healthy into old age wander the lot free until age or an accident takes them to another place . I personally don’t need an adoption process beyond myself or friends . Ocasssionaly older dogs get bought because they are very valuable as breeders and to train young dogs . Im sure there are variations between mushers but you should realize how revered and appreciated veterans are . You made up or interjected the concept useful life . As a 40 year musher I never heard that term except from you . In many kennels a dog has a useful life even after they pass . I cherish the memories of my faithful friends. As to stats humans outlive dogs . So to keep a team I must raise some . You completely misunderstand why I have sled dogs . I have loved feeding dogs ,caring and getting to know them since childhood. I believe most pet owners and a majority of mushers feel some similarity in that . For ease we will take last 10 years as an example . Yes the kennel is at a high numbers point my family prefers under 20 dogs . My favorite number is 8 . My family has raised 7 litters in the last 10+ years . One litter was split with its parents owners. Two litters were unplanned but welcomed and cared for hand and foot by my children. 4 litters were planned . We have many young dogs . And many old dogs and a small core group . Per my wife there will be no more pups allowed possibly for another 5-10 years . Who knows . It’s been a huge investment for us . Our kids are the age to benifit and to immensely benifit the young pups age 6-1 years . Some have gone to people who need another dog but most are still in the kennel. I have friends who occasionally help train youngsters but the responsibility lies on my family’s shoulders . So for your info careful breeding and attention to detail reduces the need for massive numbers of dogs . I have a fairly competitive team 70+ % of pups are expected to make the race group or I consider the breeding poorly done or mistakes made at some point in training. The remaining pups if they don’t have health problems can usually find pro or semi pro teams . I have pretty high bar for who is allowed to breed . I prefer only 3-to 10 time Iditarod finishers do any breeding. That at times can cause very low pup numbers . Every pup is a huge investment time and money. Socialization training health care and top end feed . If a pup that I or my family has raised and dreamed about doesn’t make the race team it’s emotionally devestating . Even when they go to a good alternative home . My wife and children become so attached. That’s the basics mr Hawkeye. Nothing is ever perfect but most mushers do the best they can for what they have . You can help sled dogs by promoting the sport and acknowledging their valiant deeds ! Have a great day !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good comment.
      I was not thinking you could still sell your older dogs for breeding.
      Hopefully the females are not too old or have put out to many litters.
      I personally could not sell a dog I was attached to.
      Not sure if U remember, but I told you that my partner Laura “rescued” a dog Topaz that Zack Steer had sold to Gary Paulson.
      If U saw Topaz cowered in the corner in fear the night he came into my cabin U would know where my discontent stems from.
      Vern’s wife even claimed Topaz was Autistic….what B.S.
      He was beat.
      I could not even raise a hand to leash his collar.
      I know dogs…..I am no “dog man”, but I know when a dog has been beat.
      Rescued around 6 in my short life.
      So…watch who gets your dogs and don’t sell out your best friend for a handful of “Bengies”…

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  5. Hawkeye! Many apologies! I did not mean to be “name calling” it was meant to be descriptive as to your knowledge and compentancy at judging a 1,000+ year skill and a 77 year old man and his friends when you have never been in their position. Joe garnie and multiple others are qualified to judge . People who live there or who have experienced that situation intimately. So I apologize for offending and upsetting you . Hope to see you on the trails enjoying our beautiful state we are so lucky to be a part of . Ah a beautiful spring day is at hand ! Soak it in !! Thank you for giving me a chance to improve my communication skills !

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    • Ramey,
      Sorry that I find NO romance in a 77 year old man with Bronchitis out on the trail in a storm with a dog team on a gangline…
      If this area of the trail has been such a problem for navigation, then maybe it is not safe for dog team or musher?
      Many dogs finishing your event have frostbite on their penis.
      How do you think that would feel?
      Most climbers perfer to “self rescue” and rest out storms.
      If there was enough snow, a shelter should have been dug in with a shovel…basic Arctic survival skills.
      Most men do not have very admirable traits as they get older….they just get grumpy and dissatisfied with their accomplishments and choices…
      I am not saying this is how Jim is, but our National Average from my onservations in life tends to support this conclusion.
      Enjoy working through this issue with you.
      Thanks for your time!

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      • You are certainly entitled to your opinion, Steve.
        However, because you really have little experience in what you attempt to sound off on, as some sort of expert, you’ll forgive us if we don’t take you too seriously.

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      • All of my dogs came out in great condition.. my team lead Jim’s team in front of a snowmachine.. we were on a the trail next to my sled awaiting assistance for Jim.. my team was stopped, did not quit at anytime! I didn’t push my button because I planned on mushing in when help arrived! By the time Jim asked me to push his button my fingers we’re frozen and I couldn’t get the huge safety pins undone to get it off HIS sled.. so the “fat tire Angels” retrieved Jim’s tracker and pushed HIS BUTTON. After waiting over 5 hrs for help for Jim my condition wasn’t good either.. I couldn’t work the snaps on the neck n tug lines and had 8 females in various stages of heat which was creating some confusion and tangles.. had I left with frozen hands and gotten tangled up, dogs would have been in jeopardy.. also, I missed the trail n headed out to sea like me Jim. It was me that Monica and Brett saw over the driftwood line. They didn’t pass me in the hills.. but they stopped and shined their headlamps towards me which lead me back to the trail! My dogs were the true Hero’s.. as I was charging down the trail their ears all perked up and the looked left, so I looked that way and saw Jim’s sled facing the wrong way so I stopped, not knowing or caring who it was, I yelled “are you OK” and got the response “I need HELP” and the rest is history! People have called me a Hero but if I am then anyone who gives of their time and effort to help another is also! All I did was help another musher in trouble. Thanks Craig for bringing up Monica’s assistance to Jim! She was a help to many others in many ways on the trail (including me, my leaders are incredible but each pass they wanted to stop n chat with the musher I was passing, Monica would anchor her team and grab my leaders and run em by her team every time 🙂 I would share a trail with her any day!

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      • Scott: i’ve spent too much time in that sort of weather. it’s horrible conditions in which to wait for anything. too bad everybody in Iditarod has abandoned the old coastal sleds with long baskets and a sled bag that could be used as a cocoon. it would come in handy in situation like this to roll someone inside out of the wind and zip them up.
        i still remember that bit from Lew Freedman’s book up about the Solomon blow that almost killed the late Bob Ernisse and in which Bob Hickel went to help Debbie Corral: “he unzipped her sled bag, and she looked up at him and said ‘What?’ He said, ‘Are you alright?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.'”
        https://books.google.com/books?id=XHMExqZl8lYC&pg=PA93&lpg=PA93&dq=bob+ernisse+iditarod+topkok&source=bl&ots=OsL6i1j-3X&sig=0Aobl1whXOPf9YlDs6b5B9Wf570&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiJ4cWahojaAhVJl1QKHWeNAtQQ6AEIODAE#v=onepage&q=bob%20ernisse%20iditarod%20topkok&f=false
        Jim’s incident is the second in four years in which a long sled and a sled bag to get into could have been a lifesaver. remember Hugh Neff thinking he was going to die on the Golovin Bay ice?

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      • Craig,
        Is not a warm sleeping bag required on the trail?
        Get in…zip up and hunker down.
        Black Diamond makes a lightweight winter bivy sack that is the size of a Coke can and weighs a few ounces.
        I carry one with a 20 below synthetic bag when out in the bush…it stops the wind and allows the insulating properties of the sleeping bag to warm a body’s core temp.
        Even scratching out a tub like indentation in the snow surface can mitigate the windchill.
        On Denali we were forced to boil water and set up shelters in similar wind conditions many times in my experience.
        Rescue is not an option on large mountains in bad weather in Alaska.
        Lastly, if this area of the race is so bad that others like Neff have had similar epics, then maybe it is not safe for organized dog racing events to continue this same path in the future?

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  6. Well said Craig . As to rest for Lanier dogs . Reason Lanier dogs wouldn’t go in wind is distinctly because Lanier is a skilled doctor. Dog training is something he works hard at but isn’t second nature. So his dogs do almost as they please . Party at will ! Amazing athletes though ! Amazing! All dogs get significantly more than the mushers because mushers must attend to chores . When I was a kid I dreamed of being a sled dog . Life of complete leisure interspaced with excitement! Loved and adored ! Used to live in the doghouses and beg to travel in a dog box ! Now I have to make money and be responsible! Dang ! Maybe next time .

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  7. Hawkeye thanks for proving my point . You still have the mind set of a Cheechako . 11 years in Alaska particularly if spent in south central qualifies you as modern day chechako . You know so little of what people and dogs go through on trail you show your ignorance by thinking Jim’s dogs would hallucinate. Top 10 teams maybe. Lanier position with the dogs doesn’t even qualify as an effort as far as sled dogs concerned. It was one big party for his team . Eat sleep bark travel eat sleep repeat . A dog party for dogs ! As to sticking to what I know I am barely off the boat of being a chechako. Just turned 43. Been in Alaska whole time from a homestead family. Worked in almost every industry Alaska provides . No joke . So I know a lot more than just dog mushing . I’m sure people would say I’m silly for engaging you but I can’t stand you throwing dirt on admirable old men . As to my kennel you know nothing and show your ignorance by saying one word . My dogs enjoy their life and if I get reincarnated I would be very happy as a sled dog. Quit promoting your absurd nonsense.I am very sorry to hear of your loss in sockeye fire . My family has lost a few houses to forest fires and I feel your pain . I hope all your rough luck is used up and now you will get blessed double for your troubles!

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    • Ramey,
      I also do not know why I “engage” U…or should I say outrage?
      With most of your posts, they are name calling.
      It is not about me…my years in Alaska.
      Wether or not I grew up “better” off than U or any of the B.S. you throw at me.
      I can take it.
      The facts remain.
      U chain, cull and race dogs the “tough pace” we hear of.
      Most of your responses only prove my point…
      “Maybe a top ten dog hallucinated”
      This is OK for U and your dog buddies, but not to force animals to suffer…year, after year…after year.
      I saw your videos on youtube.
      You are still not happy cause you did not win.
      U say on your Carhardt video “I want to win”.
      Well, there you have it.
      Ramey Smyth wants to win…runs his dogs till they hallucinate…then culls the old ones out back to make way for the new puppies.
      Animal Farm in Alaska!

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      • Steve: let’s not make accusations for which there is no evidence. i know a lot of crap about a lot of people here, and i’ve never heard anyone talk about Ramey culling “the old ones to make way for the new puppies.”
        Smyth runs a family operation with a pretty small dog lot. i’m not even sure he has 50 dogs out there. are you?
        and i can testify he didn’t win Irod because he wouldn’t push dogs. he lost the race by an hour and four minutes in 2011. Smyth gave away an hour and 20 minutes to the eventual winner in Unalakleet because Smyth wasn’t willing to take a dog team to the edge in the interest of winning.
        he isn’t fan favorite Brent Sass. see Iditarod 2016.

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      • Craig,
        On the Irod homepage where the mushers list their bios, his partner stated they have 49 dogs.
        In a youtube video I watched, they speak of the children raising puppies.
        Where do you think all the old dogs go?
        I am tired of them slinging mud at my personality and not “owning up” to the facts.
        If I am wrong, Ramey can speak of his adoption program and all the happy owners of broken retired Irod dogs.
        Lastly, many old dogs if ever “adopted” go to older woman with “hoarding” tendencies and remain on chain.
        All relevant in the “fog” of Irod.

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      • Steve: i can’t answer your specific questions as to Ramey Smyth’s operation. i will leave that to him. but knowing one of them women most active in helping mushers place retired Iditarod dogs, i do have to take issue with your claim that they “go to older woman with ‘hoarding’ tendencies and remain on chain.”
        not only that, i have personally known King, Buser and Zirkle dogs that have become house pets because i either knew the new owners or came in contact with the new owners. there is a wide range of treatment of retired Iditarod dogs by their owners.
        were the Iditarod a better organization, it would be maintaining long term tracking on all of the dogs entered in the race if for no other reason than there might be some very interesting health and breed information obtained by that data. the dogs are all microchipped. the race could make it a rule that in order to re-enter the race year after year, a musher must maintain records on all previous dogs: name, address and phone number of who they went to if sold; record of what they are doing now if still in the dog lot; or explanation of how and where they died.

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  8. Hawkeye you sound like you are a pampered individual. Probably grew up pretty babied by Alaska standards . You would have more respect for the unknowns of weather and the old men who who roughed it for almost two weeks . The challenge of Iditarod is that people of various abilities face variable elements trail conditions life conditions and luck trying to get 16 animals to nome . Something much much harder than walking skiing or biking. Old time natives did not travel in tough weather. Too much common sense for that . Lanier could have easily walked to nome . He is tough as nails. The challenge is dealing with gear and dogs when exhausted. Until you turn 77 and drive a team of 16 dogs with their own minds and opinions down the Iditarod trail ,your opinions and down grading of men and women’s accomplishments are worth very little . Go get a team run it 5 miles and see if you think you could deal with them in a howling windstorm. Good luck chechako.

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    • Ramey…

      Stick to what U know…
      Dog lots and Culling…

      After 12 years in AK and building my homestead twice due to the Sockeye Fire,
      I can tell U that I tossed away my “Chechako Badge” long ago…

      And by the way,
      I did some Math on your dog yard and figure that in 20 years, you have used up at least 300 dogs by now since U keep 50 on a chain at a time.

      There is nothing brave about “dispatching” a dog at close range after it’s usefullness is over to U and your corporate sponsors like Alaska Communications.

      And lastly….if you only have 10 hours of sleep in 8 days…How do you think the dogs feel?

      Maybe Jim’s dogs were hallucinating?

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      • i don’t have the numbers handy on Lanier’s dogs, but i’d guess they were getting in the neighborhood of 12 hours rest per day. how much they slept during that time is anyone’s guess. some of the time was clearly spent eating.
        but based on 12 hours rest, they were likely getting at least 8 hours sleep. the team of Magnus Kaltenborn, the red lantern, actually rested four more hours during the race than it ran. so it got more than 12 hours rest per day.
        winner Joar Ulsom’s dogs averaged about 10.5 hours of rest per day. it’s possible they were also squeezing in 8 hours sleep.
        it is interesting that the first place team and the last place team had very similar run times. the big time difference was in how much they rested.
        there’s certainly nothing to indicate Lanier’s dogs were tired. they might, however, have been voting against the weather. i don’t think he does a lot of training in big winds. dogs are like people in that they function best in environments to which they are accustomed.
        a team trained by Joe Garnie in Teller wouldn’t have thought much of this particular storm. a team trained somewhere in Willow or Central Alaska where the winds are usually low might have thought it had just entered the gates of hell.

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  9. Jim should be permanently disqualified from the Iditarod because he was “badly ill” when he left White Mountain. (As a doctor, Jim is especially culpable.)

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      • Craig, Jim should be permanently disqualified from the Iditarod because he raced his dogs when he was sick. The Iditarod should ban sick and injured mushers from participation because they can’t take good care or even adequate care of their dogs. Cindy Abbott raced with a broken pelvis. Mark Selland raced with nine broken ribs. These aren’t paper cuts. The list of injuries goes on and on.

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      • Oh Craig, most old and sickly people don’t race their dogs 1,000 miles in dreadful weather over dangerous ground. There’s no valid comparison.

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      • Lisbeth: i am sure that as you read this there is some dog somewhere going hungry because its master or owner or human companion or whatever we want to call them is too sick or handicapped to feed them.
        and there are, i am sure, tens of thousands of dogs more in harms way than Lanier’s dogs were because he was sick. not to mention that the evidence at hand says they were in NO danger because they are fine.
        the race is pretty well supervised. no dog teams are going to be left out there for long without food or water. it’s a better situation than in much of the rest of the world:
        http://fox4kc.com/2017/11/17/dog-found-starved-dead-in-crate-in-closet-of-northland-apartment-evicted-tenant-charged/

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    • I don’t see your point! This is the honor system and mushers scratch all the time, on their own, if they suffer injuries or sickness to themselves.
      Jim just didn’t expect the trail conditions to deteriorate like they did (and he had experience). A rookie could only hear of such conditions.
      Nobody involved with Iditarod is thinking that we need medical Drs. at those checkpoints to make sure the mushers are healthy. I do remember some worried about Norman Vaughan when he was up in years, and he did have some close calls, but nobody wants a musher dying out there either.
      There are just a few issues IMO, with weather mostly, where all the risk is removed.
      Leave some risk.

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      • Reread the article. Jim knew he had a problem dealing with the cold. Sick and injured mushers, veteran or rookie, do a lousy job of taking care of their dogs. And there should be medical doctors on the trail for mushers.

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      • Oh, for Pete’s sake Lisbeth. Next we’ll be needing special care folks anytime a farmer gets a cold and his livestock could potentially miss a meal.
        There are never going to be medical doctors at the checkpoints to check on the mushers. At that point, I would be on board to end the race.

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      • It’s appalling when anyone thinks sick and injured mushers don’t deserve care from a medical doctor. Sick and injured mushers do a bad job of caring for their dogs.

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      • Nobody is saying that mushers don’t deserve medical care, Lisbeth. Just that the musher gets to choose when/if he/she needs care and how to go about getting it. There just is never going to be a doctor behind every tree along the way and your inference about sick and injured mushers doing a bad job of caring for their dogs is just your opinion (everyone has one).

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      • Baznyankee, I guess you’ve always been healthy. So let me explain. It’s hard to do anything when you’re in terrible pain, and that includes doing things for yourself or your dogs. Same is true when people are very sick.

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  10. Hemingway once said…
    “There are only three sports:
    Bullfighting, Motor racing, and Mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

    Having friends die by avalanche and rock fall,
    I can say the Iditarod is a contrived event with little risk to mushers (Even those without survival skills)

    Maybe if the “security blanket” was removed we would see the true perils of Arctic exploration.

    This whole race has become a “made for TV” event.

    Too much hype and not enough risk…the only ones who risk death are the dogs ….and boy do they Suffer!

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      • They appeared to not like running into, or even alongside, the wind. No indication they were the slightest exhausted or needed the rest-had just come off an 8 hour rest period (a few hours before).
        My experience is that area’s trail is marked but the dogs can run almost anywhere till they hit snow drifts (due to the wind there). Dogs will often drift slightly away from the wind but that track shows that Jim’s dogs did a hard left and ran with the wind for some reason and became tangled in deep snow. And they may have been reluctant to head back into the wind after much handling by others, trying to get them back to the trail.
        It did not appear, to me, that they refused to run but more that Jim was incapable of driving them due to his being played out. I’m armchairing this just like most but I suspect there was a leader, or two, capable to getting that team up and moving-the issue was that Jim was just not able to find the right leader and chose to hunker down. The hunkering down did not cause the dogs any suffering and they just curled up.

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    • Bullfighting isn’t a sport. It’s torture of bulls. It’s amazing that drunken Hemingway ever made it down Duval Street without getting run over by a car.

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  11. Thanks for getting the real story out.
    That tracking map of what Jim’s team did tells a lot, to me. His dogs didn’t like the wind and decided to run with it-not sure how they were able to get through the deep snow and driftwood mentioned (without knowing they were off the trail). Probably just due to Jim’s not being able to pay attention because of his health situation at the time.
    The bit of Janssen losing his gloves was also interesting-he must have jettisoned his mits thinking this trip to Safety and Nome was going to be a cakewalk.
    Sure glad all made it in good shape.

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