RED LANTERN — Rookie musher Jeff Reid arrived in 29th place under the Burled Arch in the wee hours of Saturday morning, bringing the 52nd running of the Iditarod to a close at 2:22 a.m. Reid finished the race in 12 days, 11 hours and 22 minutes.

Rookie Jeff Reid takes Red Lantern as 52nd Iditarod ends

Just after 2 a.m. on Saturday, Nome’s siren sounded for the final time of the 2024 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Revelers from the bars, fans and mushers spilled onto Front Street, braving cold north winds that made the single-digit temperatures feel like subzero ones. They cheered as rookie Jeff Reid and his dog team arrived under the burled arch. Reid had ice caked around his beard, seven sled dogs on the line and a lit red lantern in his left hand, a symbol of perseverance. He would extinguish the light to signify that no more teams remained on the 1,000-mile trail and to mark the official end of the race.
“Thank god for Safety—the people at Safety,” Reid said. “They were awesome.
Reid had a prolonged stay at the final checkpoint just 20 miles from the finish as he waited for his dogs to cooperate to continue on to Nome. The musher, who is from Two Rivers, Alaska, said he has learned that one’s goals are often closer than they seem. But having to communicate that lesson to his dogs proved a challenging task.
Reid finished in 29th place with a total race time of 12 days, 11 hours, 22 minutes and one second. The time that might have earned him first place in the 1980s, but since then, race times have shrunk—and so has the field of mushers. Just 38 teams left Willow on March 3, nine scratched along the way and 29 made it to Nome, the same number of finishers as last year, which saw a record-low roster of 33 starters.
At various times on the trail, the lead position was held by different mushers, including Travis Beals and Jessie Holmes. But ultimately none could best Dallas Seavey, the former champ from Talkeetna, who previously won in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2021. By the time Seavey arrived in White Mountain, he had a three-hour lead over the next fastest musher, Matt Hall, of Two Rivers.
Seavey made history as the first musher to win six Iditarod championships, topping Rick Swenson’s record of five wins. He arrived in Nome last Tuesday, March 12, at 5:16 p.m. with a total time of nine days, two hours, 16 minutes and eight seconds.
Hall pulled into the chute just before 10 p.m. to take second place, with Holmes in third a little more than an hour behind.
The rest of the top ten trickled in overnight and into Wednesday morning—Jeff Deeter in fourth, Paige Drobhny in fifth, Beals in sixth, Mille Porsild in seventh, Amanda Otto in eighth and Pete Kaiser in ninth. Jessie Royer, who has been involved in the race since she won Rookie of the Year in 2001, rounded out the last of the bunch. With her finish, four women made it into the Iditarod’s top ten for the first time in the race’s history.
 
Pushing through hardship
As always, mushers faced myriad challenges on the trail. They reported soft, slow snow in the early stretches of the race. They traveled through severe cold along the northern route that the trail takes in even-numbered years.
Pete Kaiser recounted a harrowing groundstorm through the blowhole that required him, Amanda Otto and Jessie Royer to work together to stay on the trail and not being blown off.
Some hardships turned tragic as this year’s race proved deadly for three dogs that died while on the trail. Per Iditarod rules, this caused three mushers to scratch. A male named Bog on rookie musher Isaac Teaford’s team, out of Dallas Seavey’s kennel,  died just outside of the Nulato checkpoint. A male named George on veteran Hunter Keefe’s team, running a team out of Raymie Redington’s kennel, died 35 miles outside of Kaltag en route to Unalakleet. A male named Henry on rookie Calvin Daugherty’s team, running a team out of Mitch Seavey’s kennel, died outside of Shaktoolik. A moment of silence was held for all three dogs during Sunday evening’s Finishers Banquet at the Nome Rec Center.
The Iditarod Trail Committee has yet to release more information about the cause of those deaths. The rules of the competition require a dog care panel to review any dog deaths within 30 days of the race’s end.
When it came time to dole out the Sportsmanship Award, Race Director Mark Nordman read aloud a message he had received from Keefe recommending Matt Failor for the award. Keefe described how Failor, who finished 13th, offered help throughout the tragedy, sacrificing his own position in the race.
“I had the worst day of my mushing career on the trail, but luckily I didn’t have to go through it alone,” Keefe wrote.
Failor choked up in accepting the award.
“I don’t really know what to say because it’s a somber moment,” he said. “These are really good people. They love their dogs.”
The dog deaths put the race in the spotlight of prominent animal welfare groups like PETA, who have long opposed the event. In the face of such critics, Failor encouraged his fellow mushers to stay supportive of each other.
“These mushers pour every ounce of energy and time into their team,” Failor said.
Mushers also had to defend themselves and their teams in animal encounters this year.
Holmes said he had to “punch a moose in the nose” outside of Skwentna. When Seavey encountered that same moose on the trail, the animal ran through his team, stomping and injuring one dog, Faloo. Seavey killed the moose in defense in life and property, but only spent 10 minutes processing the animal before he kept moving toward the next checkpoint. The race organization later imposed a two-hour penalty on Seavey that was added to his 24-hour layover for insufficiently gutting the moose. The Iditarod said a three-person panel comprised of race officials reached the decision unanimously after they considered three sets of facts: the moose was dispatched 14 miles out of Skwentna at 1:32 a.m., Seavey spent only 10 minutes dressing the animal and then continued on the trail for 11 miles before camping for three hours and then arriving at the next checkpoint at Finger Lake at 8 a.m.
Following Seavey on the trail, Paige Drobny and her dogs drove over the moose. She said she could feel the carcass move under her sled. She said she hoped that would be the craziest trail story she would have, and she thanked Seavey for killing the animal, as it would have “obliterated” her team.
 
Drobny was praised for her own spirit of camaraderie. Last year’s champion, Ryan Redington, who finished 14th this year, said he fell asleep on his sled on the trail this year, which he said never happened to him before. Drobny picked Redington up and helped him catch up to his dogs.
Anna Hennessy encountered a musk ox on the trail near Hastings and learned about the species’ characteristic stubbornness.
“Instead of moving, it just kind of took a look at us and laid down,” Hennessy said. “So we watched it for a while and then we eventually detoured around it.”
Hennessy, a rookie, finished in 24th place, running a team out of Kathleen Frederick’s kennel.
“Whenever things got hard or rough or I was hungry or tired, I just tried to remember I am doing the thing I’ve dreamed of doing for so long,” she said when she arrived on Front Street.
As they approached Nome, another group of dogs ran into another obstacle: memories of a comfortable place to rest. Jeff Deeter last attempted the race in 2022. He was among the six mushers who had to scratch when they were surprised by a strong ground storm in the Topkok Hills. Deeter said his lead dog remembered, led his team up the steps and onto the porch of the Nome Kennel Club’s Topkok shelter cabin, where they sought shelter for a few days in 2022. He said he eventually convinced his lead dog that there was more trail to cover, and they made it to Nome.
Still other mushers said they had to overcome their own physical and mental challenges to make it across the finish line. Jessica Klejka found out she was pregnant before the race. She finished in 19th place despite experiencing symptoms in the trail.
“Running the Iditarod is hard,” Klejka said. “Being pregnant is hard. I don’t recommend doing them together.”
Her fellow competitors selected her for the Most Inspirational Musher Award, allowing her a free entry into next year’s race.
Meanwhile, Anna Berington, who took 21st place in her 12th finish of the race, said that in other years she faced worse cold, worse wind, a broken sled and sick dogs. But this year was even harder because she was racing without her twin sister, Kristy Berington, who was absent from the race this year. They often stick together on the trail.
“Whether you think misery loves company or happiness is best shared, that’s why we do it together,” she said.
Disheartening news also came when troopers reported that musher Bailey Vitello’s team was hit by a snowmachine between Elim and Koyuk. On March 12, 2024, in bright daylight at 7:30 pm, the Alaska State Troopers were notified by the Koyuk VPSO that a snow machine had collided with an Iditarod team between the Koyuk and Elim checkpoints. According to an AST press release, the driver of the snowmachine fled the area.Troopers and VPSOs identified a person of interest based on the description of the snowmachine and information provided by the musher. The musher was not injured, and no dogs were killed in the collision. According to the Iditarod, veterinarians examined one dog that made contact with the snowmachine, but gave it a clean bill of health to continue down the trail. The trooper investigation is active and ongoing, but according to AST spokesperson Austin McDaniel, no addition information is available at press time.
 
It takes a village
In their acceptance speeches, the mushers shouted out the hard work of their dogs and the humans who supported them—everyone from the spouses and handlers who helped take care of kids and kennels back home, to the village residents and volunteers at checkpoints who took care of the mushers on the trail. More than 1,000 volunteers helped make this year’s race happen.
Nome lost two community members in the past year who were integral to the Iditarod. Julie Farley passed away in October, and her husband Howard Farley Sr. passed away three months later in January. The couple helped establish the Iditarod and worked hard to keep the race alive. They were honored with a slideshow at the banquet in Nome while a band called Loose Dogs played Hobo Jim’s “Iditarod Trail.” The crowd joined in for the familiar chorus.
Musher Aaron Burmeister had been carrying Howard Farley’s ashes in his sled on his way to Nome this year. But when Burmeister pulled out of the race due to his dogs’ lack of enthusiasm on the trail, he passed the ashes along to Ryan Redington who brought the ashes to Nome. Speaking on behalf of the Farley family at the banquet, the couple’s daughter Melissa King thanked the mushers for bringing Howard across the finish line one last time.
At the end of the banquet, Seavey accepted his award and $55,600 check. He shared his conviction that the race had to continue to be a competition so that mushers would encourage one another to improve.
Still, he made a rousing case for why that’s so important in the first place: “to have fun, and to respect the dogs that have allowed life in this region for thousands of years.”
“I feel like that’s what I’m celebrating,” Seavey said. “I feel like that’s what the Iditarod celebrates, the fact that humans and animals have been working together in the Arctic for so long. We couldn’t do it without them. That’s what we’re celebrating, that’s what we’re cherishing—that connection, that relationship.”
His lead dog Aero received the City of Nome’s Golden Harness Award.  Seavey said Aero and his other lead dog Sebastian make a great team with their opposing strengths. He described Sebastian as “serious, determined and businesslike,” while Aero is a “ball of fun.”
“As a duo, they’re amazing,” he said.
 

 

The Nome Nugget

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Nome, Alaska 99762
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