GRAYLING - The long and difficult stretch of trail up the Yukon River has been the downfall of many a dog team.
In nearly the same spot that the team of DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow quit in 1999, the team of Mitch Seavey of Seward ran out of steam this year.
Jonrowe eventually flagged down an airplane for help. Seavey managed to turn his dogs around and make it back to the village of Grayling. There he sat for 48 hours as the dogs regrouped.
"They were a little bummed out," said race judge Terry Hinesly.
For the first half of the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Seavey had been in what has come to be his usual place -- among the leaders.
But by the time the race reached the Yukon 90 miles west, Seavey's team was showing signs of faltering.
His race finally fell to pieces on the windswept river, where dogs must battle not only wind and cold but the monotony of travel on a long, boring stretch of wide and open snow.
The 10th musher into Grayling on Saturday morning, Seavey rested his team seven hours and then headed out 12th.
He wasn't gone long. About four hours later Seavey returned. Some of his dogs had their heads down, observers said. Some limped. All appeared to be defeated. Seavey bedded them on straw and told race officials he'd wait and see what happened. Pampered for a day by the musher, the team finally started showing signs of enthusiasm shortly after Mitch's father, Dan, arrived in the checkpoint Sunday.
A third-place finisher in the very first Iditarod and a veteran of two races since, the elder Seavey spent almost 22 hours in the checkpoint resting his team and chatting with his son.
While they were hanging out in Grayling, Danny Seavey, the youngest member of the mushing Seaveys, arrived.
A former Junior Iditarod runner-up, 19-year-old Danny teamed up with his 64-year-old grandfather to help pull his dad out of the Yukon's black hole. No evacuation would be necessary.
By Monday afternoon, Mitch had fallen from a top-10 position to 49th, but he was now the leader of a Seavey posse. They occupied positions 49, 50 and 51 as they moved back out on the trail.
The dogs, Hinesly said, looked like they were getting back into the swing of things. The limping was gone. Tails were up. Attitudes were good.
Grayling wasn't exactly the place these three mushers had wanted to hold their family reunion. The finish line at Nome would have been better. But they seemed to be making the best of it.
"It was pretty inspiring," Hinesly said. "The village was out clapping for them when they left."
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