Thursday, January 23, 2014

Speaking about Iditarod

Eric O. Rogers, Ph. D.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single sleddog.

What makes Iditarod so special?  What makes normal people travel thousands of miles to spend their vacations working in primitive conditions at sub-zero temperatures with a bunch of smelly, sleep deprived mushers and their dogs.  Why would a successful person cash in their retirement and mortgage their home just to run this race one time?  Let a former beach boy from southern California who was tundra struck at an early age tell you all about it. 
Iditarod has some very impressive statistics: 1000 miles, over 3000 feet in elevation, sub-zero temperatures, and hurricane force winds.  But Iditarod isn’t about the numbers; it is about a musher and their dog team sharing a common goal.  It is about overcoming the physical, mental, and emotional challenges that line the trail from Anchorage to Nome.   It is about building a team to do things you never thought you could.  It is about being part of that team, part of the history, part of the greatness that is sharing your life with a dog team in Alaska.  It is magic!

Eric came up through the ranks.  From a fan in the early 1980′s, to an Anchorage volunteer in 1992, to a trail volunteer in 1995, to the oldest rookie (age 58) in the 2006 Iditarod, to his fourth Iditarod (third finish) in 2009, Eric Rogers has seen it all.  

Eric talks come with a powerpoint presentation that can be tailored to your specific interests.  Examples are:
            Iditarod from a mushers perspective (What is it like to train for and run the Iditarod?)
            Iditarod from a volunteers perspective (What does it take to put on a race like Iditarod?)
            Alaska, The Last Frontier
            Klondike / Alaska Gold Rush Stories 

His talks are “G” rated, kid friendly, and has been adapted for all ages from preschool to senior citizens.  His goal is to entertain, educate, and inspire his audience. 

Thanks to Marcia Claesson you can watch a sample of Eric in action at  

 To learn about the Iditarod from Eric’s unique perspective contact him at

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Have you ever had God start your day with a clear portent of things to come?  

Saturday I got up on the glacier, put on sunscreen and headed to the outhouse before scooping and feeding the dogs.  I settled on the throne and was entering deep contemplation when the outhouse shifted on its base and tumbled over backwards.  Oh Fecal Material!  Literally!  I climbed off my back, opened the door and stood there in the toppled structure bare from the waist down.  Luckily the honey bucket didn’t spill – thank you God.  It was a sign of things to come.

On Friday we had had two small crevasses we were watching, one crossed our trail and I bridged it with 2x4s and dog house pieces and the other was between our trail and camp.  As Saturday progressed we went from no surface expression in camp to doing one-leggers into 4 different crevasses that spanned camp from one end to the other.  Nothing wider than half a foot, but the fact we had been walking on that surface for a week and not known there was anything there got our attention.  Like the outhouse, very disconcerting, but nobody hurt.

Rick (the boss) flew up and decided there was no sufficiently safe place left up the glacier to move camp to and shut down the season (we had already moved camp up glacier once because the snow covering the ice melted and again because the melt water running down the glacier overwhelmed us). 
We had a nice level spot for camp with 6 to 8 feet of snow left and a good trail to run tours and we couldn’t even make it to August 1st.  What a crazy summer.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Finances Force Sale

I would like to sell as a package - $12,000 obo

2003 Silverado 2500 HD 4x4 with 8.1 L V8 – 20 dog box with storage

1995 Yamaha Kodiak 4x4

2007 Hans Gatt Distance Combo “sit-down” sled

5 pups born 11/16/2012 – Mom is Z-2 (Tim Osmar) dad is Boudreau (Zed (Swingley) x Dee (Frank Taylor) (The gray puppy is already taken)

Beamer (F) DOB 7/31/09 - leader – Jeff King – Solomon x Shannon

Pilfer (F) DOB 7/13/08 – leader – Jeff King – Solomon x Berekley

Klinger: (NM)) DOB 7/??/06 – go to leader – Jeff King breeding – Rumba x Claire (Iditarod finisher)

Rosemary (F), DOB 8/18/04 go to leader – Jeff King – Tin x Nutmeg (2 time Iditarod finisher)

Thyme (F), DOB 8/18/04 team / swing / will lead – Jeff King – Tin x Nutmeg (2 time Iditarod finisher)

Mocha (F), DOB 8/18/04 team / swing / will lead – Jeff King – Tin x Nutmeg (3 time Iditarod finisher)

Ginger (F)  DOB 6/9/06 – team / swing / will lead  - Lance Mackey breeding Hansel (Buser) x Rosie (Mackey) (Iditarod finisher)

Dash (F), DOB 6/18/04 – leader - Jeff King breeding – Rhombus x Tinkle (3 time Iditarod finisher)

Frodo (M), DOB 5/22/06 – wheel / team - Lance Mackey breeding Zorro x Twiggy (Iditarod finisher)

Z^2 (F), DOB 2009 – wheel / team - Tim Osmar breeding Pilot x Zambizi.

Basil (NF), DOB 5/??/03 –wheel / team / will lead - Jeff King breeding – Brahma x Tinkle (3 time Iditarod finisher)

Pepper (NM), DOB 5/??/03 –wheel / team / will lead - Jeff King breeding – Brahma x Tinkle Iditarod finisher)

Harnesses, coats, some booties, cooker, etc.

Eric O Rogers

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ever unpredictable, Martin took his 24 hour mandatory rest in Rohn.  As he is getting ready to leave at noon the race stats show him in 50th position, but this is deceiving.  Long time fans know you cannot just use the stats position until after all mushers have 24'ed due to the start time differential.  But you can estimate.  Because Martin went out first, his rest time is about 26 hours and 10 minutes, about 2 hours and 10 minutes longer than bib number 66.  Since Marti had around 10 hours before the next musher showed up in Rohn, that would really make him about 8 hours in the lead.  Of course most front runners will do a long run (skip some rest) going into their 24 and that will cut that 8 hour lead some - we will find out how much later today or tomorrow.

Martin talks about coming off his 24 faster than if he had taken it later in the race, but that isn't really the concern.  The real concern is comparing Martin's speed through the second half of the race to those that took their 24 hour rest later in the race.  The betting is that Martin will be slower, but will he be enough slower that the chasing mushers can catch him.  We should have a very good idea as Martin leaves Takotna (the most popular place to 24) or Iditarod (the furthest most competative mushers go to 24).

Very interesting


Monday, March 4, 2013

Martin's new strategy

Martin is doing something so different.  Nobody has ever run from Willow past Finger Lake before.  Long runs like Martin's have been done (Like Lance running from Nikolai to Unalkleet 2010?) but only much later in the race.  The common strategy for an aggressive start is to run to Skwentna, rest about 4 hours (real aggressive rest 2 hours), run to Finnbear Lake (halfway between Finger and Rainy), rest for 4 hours, run to Rohn and rest for 4 hours.  So leaving Rohn they will have rested 10 to 12 hours. 

I've heard that after 8 hours the rest curve flattens out for the dogs (diminishing returns).  So my guess is that Martin will rest 8 hours in Rohn, which puts him out at 6 PM tonight - a perfect time to hit the trail.  You have avoided the heat of the day and the dogs perk up as the sun goes down.  Combined with the 2 hours rest getting to Rohn, 8 hours there makes 10 hours total rest, comparable with the most aggressive starts I've seen in the past.  The real question in my mind is what does he do next?  Typically it is close to 10 hours to Nikolai, 6 or so to McGrath, 3 to Takotna, and about 3 to Ophir where Martin likes to 24.  Can Martin repeat the long run to his 24?  Does he stop a little short in Takotna to make another 19 Hour run?  Or does he drop back to a more regular run rest?  Rohn is about 1/2 way from Willow to Ophir.  Martin will also be looking at when he would leave his 24 (actually just over 26 hours) and not want to go in the heat of the day.

In the past Martin would run from Rohn to a fish camp about 10 miles before Nikolai, then run from there to Ophir to 24.

One thing is obvious.  This is a very carefully planned and trained for strategy that has been in the plans for a long time.  Everything seems to have come together this year to favor it.  The warm weather that makes running at night and and resting during the day an excellent strategy probably convinced the Buser's to combine the dogs from the two top teams to have a great shot of winning this way.  Then Martin drew number 2, so he has always had a clean trail - little chance to catch a bug from another team on the trail ahead. If this works it will change the way Iditarod is being run.  Whatever happens it is one of the most interesting innovations I've seen in years.

My guess - watch Martin rest 8 hours and pull another long run to his 24, likely in Ophir.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Iditarod Trail from Willow to Skwentna

The first bit of the Iditarod trail from Willow all the way to Skwentna is like driving your car down the interstate.  There are a couple of short portages between lakes, lots of wide well packed trails on the lakes with beaucoup fans and tail gate parties for the first 1/2 hour.  Then next 1/2 hour you are on the Willow Swamp loop - wide and well packed, starts in the swamp and moves to tree lined.  A short semi-steep hill and a left turn at the bottom down to the Susitna River - at two hours you hit the Yentna (many more tailgate parties) and follow that all the way to the Skwentna River, turn left and you are there. 

It is nice to start so easily, with Vet check Wednesday, driver's meeting and banquet Thursday, and typically fan and sponsor parties Friday many teams have not run since Tuesday and are wound up like a cheap watch.  Sixteen Iditarod dogs are unbelievably strong, Sixteen excited Iditarod dogs can be downright stupid!  By the time you get to Skwentna you have worked the "wiggles" out of them and even the rookie teams start acting like professionals.


Monday, March 12, 2012

5 PM Monday

At 5 PM Alaska Daylight Time on Monday 3/12/12 Dallas appears to be resting just outside Elim.  Word is he took food and straw when he left.  I'll bet Dallas is trying to take the advantage Aliy has of knowing what he is doing away. He probably didn't take the dogs booties off, just spread straw and fed. Then if Aily shows up he can immediately go and give chase, if not he can rest for a couple of hours. Aily needs to watch the teams behind her to protect 2nd as well as try to catch Dallas. After his stunt camping out of Shaktoolik (obvious from run times when they got to Koyuk) she might well figure that he would try that again. Particularly when everyone saw him leave with straw. But they way to beat a speed team is to force them to cut rest and slow down. She has to be asking herself what the odds are of catching Dallas before Nome if she pushes vs the odds of being caught from behind if she slows down.

Keep 'em Northbound


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Late Iditarod Strategy

Iditarod strategy has three fundamental components.  If you have a much stronger team than anyone else, you simply outrun them.  Unless you figure out how to cross a cheetah into the gene pool (see, everyone has pretty much the same genetics to work with and everyone in the front of the pack trains and works as hard as everyone else, so this doesn’t work well in the early part of the race.  Conservative driving early in the race can result in dominance late in the race, the idea is to be close enough to the front of the pack that you can catch them while you do it.  We are still waiting to see if that develops this year, but look at Pete Kaiser, Jake Berkowitz, and Ray Redington Jr’s  run times on the Yukon for an example of this concept (Ruby to Galena, and Galena to Nulato ).

You can run longer and / or cut rest so that you spend more time running every 24 hours than your competitors.  This is like playing a cross between “chicken” and “catch me if you can” – run too far or cut rest too much and you slow down.  Do it too soon and everyone catches you before you get to Nome.  Look at Dallas Seavey to see a team resting more and Jeff King for a team cutting rest on the river.  Aliy gained a couple of hours by skipping rest at Nulato.  Lance did this in 2010 when he made the long run from Nulato to Unalakleet to take command of the race.  
Finally you play head games with the competition trying to psych them out.  Things like carrying a bale of straw out of the checkpoint to convince your rivals that you are going to camp before the next checkpoint, and that they can rest longer in this one, only to dump the straw a mile later.  Or do like Rick Swenson, who was famous for blowing through a checkpoint to take the lead, having everyone cut their rest short to chase him, only to find him camped 5 miles down the trail.  Meanwhile the chasers had interrupted their teams rest.  

In Iditarod, the goal is use these strategies to leave Elim in good position.  After that there is no strategy, it is all about the speed you have left in your team.  For a slow team, that means leaving Elim with enough of a lead that the fast teams can’t catch you before Nome.  For the faster teams, it means leaving close enough to catch the slow guys before the finish, or leave in front of them.

As the front of the pack leaves the Yukon River, their options become limited.  Sebastian was known for running through Kaltag (were rest for musher and dogs is marginal), and going to Tripod Flats cabin 25 miles down the trail.  Halfway between Kaltag and Unalakleet is Old Woman cabin, another favorite camping spot, but normally not for the front runners that stop in Kaltag.  Once you stop in Kaltag, the competitive mushers are pretty much committed to running to Unalakleet.  At 85 miles it is far enough that you need to rest there, although there is a new shelter cabin between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik that might come into play here making the stop at Old Woman more attractive.   

By the coast options become very limited.  For the average musher, it is 4 runs from Unalakleet to White Mountain: Unalakleet to Shaktoolik, to Koyuk, to Elim, to White Mountain.  You can gain time by cutting that to three runs (or maybe 2, but those are both real long runs).  Because of the exposed nature of the trail and the weather on the coast, mushers seldom camp on the trail (if they did you could divide it into 3 evenly).  That means skipping a checkpoint.  Watch for Unalakleet to Koyuk (skipping Shaktoolik) or Koyuk to White Mountain (skipping Elim).  The other way to gain time is to cut rest in the checkpoint – 1 to 2 hours of rest in Elim is more typical for a close race, 4 hours if you have a good lead.  Jeff King has already shown he is willing to cut rest this year.  Remember you have a mandatory 8 hours in White Mountain to help short rests in Elim, if you don’t slow the team down before you get there.
Someone like Dallas conserving a fast team might stop in Kaltag, run to Old Woman, go moderately long to the cabin between Unalakleet and Shaktoolik, moderately long to Koyuk and short stop in Elim.   Someone like Aliy might run from Kaltag to Unalakleet, run long to skip Shaktoolik and go to Koyuk, and short stop in Elim.  Someone like Jeff might cut rest in all the coastal checkpoints, as long as his dogs have good weight and keep eating strongly this is possible. Or they might not…  

One risk is to figure you will cut rest in Elim to catch someone, only to find that they cut rest there (or skipped stopping there entirely) and your best efforts result in staying even.  By then you are out of options.  But if you move too soon they can counter move later.  Decisions, decisions.

Aaron Burmeister grew up in Nome and knows the area and its weather well, this might give him an advantage somewhere.  Mitch seems to be slowing down slightly, but that could be his attitude as much as the dogs – if he can get his happy back he could be a real threat to win this.  I think that Jake Berkowitz, Peter Kaiser, and Ray Redington are in great shape to pick off anyone who misgauges what their dogs can do.

We’ve got a great dog race here.

Keep 'em Northbound


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Early Race Strategies

Most mushers don’t like to run during the “heat of the day”, typically between 1 or 2 PM and 5 or 6 PM.  Even if it is cold out, this is a low period in the dogs’ biorhythms and running during those hours, they are slower and it seems to take more out of them.  There is another low point for both mushers and dogs, in the wee small hours of the morning around 4 AM or so.  That is where the “getting on a good run / rest cycle” comes from.  So the 2PM re-start puts the early bib numbers out when they least want to run. Some mushers will enter after the first day to avoid that, but most have another issue in mind.
The trail from Skwentna to Rainy Pass typically doesn’t exist until Iditarod puts it in for the race (Iron Dog goes through Shell Lake, not One Stone).  Finger Lake is deep snow country, with 15 feet of snow on the ground being common.  If there isn’t continuous traffic on the trail, the trail breakers can only pack the top of the snow pack.  As the race comes by the trail breaks up and later teams have slower / harder pulling.  You can see who really worries about this by watching to see who the first 10 mushers into Finger Lake are.  By the time the back of the pack gets there (yours truly), there can be trenches on the corners and downhill parts (anywhere mushers ahead used their brake to slow down) that are a couple of feet deep.  In 2009 the trench on the steps was deeper than I am tall.  Of course the new mining activity in the area and going around the steps this year could change that.
Most competitive mushers will go to Rohn in three runs.  Some mushers like to run to Yentna Station (or just past), then to Finger Lake, and then a long run from Finger to Rohn.  But the favorite among competitive mushers is to run from Willow to Skwentna, about 70 miles, (or just before or past), rest there, and move quickly through Finger Lake to Finnbear (Helicopter) Lake (about ½ way between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass Lodge – about 55 miles).  From there it is an easy run to Rohn, about 50 miles.  Sebastian likes to hold to his run/rest cycle and will camp past Rohn, but most people stop there (more on Rohn in a bit).
There are advantage and disadvantages to camping Vs staying in the checkpoint.  If you are camping you will need to melt snow for water for the dogs (about 25 min) and fix your own meal.  Yentna Station has a hole in the river for water (much faster than melting snow – just heat it) and a spaghetti feed in the checkpoint for the mushers.  Skwentna has hot water and hot potluck meals with a warm place to sleep.  Finger Lake has a hole in the lake for water and a gourmet meal (black bean burritos?) for the mushers.  Finnbear Lake has a hospitality stop with a warm cabin to sleep in, stew, and hot water for the dogs. 
But early in the race the checkpoints are crowded (everyone is still packed together) and that compromises the quality of the rest of the musher and dogs and exposes both to more colds and viruses.  The odd distances between checkpoints throws off the run / rest cycle that you are typing to establish.  There is always something to think about.  Watching who stops where will tell you how they rank these priorities.
Rohn is only a small cabin, but it is nestled in big trees that effectively shelter it and break the wind (which typically blows strongly up or down the canyon).  It has great tasting water from a shallow part of the river against the bank that never freezes, but that is a ¼ mile walk each way.  Most mushers stop here to regroup before tackling the Bison Tunnels (not tunnels so much anymore, but frequently blown clear of snow), the new burn area and the old Farewell Burn.  Then it is off to Nikolai with the first running water you have seen since leaving home, clothes dryers for your gear, hot water for your dogs, free food for the mushers, a quiet place to sleep in the school gym, and internet access.  An almost unresistible combination.
For mushers who don’t want to make the long run to Nikolai without a break, about ½ way there is Bison Camp – a guided hunting camp and the last sheltered area from the wind.  It is open to all with wood for the stoves.  About 15 miles from there is Sullivan Creek, another favorite because the creek never freezes (there is a bridge over it for the trail and a bucket on a rope to get water).  Finally there is Martin’s favorite, a fish camp about 15 miles from Nikolai that sets you up nicely for a run to a 24 in McGrath.
Of course all the mushers are positioning themselves for their 24 at this point, typically in McGrath (great support, stores and repairs if needed, hot water for the dogs), Takotna (great food, hot water for the dogs), or for some, Ophir (just a cabin, with a warm tent to sleep in, but typically very quiet).  Swingley used to like to go to the halfway point to take his 24 to avoid the crowds, but recently most competitive mushers have been nervous about the trail which typically doesn’t exist until Iditarod puts it in and there are no reports about quality, and have not pushed through to there to 24. 
Watch your favorite mushers and maybe this will help explain why they stopped where they did.
Keep ‘em Northbound