ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Anchorage musher Scott Janssen, home from the Iditarod with a broken ankle, will be one of the first to tell you that among the benefits of mushing nearly a thousand miles across Alaska are the stunning views.
Among the most visual come early in the race, in the Dalzell Gorge passage and eventually across the Farewell Burn, the site of a 1.5 million acre forest fire in 1978.
“There’s a whole lot of heaven” along that part, Janssen said of the trail that goes through the Alaska Range, not too far from Mount McKinley.
But on Tuesday, as he traveled between the Rohn and Nikolai checkpoints, he saw another side - the musher was knocked unconscious when his sled turned over and his head hit a tree stump.
But that was only the beginning of his harrowing ordeal. Not too soon after, he had to be rescued from the wilderness after his boot was covered in ice and he slipped, breaking his ankle trying to round up a loose dog.
“I made it through the worst part of the trail only to slip on the ice and break my foot,” Janssen told The Associated Press on Wednesday as he recuperated.
Treacherous trail conditions with little snow have marked the early part of this year’s Iditarod, which started Sunday with 69 mushers. The nearly 1,000-mile race spans two mountain ranges, dangerous wilderness and the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast.
Janssen’s ordeal began Tuesday when he crashed his sled after he said he bumped across rocks all along the trail. He lay unconscious for at least an hour and awoke to find his sled nearby and his dogs huddled next to him, covered in light snow.
As he dismantled his broken seat to stuff into his sled, another musher came along. Janssen asked him the time, and couldn’t believe an hour, if not two, had passed.
“I tripped over there, went full-speed and hit my head on that stump,” he said he told the musher. “I think I went night-night for awhile.”
After caring for his dogs, Janssen fixed his sled and continued on. He made it to Tin Creek and estimated he had only about 7 more miles of nasty trail until it turned good again.
But one of his dogs, Hooper, got loose from the line and took off in the wild about 40 miles from the Nikolai checkpoint.
“I slipped on the ice, and bang, that was it,” he said. “Then I just laid there on the ice because I could not get back across the water to get back to my sled.”
He lay there for about 45 minutes before another musher, St. Anne, Jamaica, native Newton Mashall, came along.