Photos and Story by Tim Bodony, APRN – Anvik
Watching the GPS tracker last night, it became clear that the race was entering a new phase. Sebastian Schnuelle came off of a rest along the trail shy of Iditarod and went through the checkpoint at 5:51 pm Thursday. Then Neff pulled out of Iditarod after nearly 7 hours of rest, while prior race leader Martin Buser stayed put. That gave Buser and his team a whopping 8 hours of rest before they got rolling again.
Neff kept his lead all the way through Shageluk and then on to Anvik. He reports having a bizarre entanglement with a snow-covered boat around Shageluk. After he freed himself, he looked back to see another musher’s headlamp in the distance. It was John Baker. Feeling like he was being chased, Neff decided to “make like George Attla” in his words and sprint his way to Anvik. He cancelled a snack break for the dogs and put some distance between his team and Baker’s. When he couldn’t see Baker’s light anymore, and just a short distance from Anvik, Neff breathed a little easier and finally delivered that snack break. The dogs cruised into town happily and energetically, much like Neff himself. He promptly declared his 8 hour Yukon River layover. He remarked that the First to the Yukon award, consisting of a gourmet meal and $3500, was the first thing he has ever won as a musher. Other awards were given to him, like the Spirit of the Yukon Award in the Yukon Quest, but never something he earned competitively on the trail.
Neff shared his meal with race judge Larry Westlake from Kiana, who promptly invited Neff to enter the upcoming Kobuk 440. Neff agreed. The meal began with a last minute addition to the menu: sourdough French toast with blackberry-infused syrup. Besides the blackberries, the ingredients for this creation were scrounged from the checkpoint food stash provided by the ITC. It was remarkable to watch Dennis, the Millenium Hotel’s food and beverage director, skillfully transform Fred Meyer fake maple syrup and Fred Meyer sourdough English muffins into something “gourmet.” Hugh seemed most concerned with the wine. After drinking a glass with each course, he told the server to cut him off.
Lance Mackey was the third musher to arrive. He walked into the checkpoint at Anvik’s city hall while Hugh was about halfway through his meal. Mackey stood among the gawkers for awhile and smiled. Mackey and Neff are pals, and have run in the same pack on many distance races. “I thought I would crash this party,” Mackey finally said to announce his presence. Neff laughed and promised to save some wine for Mackey. I am not sure Mackey ever got that glass of wine.
Mackey is optimistic and upbeat, as usual. He is down to 9 dogs. “Down, but not out” he says. Only 2 of those dogs are Iditarod veterans. The other seven are rookies. The most experienced dog of the bunch is Rev, a former golden harness winner on one of Mackey’s Iditarod victories. Mackey says he wants to conserve Rev as much as possible, so that he can have at least one experienced leader if they get into trouble further down the trail.
Seeing Sebastian Schnuelle blow through Anvik was unusual. The checker and dog handlers were preparing to park his team alongside the others, but Schnuelle insisted on pulling up right next to the drop bags. He did, and found only one drop bag waiting here for him. Schnuelle cut it open, and found only about two gallons of dry kibble inside. “I can’t stay,” he said. “Not enough food.” Apparently one or more of his drop bags for Anvik didn’t make it here, or are lost somewhere. Schnuelle asked how far it was to Grayling. Hearing it was only 18 miles further, he picked up the hook and went down the trail – the new rabbit to chase.
Photos: (Top) A view into Anvik from just outside the checkpoint. (Right) A sign welcomes visitors, teams into Anvik. (Left) The Millenium Hotel presents this trophy covered with 3,500 one-dollar bills.