by J.D. Duncan

What a wonderful compilation of research and creativity in trekking three parallel versions of the “Last Great Race on Earth”! The rich history of Alaska’s Last Frontier adventure continues to expand its influence as one of the greatest stories ever told! It is recommended that you read carefully as each day’s progress unfolds to gain the full impact of these three Iditarod Trail events chronicled in the State’s short but profound history.    

Richard Jordan, Publisher – The Christian Sportsman

Day One

Iditarod 2017:  

Early morning on the banks of the Chena River, the oldest musher ever to win the Last Great Race is huddling-up with his team.  The temp is starting to rise from it’s low mark of -39 and hopefully would hit -10 by the time teams exit Fairbanks.  57 year old Mitch Seavey wonders if a third win is still in him.  He set a record in 2013 at 53 years of age but this is a different race and there are other teams hungry for a win.  If he looks over his shoulder he can spot the competitors.  None faster than his own flesh and blood, four time and defending champion Dallas Seavey.  Dallas had set the speed record in 2016 of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes.  Dallas also holds the record for the youngest ever to win the Iditarod at the age of 25 in 2012.  Dallas had started as an 18 year old rookie with a team nicknamed “The Scrubs”.  They were too young, too big and too small, too skittish and too inexperienced.  That is seven years in the rear view mirror.  The team that Dallas brought today is all varsity athletes and defending champs.  Together the father-son dual has won five consecutive races.  Be assured, they didn’t go down Nome’s Front St. as a team.  Both sleds are powered and directed by athletes who want to win.  Both teams have targets on their backs in this “Last Great Race.”

The dogs are getting excited.  Mushers with household names that will challenge the Seavey clan get into the line-up.   The Mushing Rock Stars included last names like Redington, King, Buser, Jonrowe, Zirkle, Petit, Gebhardt and Smyth to name a few.

Finally, the first bib heads out on to the Chena River.  This year’s route has been changed to follow the northern, more traditional route due to a lack of snow on a section of the southern route.  It will follow the Chena to the Tanana River and then down to the Nenana River.  At the junction of the Tanana and Nenana is the town that the original serum for Diphtheria met up with a dog team.

Original Cure Run:  

The serum travelled from Seward north on the Alaska Railroad.  Nenana was the destination and location that President Harding drove a gold spike to commemorate the completion of this northern most U.S. railroad on July 15, 1923.  No one could have known then that two years later the completion of the Alaska Railroad and a handful of sled dogs would carry the original cure for Diphtheria to Nome.

Diphtheria could wipe out entire communities, sometimes killing all the children in a family.  In the winter of 1925 a lone physician and four nurses in Nome face a crisis too terrible to imagine.  Diphtheria is a highly contagious upper respiratory tract illness caused by toxin-producing bacteria.  Dr. Curtis Welch watched as an outbreak, first diagnose as simple sore throats or tonsillitis, started in December 1924.  By January 1925 two children died of diphtheria and the impending crisis became clear.  Dr. Curtis sent his famous cable cry for help on January 22, 1925.  






Two days later, leaders met to determine their options.  One possibility was WWI vintage open cockpit water-cooled engines.  These planes were unreliable during winter and most had been dismantled for winter storage and repair.  Additionally, the two qualified pilots in the Nome area had both gone to the continental states and would not be back in time.  The airplane option was tabled and the only thing left was to rely on the Siberia Huskies.  The leading musher was Norwegian dogsled racer-breeder Leonhard Seppala.  The trip was broken up into two groups.  One would depart Nome and run to Nulato, 630 miles round trip and the other would bring the serum from the Nenana train station to Nulato.  Seppala starts preparing his team.  The team will feature lead-dog, Togo, a 15 year old with plenty of experience.  Unfortunately for a trip like this, 15 year olds were more suited for a rocking chair at the senior kennel, but not Togo.

On January 26th the cure arrived at the Anchorage Railroad Hospital. Chief Surgeon John Beeson runs it to conductor Frank Knight and the serum is rushed to Nenana.  On the morning of the 27th with temps at -50, William “Wild Bill” Shannon was handed the precious 20 pounds of cargo.  Temperatures continued to drop to -62.  He arrives at the Minto Roadhouse at 3 A.M. with parts of his face black from severe frostbite.  After warming the serum by the fire and resting for four hours, he drops three dogs from the team, leaving them with friends at the roadhouse.

Carry the Cure Tour 2017:  

A group of eight dedicated Carry the Cure ( Alaskan’s meet for prayer.  They have been assembled by Tlingit Native Alaskan, minister, excellent percussionist and friend Bill Pagaran.   The band Broken Walls ( ) will be conducting school assemblies and Bill will present a Carry the Cure message of hope for Alaska villages.  Just as dedicated mushers drove their dog teams across miles of arctic terrain to carry the cure for diphtheria to the afflicted Eskimos in rural Western Alaska, a new group of Alaskans are forging ahead to carry a new cure, the cure for teen suicide.   This year’s Carry the Cure theme is “I Commit to Life”.  At each stop along the itinerary the team has arranged for school assemblies and evening concerts with Broken Walls.  Bill Pagaran is a gifted communicator loaded with passion for people, especially rural Alaskan young people.  He has a heart to see the Alaska suicide rate that is four times the national average drop to zero.  Among Alaska Native millennials the suicide rate is almost fourteen times the rate found in the lower forty-eight. Every year Alaskan villages are hit hard by suicide.  Many of these deaths are exacerbated by alcohol and drug abuse along with dark cold depressive winters.  There is a serum run in the state and this year’s Carry the Cure team has the antidote, God’s love.  Check out this sample from past tours. ( 

On this first leg of the tour the team loaded up in Homer, AK using two King Airs supplied by Missionary Aviation Repair Center in Soldotna, AK.  The planes lift off, retract their wheels, and head for the first village, Tyonek.  This is a small village on the west side of Cook Inlet.  The first encounter this village had with Europeans was in May of 1778.  Two British naval ships, The Resolution and the Discovery, under the command of famed Captain James Cook, anchored off the coast just a few miles from this village.

One of the community elders is familiar with Bill’s ministry.  Two years prior at a Carry the Cure Tour, this tribal leader gave his heart to Christ and started his path to sobriety.  Today he is hosting the team in his own village.

Day Two

Original Cure Run:  

Shannon arrives at the roadhouse in Tolovana at 11 A.M., he and his team are in bad shape.  He hands over the serum to Edgar Kallands who after warming it again, heads into the stand of black spruce on the outskirts of the village.  The temperature had risen to -56 and Kallands makes the 30 mile trip to Manley Hot Springs arriving at 4 P.M.  He stated that the ride was without incidents.  Later it was reported by the Manley Hot Springs Roadhouse owner that hot water had to be poured over Edgar Kallands mittens to free them from the sled.    Two drivers, Green and Folger ran the serume to Fish Lake and to Tanana through the remainder of the day.

Back to Iditarod 2017:  

The second day of the race is not defining.  Many mushers are trying to find a rhythm and pace for their dogs.  Upper single digit speed will be acceptable for most teams.  Early in the race teams want to rush.  These northern most sled dogs are built to run.  If a musher walks out into his dog lot, the dogs start jumping with excitement to run.  A handler dare not let go of the athletes or the race will start early.  Every musher at some point has lost a dog or team and had to employee all sorts of tactics to get them back.  Many people don’t understand the mindset of a sled dog.  A musher who doesn’t allow the dogs to run kills their passion and spirit.  It would be like telling Jordan Spieth he can’t hit a golf ball or Stephan Curry he can’t drain a three.  Their gifting is to run.  On this day most are hitting their stride on the Tanana River.  The teams flew into the Nenana check point and quickly headed out to Tanana.  Nicolas Petit was the first to arrive in the village of Tanana at 11:18 A.M.  Martin Buser is on Petit’s heals.  The village of Tanana welcomes the first into their village with a “First Musher to the Yukon Award Dinner.”  Petit feeds his team and beds them down on straw and then sits down to a five course gourmet meal.  Some racers decide to take an early mandatory 24 hour rest.  All the mushers have the race veterinarians check their team.  

Carry the Cure Tour 2017:  

The team follows up with the first nights ministry in Tyonek.  Next up is Manokotak in Southwest Alaska.  The flight plan is submitted and the team packs up for day three.

Day Three

Original Cure Run:  

The cure is handled between six drivers for a total of 170 miles between Tanana to Galena.  The crisis and the cure story have taken the media by storm.  The story is spreading over the wire and via new amateur radio sets which have become vogue.  The weather has turned violent on the western coast of Alaska and mushers will have to rely on the instincts of their dogs.

Iditarod 2017:  

Musher Noah Burmeister is running on the Yukon headed to Huslia.  He looks at his traveling thermometer.  The mercury is buried in the bulb below the last registered hash mark of -60.  Mitch Seavey was the first musher into the halfway village of Huslia.  The check point vets attended to the athletes checking their health and well-being as the musher spreads straw, takes their boots off and begins the process of serving their well-deserved meal.  The senior musher won his first gold in 2004 and came in second behind his son Dallas in 2015 and 2016.  This is the first time Mitch has lead the race at the halfway point.  Was it smart strategy, could he stay ahead of the defending champion and son Dallas.  Where was Petit, Zirkle and Buser.  Huslia villagers supply some information.  

Village children ask questions like, “What’s your dog’s names” and “Can we pet them?”  These children know all the musher etic ate.  Mitch hears a trail update.  A pack of mushers is 6 hours behind him and Dallas is further out but has completed his 24 hour rest.  The younger Seavey team will be catching up quickly.  Senior Seavey proclaims his 24 hour rest.  He will have to take one more eight hour rest before completing the race.  The veteran leader finds a place to lay down just a stay away from the mushers who are playing catch-up.  They come into Huslia and find out the leader has gone to sleep.  The swell of mushers get back on the trail as fast as possible.

Carry the Cure Tour 2017:  

The team loads up and heads for Manokotak through some of the most beautiful mountains, (  Young prison ministry chaplain Nadja of Switzerland feels right at home but the trip will soon offer her a cultural surprise.   Upon arriving in Manokotak the team finds out villagers have prepared a meal.  Veteran team members know what this means.   The delicacies, muktuk (whale), akutaq, (Crisco and tundra blue berries) with kippered salmon have been prepared.  Nadja partakes like a veteran missionary and shares a good critic.  The school assembly is a buzz.  The students love the music and the message of “Commit to Life”.  Bill invites all to the evening concert and the community of 442 show up in force.  Nadja has a chance to pray for a community elder.  She would later find out that she has ministered to their daughter behind bars.

Day Four

Original Cure Run:  

Musher Evans is running into patches of ice fog.  His two lead dogs collapse from frostbite.  He puts them in the sled and gets out in front of the team to lead them into Nulato.  By the time he arrives the two dogs in the sled are lost.  The next driver departs in 30 minutes.  Time is critical.  The number of cases in Nome has reached 27.  According to a reporter in Nome, “All hope is in the dogs and their heroic drivers…”  Two community leaders pitch another airplane option.  Experienced pilots discourage the plan.  A vote is taken and the proposal is off the table.  The community has gone to the dogs.  More teams are recruited to be ready for the last stretch into Nome.  Musher Tommy Patsy runs 36 miles to Kaltag and hands the cure off to driver “Jackscrew,” who carries it with his team to the Kaltag Portage and to the “Old Woman Shelter”.

Back to Iditarod 2017:  

The leaders are starting to show their strategy.  But the question is who can keep up with the speed, 9-10 mph of Mitch Seavey.  Leaders are headed to Unalakleet and they find the same weather conditions the original serum run fell ill to… ice fog.  Visibility is limited.  Teams that do well are those who can trust experienced athletes to be leaders of the pack.

Carry the Cure Tour 2017:

The team leaves Manokotak in their King Airs.  These two planes are the work horses of MARC aviation’s ministry to Alaska.  Samaritan’s Purse led by Franklin Graham has been very strategic in making these airplanes available to ministry in Alaska.  Prayer for safe travel is made and wheels are up as they head for the hub city of Dillingham, estimated population is 4,997.  The community schools meet them with great anticipation.  This seasonal fishing community has been racked by suicide and heroin influence.  The team goes to work getting ready, inviting locals to the meeting and praying over the city.

Day Five

Original Cure Run:  

Victor Anagick runs his team 34 miles to Unalakleet on the coast.  He hands the serum off to musher Myles Gonangnan who’s team carries it 40 miles through temps down to -70, driving snow and gale force winds to the Shaktoolik roadhouse.  Seppala is not there as originally planned so Myles hands it off to Henry Ivanoff who had prepared just in case Seppala couldn’t make it.  Ivanoff warms the serum up and departs.  The winds have driven the temperature to a bone chilling -85.  Along the way Ivanoff’s team runs into a loan reindeer. The team is hopelessly tangled and at a complete stop.  Frustrated, Ivanoff begins the difficult job of untangling live animals all trying to scatter in different directions.  While stopped, Ivanoff fortunately or miraculously spots Seppala’s large team running nearby.  He yells “The serum! The serum! I have the serum!”  Somehow Seppala heard Ivanoff and stopped.  They quickly made the exchange.  Ivanoff turned his team back toward Unalakleet.  Seppala mushed straight into the darkness and across the dangerous ice of Norton Sound.  

Authors note:  The 20 mushers of 1925 performed an amazing relay finishing their 674 mile trail in five and one half days with 150 different dogs.  For this story line to coincide with the record pace of Iditarod 2017 and the Carry the Cure Tour of 2017, I have taken writers liberty and extended the time line out to eight days.

Back to Iditarod 2017:  

Wade Marrs is showing some speed as he comes into Unalakleet.  He is powered by 13 dogs, a good number at this leg of the race.  There is a gold cup trophy for the first musher into this windswept coastal hub community.  Wade looks at other names like Jeff King and Lance Mackey on the trophy.  The cup is also garnished with $3,500 worth of gold nuggets.  The musher is temporarily distracted.  Meanwhile Petit who is just a couple minutes behind Marrs comes into the town.  Mitch Seavey is 15 minutes behind with a well-rested team.  Dallas Seavey is right behind his dad.

Carry the Cure Tour 2017:  

The team cheer could have been similar to Henry Ivanoff’s shout to Leonhard Seppala, “The serum!  The serum!  I have the serum!”  They have a cure for suicide and depression.  The school assemblies are running like clock work.  Everyone is playing a part including the MARC pilots who accompany the team to the schools.  Kids pack the gym and love the music.  They respond to the message of hope and the theme, “Commit to Life.”  Evening concerts are well attended.  Broken Walls rocks the house and sends a clear message of God’s love to all who attend.  The response is overwhelming.  Dillingham is a hub city and thus has more of the amenities that other villages lack. Dillingham has a couple of stores, restaurants and other services.  Many people come in from the smaller villages to buy supplies before boating, snow machining or flying back to the smaller villages.  Churches in hub cities become good outreach centers to the outlying communities.

Day Six

Original Cure Run:  

Seppala’s famous lead dog, Togo, leads the team straight through the darkness.  In one day they cover a remarkable 84 miles averaging 8 mph.  Remarkable considering the weather, training and food supply of these dogs.  Seppala’s dogs were not the lean Siberian-huskies of today’s Iditarod racers.  They were stocky breed and not designed for speed runs.  At 2 A.M the team arrives at Isaac’s Point.  The team takes a short rest as the serum is kept warm.  They head back out into a raging storm with winds up to 65 mph.  Seppala’s team has to circumvent the coastal ice flow.  At Golovin, Seppala passes the serum to Charlie Olson.  The number of diphtheria cases in Nome is up to 28.  The serum being mushed to Nome is just enough for 30 patients.   The winds increase to 80 knots.  

Back to Iditarod 2017:  

The northern addition to March-Madness is in full swing.  The “Old man” as Dallas Seavey could call him is also the one to catch.  At his current pace he will be hard to catch but anything can happen.  Every musher knows that a team could decide to lay down and perform a mutiny along the Iditarod.   Mitch is being chased by what looks like a good final four consisting of his son Dallas, Nicolas Petit, Wade Marrs and Aliy Zirkle.  An elite eight are not far behind and if you keep looking you can see a sweet sixteen pack of mushers.  One long nap or delay could put you out of the purse.  

Carry the Cure Tour 2017:  

Team travels to Aleknagik, the only scheduled trip that they could drive to on this tour.  It is located 16 miles northwest of Dillingham at the head of the Wood River on the southeast side of Lake Aleknagik.  The 2010 census declares 219 live in this community.  It is also known as a sportsman’s paradise.  In August of 2010, Senator Ted Stevens and four others died in a plane crash near Lake Aleknagik.  The team carries the cure into the little school and holds a service at night.  The village elders can’t recall a concert being held in this village.  The people respond to the message and hope of God’s love.  

Day Seven and Eight:

Original Cure Race:  

The final days of the serum run had much drama.  On February 1st, at 3 A.M. Olson was on deck for the next leg.  Seppala pass the antitoxin to him as the wind was raging, reported to have been reaching 80 knots.  Word from Nome was to stop the relay.  It would be better to be delayed than to lose the serum in the storm.  Messages were sent to Solomon and Port Safety before all lines went dead.  Olson was already out of Golovan on the way to Bluff.  He got blown off the trail and suffered severe frostbite on his hands while trying to put blankets on his dogs.  He arrived in Bluff at 7 P.M.  The next musher was Gunnar Kaasen with his lead dog Balto.  Kaasen travels through the night’s storm.  Balto leads the team through visibility so poor that Kaasen could not always see the dogs harnessed closest to the sled.  He missed the roadhouse at Solomon and had traveled two miles beyond before realizing it.  Making a difficult decision to pass up the relay team at Solomon, he mushes on.  The winds continued to buffet the sled and team.  At one point he looses the sled and it takes a hard tumble.  The serum is dumped into the heavy snow.  Kaasen stops the team and rights the sled but now must search in the drifting snow for the cure.


Back to Iditarod 2017:  

Mitch is having the race of his life.  The motto could be ‘Old guys rule’.  The 57-year-old musher crosses the finish line at 3:40 P.M. on Tuesday, March 14th.  He has set a new record of 8 days, 3 hours and 40 minutes to win an exceptionally fast race.  The cherry on top of this race might be that the “geezer” broke his son Dallas’ 2016 record by a good 7 hours.  His team of 11 dogs that made it to Nome are in great shape.

When asked repeatedly about the speed of his dogs, Seavey told the Alaska Dispatch, “I hope this becomes the standard and I don’t want to speak less of any of my competitors, but if we can prepare our dogs for what we’re about to do, and perform in that zone, they should eat, they should be comfortable, and they should be happy all the way through.  And yeah, they’ll be tired.  It’s an athletic event.  Tired at the end is what you’re looking for.”  He went on to say, “I’m very pleased that it all played out on the big stage here.”

The race for second place was a won by Dallas Seavey.  Nicholas Petit took third.
First place receives a new Dodge Ram truck along with $75,000 in prize money.  This year Dallas took home $62,775 for his second place finish.

Carry the Cure Tour 2017:  

The last outreach for this year’s team is Nondalton, located on the shores of Six Mile Lake in Southwest Alaska, population 164.  The crowd could have been everyone able to come.  Bill’s follow-up motivation speech was passionate.  He had prepared a “I Commit to Life” card and pledge.  The crowd seems to listen to every word Bill has about God’s love and hope for their life.  The band, Broken Walls, is well received and the tour finishes with a great appreciation by this small village. 

Original Cure Run:  

We left Kaasen in search for the cure hidden in snow drifts with wind gusts surging to 80 knots.  He desperately had to get the serum out of the snow and back into a safe and warmer place on the sled.  In order to feel for the package better, he made a desperate quick decision.  He took off his gloves so he could feel for it as he dug into the drift.  It worked.  The cost of this decision was frostbite on his hands.  Getting the team back up, he pressed on.  In spite of the conditions, Kaasen arrives at Point Safety ahead of schedule.  It was 3 A.M. and Ed Rohn, who thought that the serum had been stopped at Solomon, was asleep.  Kaasen took one look and decided he couldn’t wait for him to get ready.  The weather actually started improving.  He took a short rest before finishing the last 25 miles with the cure, arriving at 5:30 A.M.  When he came to a stop, the musher stumbled to the front of the team to thank his lead dog Balto.

The cure is still being carried today by many who have been willing to answer the call of Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Carry the Cure!

Compiled by: JD Duncan

J.D. pastored two churches in Alaska for 28 years and currently is the Statewide Chaplain for Dept. of Corrections. He is a third generation Alaskan who loves all outdoor activities including bow hunting, fishing, hiking and all other forms of food gathering.  J.D. Received his Bachelors at Northwest University and a Master’s at Azusa Pacific. He and Renee have been married for 36 years and she still looks 29. They have two daughters who are married to wonderful “gun-worthy” son-in-laws.   They currently reside in Anchorage, Alaska.