Iditarod’s last-minute entrants include Australian making unexpected return

A brown dog pulls a man on a bike-scooter.
Christian Turner in a dry-land, dog scooter race. (Christian Turner)

Among the Iditarod dog mushers to sign up for the 2023 race, just before a recent, important deadline, is Australian Christian Turner.

Turner is an unlikely entrant in the 1,000-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, but not for lack of experience: He’s a two-time finisher, placing his highest at 15th in 2015, his last Iditarod.

But the idea to run his next Iditarod came rather unexpectedly, when Turner saw his friend, three-time champ Mitch Seavey, post a video a couple weeks ago of his dog team looking good but with the comment that he wouldn’t be competing in the next Iditarod.

“And I just jokingly messaged him saying, ‘I’ll run your team.’ That’s really all I wrote was, ‘I’ll run your team.’ And he private messaged me, straight away and said, ‘Let’s make this happen,’” Turner said. “I hadn’t thought about it seriously at all. I was just like, ‘Oh, I’ll throw that little comment in there,’ and he wrote back, like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And I was like, ‘OK, now I’ve got to talk to my wife, I’ve got to actually be serious about this.’”

Turner works as a carpenter but still runs dogs, often behind a bike or scooter, and he’s a rep for Non-stop dog wear. He plans to fly to Alaska in late January to get back to dog mushing on snow with Seavey’s Iditaride Sled Dog kennel on the Kenai Peninsula.

Turner is fast-tracking his training, running hills early in the morning near his home in Queensland, before the temperature climbs later in the day. It was pushing 100 degrees there recently.

But it’s the cold temperature in Alaska, like the 50 below he experienced in the 2015 race in Huslia, that’s on Turner’s mind.

“Honestly, that’s the thing I’m most worried about. The rest I can sort of fake it until I make it. But the cold, you can’t really do that. You can’t work around the cold, you gotta prepare for it,” Turner said. “So I’m hoping that the four weeks that I’m there, a little over four weeks I’m there before the race will be enough to acclimatize, and all my muscle memory and my schedules and my systems. I guess it’s systems of how to keep yourself warm, and what layers to where when and how, and when you’re running up the hills, and all those types of things.”

Still, it’s an offer Turner couldn’t turn down. He’s run Dallas Seavey’s younger race dogs in the past. This time, it’s the best dogs from Mitch, Dallas’s dad.

“People always ask me, because it’s such a rare thing, especially in Australia, people are like, ‘Are you going to do it again?’” Turner said. “And my answer to them has always been I’d do it again if I moved there and started my own kennel, or if I had the opportunity to have an adult team and race professionally and with a good schedule, like a competitive schedule. And, yeah, I didn’t ever think that was actually going to happen.”

It appears to be happening. And Turner is one of several mushers to sign up for the Iditarod right before the entry fee doubled to $8,000 at the end of November. That includes top 10 finishers Wade Marrs and Jessie Royer and 2019 champion Pete Kaiser.

The 34 dog mushers currently signed up to run the 2023 Iditarod would still be the fewest in the race’s 50-year history.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts.

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