ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Mitch Seavey was the first musher to reach Ruby in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race but some of the fanfare was missing Friday.
Ruby is the first checkpoint on the Yukon River. For being the First to the Yukon, the race’s leader has traditionally been treated to a feast prepared by a chef flown in 300 miles from Anchorage.
The menu in previous years has included bison stew, grilled halibut in citrus sauce and blackberry jubilee.
But the Anchorage hotel sponsoring the feast dropped out this year, race spokeswoman Erin McLarnon said, leaving Seavey to simply heat up a prepared meal in a microwave in the log cabin community hall.
Even if Seavey couldn’t fill his stomach with some gourmet food, he was able to stuff his wallet.
Musher and Anchorage funeral director Scott Janssen, 50, known as The Mushing Mortician, donated the $3,000 prize given to the first musher to Ruby, and the money was presented to Seavey in a small ceremony at the checkpoint after he arrived at 6 a.m. Alaska time.
“Scott Janssen was kind enough to step up to the plate to make sure there was still that $3,000 award,” McLarnon said.
Janssen made another mark in this year’s race on Wednesday when he gave his dog Marshall mouth-to-snout resuscitation after the dog collapsed while the team was going down a decline in the Dalzell Gorge.
“I had my mouth over his nose, breathing into his nose as I was compressing and rubbing his chest, trying to work the air out,” Janssen told the Anchorage Daily News. Marshall recovered and was flown back to Anchorage.
Seavey was followed into Ruby on Friday by his son, 25-year-old Dallas Seavey, about 67 minutes later.
“I got a really fine team here. I’m going to win, that’s all there is to it,” a confident Mitch Seavey said before the race. “I wouldn’t expect to go for less than that.”
Part of his optimism is because on his strong dog team.
“I’m super excited about what I have to drive, and their preparation, their health, their weight. They’re eating super well, I couldn’t ask for more,” he said.
While Mitch Seavey pocketed some extra cash for being the first into Ruby, he wasn’t the first to leave.
Aliy Zirkle, 41, a native of New Hampshire, hit the Ruby checkpoint nearly three hours after Seavey but she stayed only nine minutes and was charging for Galena.
Both Seaveys were taking a rest break in Ruby. Also into the checkpoint were defending champion John Baker of Kotzebue, Aaron Burmeister of Nome, four-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park and DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow.
The Yukon River portion of the nearly 1,000-mile Iditarod is dreaded by many mushers because of its long, boring stretches of nothingness. Mushers have been known to be so sleep-deprived and so bored by this section of trail that they simply fall off their sleds.
It’s tough on the four-legged participants, too, McLarnon said.
“That can be mentally challenging on dogs because now they’ve come from this hilly country, wooded area, and then you drop into the river, which at times can be a huge, wide expanse of white,” she said.
The route follows the river to Unalakleet, where the coastal run portion starts along the Bering Sea.
“You’re going to see some teams probably cutting some rest to get the lead here, because typically once you hit the coast, it’s kind of that dash to Nome (the finish line), so you always want to have yourself positioned in the right place,” she said.
McLarnon said it’s difficult to say whether mushers are on a record pace in this year’s race. Baker set the record last year at 8 days, 18 hours and 46 minutes.
“I know the talk on the trail is that they don’t think it will be record-breaking, but it’ll sure be within that nine-day time range,” McLarnon said.
Sixty-six mushers began the race Sunday. Three mushers have scratched with the leaders more than halfway through the race.