RAINY PASS, Alaska (KTUU) - For veteran Iditarod musher Jim Lanier, all was well leading up to the 48th running of the Last Great Race on Earth.
"We're ready, and we're in shape," Lanier said at the ceremonial start of the race this past Saturday. "I don't think I have anything to prove, but I've got a lot to enjoy.
"I really enjoy the support I get from just about everybody," he said, "and it's wonderful, hearing people say, 'Hey, We're glad you're here,' and, 'Go for it!' And that's what I'm going to do."
On Tuesday, however, things changed drastically for the 16-time finisher, who first ran the Iditarod in 1979 and had to run qualifiers to get into this year's race.
The 79-year-old made it 153 miles to the Rainy Pass checkpoint, departing from there at around 7:30 a.m. en route to Rohn. Following the Iditarod Insider GPS tracker, however, his position slowly dropped from the middle of the pack all the way the 57th place. Lanier's position would appear to hardly move for a six-hour span, concerning spectators, teammates, friends and family alike.
Eventually, his handler called Rainy Pass Lodge, saying the stop "was not part of his race plan," and triggering a rescue operation.
Thus, Steve Perrins — son of Steven H. Perrins, both part of the family that owns the lodge — was sent to find Lanier.
"With the wind chill out there right now, you get frostbite pretty darn quick," Steve Perrins said, adding that there was considerable concern over Lanier's condition in the event he was able to find the team. "I was getting cold just driving out there to go get him. You definitely need the right gear and even if you have it, it can be dangerous."
Perrins and a race official came across the team near the mouth of Rainy Pass itself, just one section of the trek to the next checkpoint in Rohn. Lanier was up and roving, Perrins said, but was lacking heat resources and was very obviously cold.
"But when we saw him out there with his dog team, it was a huge relief," said Perrins, to whom Lanier had said his dogs refused to run after coming up on a steep section of trail. "We didn't know what to expect, but he was in good shape when we got there, luckily."
Steven H. Perrins, who had stayed at the lodge while his son went out to look for the musher, said it was clear Lanier had run into other problems out on the trail after the attempt to return to Rainy Pass Lodge.
"He had tried to get his dogs to go up the hill," he said, "and was having a hard time, so he decided to turn around and come back. And he just got tired and cold and sat it out.
"So when they got to him," he said, "he needed help."
Lanier was brought back via snowmachine, and the race marshal mushed his dog team back to the checkpoint.
"He was in good spirits when he got here," Steven H. Perrins said of Lanier's arrival to Rainy Pass Lodge, "except he was disappointed that he had to scratch. But he's safe and healthy, and his dogs are back, and all is good.
"We were all relieved because Jim is getting up there in his years," he added, "doing this phenomenal feat for a man his age. The weather has been extremely cold, the winds have been blowing up here 25 to 35 (miles per hour), and the windchill has been way down, so we were all worried."
Despite a safe return to the lodge, and Lanier's best efforts to finish yet another Iditarod, he will be unable to do so. With his team being flown out of the pass, and per race protocol, Lanier will have to officially scratch, becoming the first to do so in Iditarod 48. This is his fifth scratch all-time.
Author's note: The Iditarod announced via its public relations firm shortly before 8:30 p.m. Tuesday that Lanier had officially scratched from the race "due to concern for his own well-being." He had 14 dogs in harness at the time he made the decision to scratch.
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