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KASILOF — Shortly before 3 p.m., veteran musher Deedee Jonrowe arrived at Mile 112 of the Sterling Highway to an anxiously awaiting crowd.
Led by Sparky and Dragon, Jonrowe finished the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race in first place after spending 19 hours and seven minutes on the trail, and eight hours more at the mandatory layover at Clam Gulch Lodge. She credited her lead dogs for her finish.
“They were really up for it,” she said.
Not long after she finished, Cim Smyth arrived with his team after a final push.
Smyth said he “finally caught a good third wind,” six miles past Caribou Lake. His dogs realized that they were headed home, he said.
“They went for it,” he said. “Just a little late.”
It took Smyth just eight minutes longer to finish the 200 mile race — his final time was 19:15.
Eight minutes was enough for Jonrowe.
“…To beat Cim is always a feat,” she said. “To beat one of the Smyth brothers is always a feat. They never give it to you,” she said.
Jonrowe was expected in around 1:30 or 2 p.m. but, like most mushers, had a slower-than-expected finish, largely due to the conditions: warm weather, which meant hot dogs and soft snow. She and Smyth were slow to blame the conditions for their finish.
“Ultimately, I can only run my dogs,” she said.
Smyth said he actually sped up during the heat of the day and made up most of his time at the end of the race. But it wasn’t quite enough, he said.
“[I] couldn’t catch her,” he said to another musher. “That’s why the call it a dog race.”
The pair were repeat placers at the annual race. In 2010, Smyth finished second and Jonrowe finished third.
About an hour behind Smyth and Jonrowe was another pack of mushers and their dogs who finished one after another.
Mike Santos, Colleen Robertia, Gary Van Loo and Zoya DeNure finished third, fourth, fifth and sixth respectively. Each was within 20 minutes of the next, with their times ranging from 20:31 for Santos to 21:17 for DeNure. But while they were racing, they didn’t know exactly who was where.
While she was feeding and loving her dogs, someone asked Robertia whether anyone was behind her. A lot of someones, she said, but she didn’t know where.
“There’s a lot of trees that look like mushers out there.”
And Santos was surprised to be the first in the pack.
“I can’t believe no one caught me,” he said.
The Cantwell musher said the weather definitely caught him (and his dogs) off-guard.
“This is crazy,” he said. “We need Bermuda shorts out there.”
He had to loose three dogs during the race, and had trouble getting others to eat.
He wasn’t the only one.
Robertia left one behind on the second day, and also cited the hot weather as a difficulty.
“The weather definitely changes the race,” she said.
But was she quick to point out that her dogs raced through it anyway.
“Considering the day, they had a great day,” she said.
As of 8 p.m. Sunday, eight teams remained on the trail.
• Molly Dischner can be
reached at molly.dischner@