The best race of Iditarod 2015 didn’t take place in front of huge crowds or a live television audience. Instead, the battle for 12th place played out over 11 hours of dramatic racing featuring the most terrifying windstorm many mushers had ever witnessed, a cat-and-mouse game ending in a slow-motion doggie drag race on snow-covered streets and an otherworldly northern lights show produced by a massive solar storm.
And the only people who saw it happen were the mushers and dogs themselves, a handful of late-night partiers and a few fans drawn by the unusual sound of three successive sirens that hinted something wild was going down on Front Street.
... What Gebhardt didn’t know was that Maixner and Kaiser were now locked in their own private battle. Less than 10 miles out of Nome, Maixner called to his dogs in an effort to stay ahead of the three teams behind him. He was running hard as he reached Cape Nome when suddenly he thought he’d been caught as a bright flash of light lit up the icy expanse.
“It was crazy,” Maixner said. “It was maybe four miles outside of Nome, (the northern lights) were kind of going a little bit and then all of a sudden I saw this light from behind me. I thought it was a headlamp. I thought Pete had snuck up on me and turned on his headlamp. But I looked back and I didn’t see anything and I looked up at the sky and it was the northern lights just blasting me.”
What Maixner saw was the result of a massive solar storm. Iditarod mushers see plenty of northern lights, but Maixner said this outburst was like nothing he’d ever witnessed.
“It was purple and pink and the whole sky was full,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of cool northern lights, but that one was ... wow.”
A siren sounds each time an Iditarod team passes Swanberg Dredge, which sits just outside town, about a 15-minute run to the finish line. Just after 1 a.m., Gebhardt’s team went past and the first siren sounded, alerting Nome that a musher was coming. About a minute later, it went off again. Then again.
Curious onlookers trickled onto Front Street. Soon police lights lit up the street, and Gebhardt’s leaders came into view. The team came slowly down the main thoroughfare, its driver pumping his boots furiously. About 200 yards from the finish line, the dogs veered toward the sidewalk and stopped. Gebhardt was forced to get off his sled and lead from the front, coaxing his animals toward the line. Maixner was closing fast. Fans started shouting.
About 20 yards separated the teams when Gebhardt finally got his team going. His leaders crossed the finish line 41 seconds before Wolverine and Beast.
You can read the whole story here.
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198 photos of the 2015 Iditarod here