We always hear about the Changing of the Guard. Guards must always be changing. Every heist in every movie all time has happened during the changing of the guard. Seriously, you’d think security companies would catch on by now. But I digress. At some point the guard has changed. New guard firmly in place.
We’re looking at the deepest, strongest, toughest, and youngest field we’ve seen in a long time. I’m looking down the roster, and there are more than 10 mushers with a legit chance at winning. I’m seeing five actual favorites. And casual fans have never heard of many of them.
The names we associate with winning the Iditarod are mostly missing. Martin Buser traded down to his puppy team and is racing for fun. Mitch Seavey is still in it, but no longer controls his own destiny. Dee Dee and Dallas are on TV. Doug Swingley is riding a mule somewhere far from cell service. Jeff King is trying to be polite to nurses while having to watch someone else mush his dogs from afar. Lance Mackey, well, Lance has a CBD Oil sponsor. He’s on that list of 10.
The new guys didn’t just luck into this. They earned it. I watched the interviews with Aaron Burmeister, Thomas Waerner, Jessie Royer, Joar Ulsom, and Richie Diehl from Takotna this morning. I learned something that made me go ‘huh’ listening to every one of them. Those dudes and dudettes? dudesses? are smart. I remember long before my dad won, watching every Iditarod movie over and over, hanging on every word from Jeff, Martin and Dee Dee. They were legends. They dropped more knowledge in a casual interview than we had. My dad would fast forward to the interviews and listen to them again and again. We were trying to copy them.
Fast forward to the past few years, and I felt like we had that knowledge. Mitch and Dallas were on top of the game, and they had most of the answers. Not all to be sure, and maybe it’s my own arrogance, but they didn’t look to someone else to decide what they should do.
Watching those videos this morning reminded me of the early 90s, fascinated by the knowledge. The lead pack isn’t copying anyone. They’re doing their own thing and they know why. It’s theirs. The guard has changed.
They know it, too. There’s blood in the water. With Dallas holding a mike, and Mitch and Pete somewhere in the rearview, these guys know it’s there for the taking. There isn’t a prohibitive favorite they have to beat. Watching those interviews, there are a lot of, if not yet confident, then excited for the possibilities, smiles.
So, I don’t know what these guys are going to do next. I knew what the older crowd would do because I’d studied them my whole life. I knew what Mitch and Dallas would do because they told me. I have no idea what Richie Diehl’s strategy for the run from Takotna to Ruby is. It may be the same thing Dallas would do. It may be better. He may make the same old mistakes they’ve all made. It may be analytics vs. conventional wisdom. It may be dumb rookie vs. wise veteran. I do know there are 10 of them, and they probably have 10 different strategies, so we’ll see a little of everything.
The fun starts a little after midnight tonight, when a whole pack of hungry mushers puts their own stamp on the Iditarod.
Image by Jeff Schultz
Nick Petit, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Pete Kaiser, Mitch Seavey, Dallas Seavey, Aliy Zirkle, Jeff King Wade Marrs and Jessie Royer
Libby, Kjell, Chilkat, Reef, Mac, Mask and Ranger