Iditarod 2016 Race Recap-as written by Wade Marrs
For the first time in my Iditarod career I went into this year’s race very sick from the flu. I was bedridden with fever, chills, and aches for the days leading up to the race. I relied graciously on my girlfriend Sophie to take charge in organizing my last minute preparations. I am also very appreciative of my sponsors, neighbors and friends who stepped up to make sure I was fully ready to hit the trail despite my sick and foggy mind! I spent the day Thursday in mandatory race meetings trying to distract myself from the illness, but I felt like I was hit by a train and my fever had yet to break. Between the meetings and the official start banquet I was able to go to the doctor for some Tamiflu. I was desperate for any kind of relief this close to the race and was hoping that would do the trick!
We woke up Saturday morning, myself feeling much better and headed to the Cermonial Start in Anchorage. 12 dogs, 1 double driver sled, and a couple of my helpers loaded and rolling. Our morning was filled with interviews, meeting fans and signing autographs. We then hooked up our 12 dogs to the sled, loaded in our Iditarider (who by the way was a very sweet young lady with amazing grandparents) had Sophie on the back of the sled as a second driver and the 15 of us headed down the streets and through the crowds in Anchorage. We made sure to stop and say hi to everyone holding up a Wade Marrs sign! The trail was short but beautiful. When done with the run, we headed to REI for a couple of last minute supplies, then back to the kennel to finish packing the sled!
This rolled us over to a beautiful Sunday morning on Willow Lake. A small nap, relaxation with friends, and a huge steak to fill my belly was just what the doctor ordered! The excitement of booting and harnessing dogs could be heard across the lake as teams started barking and lunging in anticipation. We had 15 of our 16 dogs hooked up to the line when my friend and biggest fan Ashley Perry comes sprinting up to me and says “COOKIES NECKLINE IS ALMOST..” and at that second Cookie goes sprinting past all of us loose and running across Willow Lake! Luckily she doubled back and ran right back into the team, Sophie was able to get ahold of her quickly and get her all hooked up in the team. The team and I approached the chute, I gave my dogs a quick pep talk, said my good byes and we were off like a rocket!!
There were great crowds out this year to watch us on the trail to Skwentna! The trail was a bit icy and fast, but it’s what we were expecting. The dogs were enjoying the trail and leaving Skwentna the snow started to increase dramatically! Going down the steps and the gorge was a cake walk, very nice snow and very well set up by the Iditarod trail guys. Now leaving Rohn was a slightly different story…the trail crew did an awesome job with what they had to work with, but there was not much snow and the trail was fast! One good wipe out resulted in me skidding on my elbows and knees at 15mph, I was glad it was the only one! The team and I then left Nikolai with a choice to make, we were in 3rd position, but in the 1st by the clock. I decided right then to stop early for my 24hr mandatory rest in the checkpoint of McGrath. I had a good plan leaving there heading for Cripple and it turned out quite well. Leaving the checkpoint of Cripple we made the choice to run straight over to Ruby. This is a very long run, a lot of big hills. It was a difficult run for me in regards to sleep, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I kept dozing off and waking up going up very big hills with both feet on the brake!! Both feet on the brake? That was not benefiting us one bit and I was unknowingly slowing my team down. During one of my brief moments of falling asleep, the team was coming down one of the big hills and I was sitting on my seat both feet on the brake, before I know it I wake up on my hands and knees on the ground with my one foot hooked in my sled and I am dragging backward down this huge hill! Wooohooo that was fun, luckily the dogs stopped after a bit and let me get back on the sled!
Heading down the Yukon River was for the most part uneventful. Leaving the Yukon we headed towards Unalakleet. Just a little ways into that run Mitch Seavey comes up from behind and just flies past us! But just as he gets past my team, his sled comes down off of the bank, shoots across the trail and tips on its side (Mitch still on) then flips back up and onto the other side, and a quick back and forth until Mitch is sitting on his seat with one hand in the air as if he just conquered a bull ride in the cage!!! We then ran all the way straight to Unalakleet. It was a very long run but the dogs killed it and were ready to get up and roll onto the coast after a short rest in UNK. Leaving Unalakleet there was a lot of dirt that we had to mush over, the dirt created a lot of drag on the bottom of the runners, so if we wanted to move good and fast I had to get off the sled and run a lot to keep the teams speed up. Other than that the run into Shaktoolik was awesome! We stopped for a short rest there, unknown to us, were about to embark on the worst section of our trip down the Iditarod trail. The trail to Koyuk was 2-3 inches of sugar snow and the wind was howling right in my face. If I stood up on the sled the team would pretty much stop, so by the time I got to Koyuk my arms were limp from sitting and ski polling, and I was extremely sore from sitting on the top of a bucket as my seat for 7 hours. Needless to say when we reached Koyuk the dogs and I were ready for a good nap! The rest did us good, we left Koyuk looking good and flew over to Elim. On the way there we saw our first fox! He was right in the middle of the trail looking straight at us! He then turned and bolted about 75 feet before he turned and ran right back at us! I was just sitting there laughing untill I realized he was not going to get off the trail. I let out a loud scream and at that moment he was out of there! The dogs loved the excitement and gave me some speed for a bit after that.
Pulling into Elim I had the thought of going through, but also the thought of the move I had made the year before. I decided to try it again and roll on when I heard that Pete Kaiser was approaching. As I left Elim after a very short rest I could see Pete coming down the road into town as I was dropping onto the ice out of the checkpoint. Luckily Pete did not see me and he decided to take a short break as well! My timing was perfect. Going down into Golivin was a long run up through the hills, my mind filled with thoughts of second guessing my decision to leave Elim so quickly, and looking over the shoulder to see if Pete was chasing towards me! At one point I looked back to see two headlamps coming down a hill not far back. My first thought was Nick caught Pete and now they were both on their way to passing me. I made a quick stop to feed the dogs and tried to keep my head in the game, it was time for me to give everything I had. Soon after I finished up feeding, here come two people on snowmachines! Wow was I ever happy! Still didn’t stop me from constantly looking over my shoulder on the way to White Mountain! As I pulled into White Mountain for my last 8hr mandatory, I was counting the minutes that went by as I waited for Petes arrival. When Pete arrived after 30 mins I knew for a fact he was catching me, it was all I could think about, the idea of a Top 5 finish started to fade from my mind.
I had just laid down inside for a nap in White Mountain when Brent Sass comes in looking discouraged and flops down next to us. After exchanging words with Brent about how his race was unfolding and giving him some words of encouragement, the thought of a Top 5 finish started to creep back in. As much as Brent’s story was sad to hear, it reminded me that our Iditarod race isn’t over until we cross that Burled Arch in Nome! I knew my team was going to give everything we had to get under that arch in front of Pete Kaiser and his team. I do not mean it lightly when I say we pushed with our all, at the end I had no more to give but we kept his team behind us and we crossed under the arch in 4th place! 8 days,18 hours, our personal best by far. I could not be any more proud of my dogs, some of them hugely surprised me. Best feeling a musher could ask for, I knew they had it in them. This team is the best, fully capable of being champions, and I cannot wait to come back and do my best to prove that to the world…..
Here we come, Iditarod 2017!