The Iditarod lost an important member of the race community this week. William “Middy” Johnson, 53, died in Unalakleet on Wednesday, according to a Facebook post from the Iditarod Trail Committee.
Johnson was born in Unalakleet, and in recent years had taken over running the town’s race checkpoint, renowned up and down the trail for its hospitality. For days each March, the smell of Johnson’s sourdough pancakes inside the town’s community hall were a welcomed comfort at one of the most grueling stages of the thousand-mile race, as mushers head toward the punishing Norton Sound coast.
Johnson came from a family of important Alaska dog mushers, and started running a team as a middle-schooler, according to his official race bio. Johnson’s grandfather, Henry Ivanoff, carried medicine during a leg of the famous 1925 serum run that the Iditarod race commemorates. Two of his brothers ran the race, which inspired Johnson to sign up and complete the 2010 Iditarod in just under 11 days, arriving in 33rd place as a rookie.
Hundreds of people commented on the Iditarod’s Facebook post about Johnson’s passing. Many of them were veteran mushers, recalling his kindness and generosity during the event each year. Community members noted his years of service to rural Alaska through coaching and work for regional businesses.
A celebration of life and potluck is planned for Monday at Unalakleet’s school.