Here’s what 5 Iditarod mushers are listening to on the trail

a woman in outdoor gear, with headphones hanging from her jacket
Mille Porsild with headphones dangling during the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Lex Treinen)

After the steep and windy Alaska Range has been navigated and the bumpy Farewell Burn is in the dust, there are plenty of trail miles Iditarod mushers face that are just, well, a little bit boring.

It’s flat. It’s monotonous. Sometimes it’s the middle of the night.

So do mushers listen to anything to stay awake?

We asked five mushers what they have playing in their earbuds. Here’s what they said:

Eric Kelly, Grateful Dead and farming podcasts

Two people sit inside a drinking coffee
Eric Kelly chats with Iditarod veteran Bruce Lee in Takotna about the upcoming section of trail. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“I listen to a lot of music. I got some Grateful Dead on there, a lot of Billy Strings. I spent my teens and early 20s chasing Jerry Garcia around this country and that’s what taught me about adventure and I’ve been seeking adventure ever since. 

I also got some podcasts, too. A friend of mine’s a farmer back in Vermont, she does these podcasts with people getting into farming. It’s an odd thing to listen to but it’s cool to listen to folks from back home. It’s just people living their dreams. Small farm people are kinda like dog mushers, they’re just out there doing their thing. It’s good to hear a familiar voice rambling on about what they love.”

Jason Mackey: Everything from country music to Kid Rock

a man in a red jackegt
Jason Mackey looks over his team during their 24-hour break at the checkpoint in McGrath. (Ben Matheson/Alaska Public Media)

“Normally I don’t listen to anything, but now I do. I just got a playlist, so my wife and my son’s girlfriend put 450 songs on there so it’s just random stuff. No rap. Everything from country music to Kid Rock — all the goodies.”

Kelly Maixner: Dragon series (for kids)

People watch as a musher ties straw to his sled
Kelly Maixner secures straw to his sled in Unalakleet. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“I listen to a little bit, but not a lot. I like to just kinda think my thoughts and think with my dogs. But when I get really tired… so my kids are really into “Wings of Fire,” it’s a dragon series kinda like “Hunger Games” but not quite that extreme. So that’s what I listened to on the way over here to McGrath and that’s the only thing I’ve listened to. I’m on book three and I think there’s at least 20.”

Bridget Watkins: Motivational books to remind her to get up with her alarm

A woman with braids wearing black pours herself a cup of coffee
Bridgett Watkins fills up a cup of coffee shortly before departing Takotna. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“I listen to a lot of things on my headphones. Music — just some. I had a couple of my friends download all sorts of music and it’s really entertaining because some of it’s completely inappropriate and stuff I would never listen to. 

But really what I like to listen to is books and podcasts I already have downloaded. There’s a Mel Robbins book I just listened to called “The 5 Second Rule.” I’ve actually been using it on this race because it talks about whatever you gotta do in this life, don’t wait for it, just do it: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — go! Don’t let yourself second guess yourself as you’re doing it. I’ve been doing that a lot when I lay down, because as soon as I my alarm goes off I just sit right up but mentally I’ve just been like, ‘Okay, 5,4,3,2,1 — go!’ and we’re gonna go. There’s no snooze button.”

Ramey Smyth: Nothing 

A dog team runs by some small cabins
Ramey Smyth’s team departs Takotna. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“Nothing. Never have. I like to stay focused on the dogs. I thought about it. I’m sure for certain people it’d be a good idea. If you’re just there for the trip it would probably be real smart.”

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Lex Treinen is covering the state Legislature for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at

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