After suffering a concussion and later breaking his foot, "Mushin' Mortician" Scott Janssen was forced to end his journey in the 42nd annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday.
The four-time race veteran knew pushing the SOS button on his GPS tracker was something he had to do.
"I knew if I pushed that button, I was out of the race," Scott Janssen recalled Wednesday afternoon after making the tough choice the day before to scratch from Iditarod XLII.
In the end, though, the choice came down to protecting his dogs.
"I could have taken care of myself, but I had 15 of my best pals with me and that was the worst feeling of hopelessness," Janssen said. "It was like, Sorry guys,' and just -- you know, and then to leave them."
Janssen's wife, Debbie said she could hear it in his voice when he called.
"I knew this year if I heard from him before Nome unless he called on his (24-hour layover), something was wrong," Debbie Janssen said.
It all started when Janssen hit his head on a stump shortly after completing the dangerous trek through Dalzell Gorge.
"This was like going down Flat Top Trail in the summer with a team of 16 dogs," Janssen said. "We bounced off rocks, we went over gravel. The only difference was the ground was frozen."
The trail conditions made it difficult for Janssen and fellow mushers to use their brakes to slow down.
"Every once in awhile mushers would have to let off the brakes just to dump the grass out," Janssen said.
Janssen said he lost consciousness when he fell and when he woke up, the dogs were curled up around him.
"I stood up and I felt dizzy and I straightened out my team and checked myself out, everything still worked," Janssen said.
Once he was able to get his team going again, there was trouble 20 miles later in Tin Creek when one of Janssen's dogs, Hooper, got loose from the line when going around a tree.
"I turned to go hook him back up and my boots had iced over from falling in the water," Janssen said.
Janssen fell through the ice.
"I landed with my foot wrong and it just went pop and down I went," Janssen said. " I tried to get up and I couldn't get up."
He waited for 45 minutes, hoping another musher would come to help. Luckily Newton Marshall pulled up, with Janssen mildly hypothermic by that point.
"So I'm laying there on the ice and I'm laying there like, 'Help!' and I waited...and then all of a sudden I hear, 'Ya mon,'" Janssen said. "He comes around the corner: 'Scott Janssen, the Mushin' Mortician -- what are you doin' there laying on the ice?' I said,'This is how we cool off in Alaska.'"
Marshall assisted Janssen by guiding him back to his broken sled and helped him get into his sleeping bag for warmth. It was the first time Janssen had ever used his sleeping bag during the race.
"His concern was incredibly genuine, I mean he just -- 'What can I do to help?'" Janssen said.
It was after he returned to his sled that he made the choice to call for more help from Iditarod officials, ending his 2014 race with an Alaska Air National Guard medevac to Anchorage.
According to an Alaska Air National Guard statement on Janssen’s rescue, the 11th Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center was informed by Iditarod Trail Committee officials of Janssen’s injury at about 7 p.m. Tuesday.
After the ITC asked the Air Guard to pick Janssen up, an HC-130 Hercules search plane and an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter left Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The helicopter was able to follow a safe path to Janssen’s location, about 61 miles southeast of McGrath, once it had been scouted by the HC-130.
“They encountered poor weather almost immediately,” Senior Master Sgt. Robert Carte, the RCC’s superintendent, said in the statement. “The volunteers on the ground did a great job of initially treating (Janssen) and preparing the site for a helicopter landing.”
Guard crews found Janssen at about 11 p.m., arriving at an Anchorage hospital about an hour later. He was treated and released to recover with his family.
Overall, Janssen said he's glad he competed in the race, but the decision to hold the race start in Willow surprised him. He'd already paid for hotel rooms in Fairbanks, in anticipation that the start was going to be changed due to the weather conditions.
"I was probably a little angry we were leaving out of Willow, but I said right away that I trust these guys," Janssen said.