The 46th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race came and went as the mushers battled the Alaskan wilderness for approximately 1,000 miles, from Willow to Nome.
Sunday, March 4 marked the official start of the race, and nearly 10 full days later, the unexpected winner crossed the finish line in Nome.
When the race began, Nicolas Petit and Mitch Seavey were slated to win by popular opinion. Soon after, Joar Leifseth Ulsom pushed his way up.
Petit, who has been competing since 2011, finished his seventh Iditarod this year in second, his overall career high.
When he first started Petit finished in 29th with a time of 10 days and 15 hours. He improved that time over the years to run a career-best of 8 days and 6 hours in 2017.
Coming into Shaktoolik, Petit was significantly in the lead, but soon after, he lost his way and went off course during whiteout conditions. He eventually had to backtrack and spend an extra 1.5 hours getting back on course.
Once he reached the next checkpoint, he announced that he mistook the Iron Dog trail markers for the Iditarod markers and mistakenly followed them.
When the emotional distraught Petit learned that he had been passed, he admitted he was heartbroken.
“I started bawling like a little baby. This race be be an emotional roller coaster,” Petit said.
Eventually, he accepted his fate of second place, changed his attitude and picked the race back up.
As Iditarod fans and race judges followed his progress, race judge Karen Ramstead contemplated Petit’s future in the race after his mishap.
“[That mishap] changed things a lot,” Ramstead said. “[After Shaktoolik], he was either going to figure it out in the next few hours or it would be his peace for this year.”
Petit finished the race 2 hours and 15 minutes after Ulsom, on March 14 at 5:15 a.m.
As for Seavey, the three-time Iditarod champ succumbed to third place for the first time since 2014.
Seavey has been competing in the Iditarod on and off since 1982, accumulating 24 race starts, finishing 23 of them. He currently holds the record for the fastest completion time, 8 days and 3 hours in 2017.
Halfway through the race, Seavey began to fall behind his counterparts, eventually trailing in to take third. He finished 3 hours after Petit appeared in Nome, at 8:11 a.m.
After finishing up in Nome and reflecting on the race, Seavey announced in a public statement that he hasn’t gone that slow with a sled dog team in 15 years; as long as his dogs were healthy and happy, he was fine with it.
Seavey has won the Iditarod three times and placed as runner-up twice, and has also finished in the top-10 in 14 of his races.
As for Ulsom, his first place was the first time he even placed in the top-three. He has placed in the top-ten every year, even winning the Jerry Austin Rookie of the Year award in 2013.
Ulsom gave a lot of credit to the trail for his rookie award.
“I think that maybe that had something to do with the conditions we [had], it was definitely a really fast trail,” Ulsom said, “But you just have to put in the training and try to do a little better every year and improve small things that can make a difference.”
Ulsom, originally from Norway, was the second European to win the race, a dream that he had since he was a child. He began working on his dream when he was 11 and begged his parents for a dog. Years later he moved out, adopted more dogs and moved to Alaska in 2011 to be a musher.
The 46th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ended after 12 days, 20 hours, 13 minutes and 14 seconds with veteran musher Magnus Kaltenborn crossing under the burled arch on the morning of March 17. Kaltenborn, from the Yukon Territory, received the Red Lantern award, which serves as a symbol of perseverance.