For the late Phil Kari, one final hurrah on the Iron Dog trail

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — For Laurie Kari's husband, the late Phil Kari, a superfan of the Iron Dog race, this weekend was a last hurrah of sorts.

"It felt like a gift to him," Laurie said, "and it also felt like allowing him to finish something that was the happiest time in his life and the biggest moment of his life: Running the Iron Dog."

In 2006, a lifelong dream of Phil's came true. He, along with teammate Frankie Harris, finally got to the Iron Dog starting line.

"He's snowmachined since he was a little kid," Laurie said, adding that they moved to Alaska in 1985. "Followed the Iron Dog race since its start, and we moved up here the year after the first one. He was just a big fan."

Thirteen years ago, Phil and Harris didn't make it through the full trail. They were forced by race officials to stop in Unalakleet that year because of rough conditions. In the end, Phil insisted on rejoining the race, and was able to ride behind the leaders into Fairbanks.

"The race asked him to stop," Laurie Kari said, "or he would've tried to risk it.

"He came back in in tenth and last place," she laughed. "He always wanted to run it again."

For the Kari family, this year's running of the Iron Dog is an entirely different story.

Phil passed away last May after a long battle with cancer. When this year's Iron Dog race was coming up, his widow had an idea.

"For closure and just because he's in heaven and he gets to watch what's going on, it just came to my mind that I would ask one of the riders - Brad - to take him along the trail with him," Laurie said, "and sort of wrap up that part of his life with a completed trail race."

Brad George, who's close to Iron Dog Champion Andy George and ran as part of Iron Dog Team 6 this year, was "honored" to heed the request.

"He was just so, 'Of course! Of course! If something ever happens to me, that's exactly what I would want to do with my ashes,'" Laurie said.

So, George and rookie teammate Adam Drinkhouse made it happen.

"He always wanted to get there, never was able to," George said of Phil. "It was my honor my pleasure to take him with me. It was awesome having him there."

From the start at Deshka Landing, to wrench day in Nome, to the finish in Fairbanks, George carried Phil's ashes with him for the 2,000-mile trek that Phil was never able to make before.

Not only that, but Team 6 would come roaring into Fairbanks in second place this year, after hanging out around the fifth and sixth positions most of the time.

"I just kept saying, 'We gotta make it, we gotta go!'" George said. "He might be a lifesaver for all I know. Couple times it would get sketchy, maybe it was Phil who helped me out. I feel like me and Phil would've been good buddies."

Channel 2 photojournalists AJ Lucero and Josh Maxwell contributed to this report.