Bearss Blog: Words of wisdom for rookies
“I think it’s almost impossible to go too slow on the first or second day.” - Jeff King
This was invaluable advice I received before my rookie run in 2006 from one of my first mentors in this race. Unfortunately, this is the same advice I failed to heed. My youthful exuberance and inability to harness my excitement during the first two days of the race cost me overall speed, hours on the trail and very likely the chance of placing as Rookie of the Year.
Dallas Seavey is a great example and model for the philosophy of maintaining composure and building a monster over the first part of the race only to cut the monster free to charge toward the Burled Arch during the later frames of the race.
As King rests liberally this year at both Yentna Station and Skwentna, I’m curious if he is focusing on this advice he gave me while working on getting into a good run/rest cycle to avoid running in the heat of the day. This race has never been won during the first two days, but it sure can be lost during this time period. Racing out too fast is the kind of mistake that rookies have control over and will hopefully avoid.
Additional pitfalls pocket this trail, just waiting for rookies. Branching off and taking the wrong trail is devastating and easily cost a musher hours if not days. Even experienced mushers have lost the trail or been turned around. If you’re not sure where you are, it pays to mush back to the last trail marker you saw and confirm you are going the right way. With the deeper snow this year, I would not expect mushers to have too much difficulty finding the trail as it is heavily marked with distinct wooden lath and there should be a deep trough-- especially for those in the latter half of the field.
Weather is a wildcard which rookies and veterans alike have to contend with-- especially as the race nears the coast. I am well too familiar with sub-zero temperatures on the Bering Sea, coupled with 40mph winds obliterating any sign of the trail and derailing race plans in exchange for preserving personal health and safety of the dogs. It’s in a situation like this a rookie could become impatient and underestimate the power of Mother Nature and make a dangerous, if not life-threatening mistake. The best bet is for these rookies to be patient and depart with a caravan of teams.
Mistakes will be made while mushers battle fatigue and cold. Knife cuts, burns to flesh or gear, frostbite, lost or forgotten gear, are all mistakes not uncommon along the trail. Some races have been ended while others have been able to forge ahead. Mushers are by in large a resourceful and helpful group. The people who live in these villages are the most giving and talented people to have around. If I were to choose a place and time to make a mistake, there’s no better group of people to do it around than on this trail during the Iditarod.
Bryan Bearss trained Iditarod race teams full time from 2003 to 2009 and raced the Iditarod in 2006 and 2015. He is currently an elementary school teacher and marathon canoe racer.
Opinions expressed are those of the author and not of KTVA 11 News.
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