Call of the Wild
Seavey, who in 2005 became the youngest musher (18) to finish the Iditarod, was born in Virginia, but his family moved back to Alaska when he was 6. His grandfather raced in the first Iditarod 30 years ago; his father Mitch is an Iditarod veteran, 2004 champion and a fellow racer this year; and two of his three brothers have raced. (The other brother is 10 years old, and there’s no doubt he’ll race one day.) At 20, Dallas Seavey was the youngest in the 2007 event.
Keller rode in Seavey’s sled for the 12-mile preliminary stretch that gets the teams and mushers loosened up for the next day’s official start at Willow Lake, 75 miles north of Anchorage.
The J. J. Keller team served as handlers in the starting chute and was the last to say good-bye to Seavey as he began the long northern journey to Nome.
Jim Keller recalls bursting with pride as Seavey raced away. Rosanne Keller recalls, “I was feeling like a mother; you can’t help that when he races out of sight into that huge, empty, dangerous place. To me it was incomprehensible that someone could do this, and for someone so young. I held my breath at every stage and exhaled every time he made it to the next checkpoint.”
Seavey says the race was not too tough on the dogs. “But it was cold and windy,” he says, “and that made it rough on the mushers. We had 80-90-mile winds at the top of Rainey Pass going over the mountains with zero visibility. And we had a 100-mile run on frozen tundra with no snow and tundra tussock everywhere. That stuff can be the size of a pineapple or the size of a basketball, and it’s frozen, and when there’s no soft snow to cushion it [the dogs] have very uneven footing and have to work real hard.”
The earliest Iditarods took more than 20 days, and now the record is less than 9 days. Seavey says the records are not the result of high-tech equipment – “we don’t use that stuff” – but of better-bred dogs, better nutrition for the dogs, and “most importantly, we are understanding more and more about how our dogs handle extreme conditions.”
Seavey finished the race in 41st place out of 58 finishers. Another 23 racers failed to finish, and one was disqualified. His father Mitch placed 9th. The race was won by Lance Mackey.
“This time I wanted to provide experience for the dogs, not to win the race,” Seavey says. “Mr. Keller understood that. The average age for dogs in a winning team is anywhere from 3 to 8, but mine were all 2 years except for one. I wanted to give them confidence on the trail, to let them see and feel the trail and to help their bodies build.
“They are very smart animals. They’re athletes, and I’m their coach. I want their confidence as high as it can go, and I think this year’s race did that. They think they’re unstoppable now.”
Who raced the Iditarod with 20-year old Dallas Seavey? His fellow athletes were:
The Last Great Race
Iditarod mushers and their teams of between 12 and 16 dogs travel 1,150 miles from Anchorage to Nome, covering some of the roughest terrain you can imagine – mountains, forests and tundra, frozen rivers and coastland open to howling winds. Sometimes the weather reduces visibility to zero. Sometimes it brings body-numbing cold.
The race trail harks back to trails used by dog sleds to deliver mail and supplies from coastal towns to interior mining camps. Part of the race trail became the site of a dramatic life-saving dash by mushers in 1925 when isolated Nome was hit by a diphtheria epidemic and the medicine needed could only reach the town on sleds.