From wrong turns to broken sleds, 6 mushers share their biggest mishaps of this year’s Iditarod

A dog team on a snowy day
Jessie Holmes races into Unalakleet on Sunday, March 13, 2022. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

A lot can go wrong during a 1,000-mile sled dog race in remote Alaska.

And certainly something will.

From wet river crossings to wrong turns, six Iditarod mushers share their most frustrating mishaps on this year’s course.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

1. Deke Naaktgeboren, wet feet and an accidental tour of Galena

People stand around a sled
Deke Naaktgeboren rests in Galena on Saturday. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Going down the Dalzell Gorge there’s some open water about shin-deep and instead of trying to have my dogs do it — I didn’t think they could do it, but they could — I just jumped in it in my boots and led them across. But we only got far enough that my sled sat right in the middle of this creek where there’s water gushing over my sled. My feet were wet until my 24-hour layover in Ophir. I ended up emptying out my dog food kibble bags and wrapped those around my socks. That was pretty dumb.

Then later, coming up off the Yukon River, I was looking for the turn off because I’d been here once before. I didn’t see it and my lead dog took me — well, I took my lead dog — across the street. All of a sudden there were no trail markers, but you don’t just 180-turn with a 11-dog sled team. I went all the way through the fine town of Galena and checked out the library, the hospital, whatever. There were a bunch of kids that came out and were waving at us. 

Someone on a snowmachine found me and said, ‘Hey, go this way!’ But I think I did an extra three miles. I was just kind of along for the ride. 

2. Mille Porsild, a snapped sled runner

A broken sled runner
The sled runner that Mitch Seavey and Pete Kaiser helped repair. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

I was going out of Kaltag when I heard a snap. One of my sled runners broke. A while later the other one broke. It just snapped in half. It’s basically held together by the sled plastic. Mitch Seavey and Pete Kaiser helped me fix it. Pete Kaiser is a saint! It’s held together now basically by a wrench attached with a metal hose clamp. I had big plans and I was chasing down Aaron Burmeister, that’s many, many, many hours ago. So it goes. A local musher gave me another sled to use. I don’t know who it is. 

3. Aaron Peck, sprinting for HEET

Aaron Peck feeds his dogs some medicine in the dog yard in Galena on Saturday. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

If you blow through Rohn like a lot of people do, it’s kinda a rushed express lane cause there’s other people coming in and there’s limited help, so you wanna get your food, your straw and most importantly your HEET heating fuel. I had gone 300 yards down the narrow trail — almost to the point of no return because once you go out on the ice, good luck stopping. And I’m doing the check in my head and I realized: Uh oh, no HEET.

I panicked, I tied them down, flipped the sled on it’s side so the dogs couldn’t go anywhere and doubled back on foot. I ran back to the check point and I was huffing and puffing because it was warm. I was just praying that another team wouldn’t come down the trail. With all the time I wasted there, I should of just stayed there and camped.

4. Jessie Holmes, dragged on ice

Two people talking near a dog sled
Mushers Aaron Burmeister and Jessie Holmes talk while stopped at the Nikolai checkpoint on Tuesday. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention and I just slammed down super hard coming down the Unalakleet River into Unalakleet. My sled fell on its side and I got dragged for a half a mile down the river. I could’ve put the snow hook in, but I didn’t wanna yank them and have them crash and fall. I just rode it out, I just waited until they finally listened to me.  

5. Dan Kaduce, ‘Who’s the bonehead who packed these bags?

Dan Kaduce at the Finger Lake checkpoint last Monday. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

It’s not really funny, but the biggest packing blunder I had was that I got to Nikolai, and I didn’t have any new sled plastic. I knew it was gonna be rocky getting there. I’ve switched plastic every time I’ve ever been there. I got there and I had none. I was like, ‘Who’s the bonehead who packed these bags?”

Michelle Phillips eventually hooked me up with a set so I was okay. 

6. Matt Hall, a battery blunder

people line a snowy trail and give high fives to a musher
Matt Hall gives high-fives along during the Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage last Saturday. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

Two of my Lupine headlamp batteries which are $130 a piece — I put them in my Velcro chest pocket and got down the trail a little ways heading into Cripple and went to look for my backup battery and my backup backup battery, and neither of them were in my pocket.

I have other Lupine batteries, but it was more the convenience and the expense of losing them. I don’t know how I lost them, but they must have fallen out when I was using my coat like a parka to cover up certain dogs that needed it.

When I got into Ruby, the Berington twins showed up and handed me one of my missing batteries. They said a volunteer found it in the straw in Ophir, so that was super awesome of them. I lost a mitten on the trail last year, which the Beringtons also brought to me. They’ve been good to me the last couple of years. 

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.