By John Tonin
The Whitehorse Star
After eight days, one hour, 30 minutes, and 56 seconds on the Iditarod trail, Yukoner Michelle Phillips crossed the finish line in Deshka Landing in 11th place last Monday.
Phillips crossed the finish line with 11 dogs still in the harness. In a year devoid of long-distance dog races, Phillips said it was nice to complete a close to 1,000 mile race.
“It was a competitive race, it went well,” said Phillips, who spoke to the Star from Alaska. “(1,000 miles) that is what we train for.”
In the 2020 and 2017 Iditarods, Phillips finished in 13th place, jumping two spots in the standings was a big accomplishment for her.
“I’m happy for sure,” she said. “It was definitely nice to move up. I just worked hard and did my thing.”
Phillips said the 2021 Iditarod was a competitive race.
“You just have to look at the standings,” said Phillips. “There were so many past Iditarod champions in the field.”
She wasn’t the only one feeling the competitive nature of the race. Phillips said her dogs were eager to be out there.
“They are driven and competitive,” said Phillips. “The dogs all did great.”
Phillips said throughout the race, she had many leaders but it was Dragon and Indy at the lead when she crossed the finish line in Deshka Landing.
The race trail, Phillips said, had its challenging locations.
“There was some overflow in spots,” said Phillips. “It was also -40, -50 but overall it was pretty good.”
The race trail did not follow the traditional route from Anchorage to Nome. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the race followed a loop.
The Iditarod began and finished at Deshka Landing. Mushers and their teams traveled to the Iditarod checkpoint before looping back. The race fell slightly short of the 1,000-mile mark, race estimates pegged it about 848 miles.
“We didn’t go to the villages,” said Phillips. “There were tents set up along the way. There was tons of strategy involved because the race was completely different.”
Mushers had three mandatory layovers during the race. They had to take 24 hours between the Skwentna to Iditarod stretch, those to checkpoints included, before hitting the flat for the return journey.
They had two eight-hour layovers as well. First in between the Rohn to Rohn stretch and then finally at Skwentna, the penultimate checkpoint, on the return trip.
Dallas Seavey was the 2021 Iditarod champion, arriving in Deshka Landing after spending seven days, 14 hours, eight minutes, and 57 seconds on the trail.
Seavey, one of only two five-time Iditarod champions, returned to the race after a three-year hiatus. After the 2017 race, in which his father Mitch won, Seavey had four dogs test positive for a banned substance. He was cleared by the Iditarod Trail Committee but still took a break from the Alaskan race.
Seavey won the race in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016 before capturing the 2021 crown.
After finishing fifth in 2020, Aaron Burmeister moved up the standings to finish second in 2021. He was about three hours behind Seavey.
Coming in third was Brent Sass, the three-time Yukon Quest winner. His most recent Quest wins were back-to-back, in 2020 and 2019. He finished the Iditarod about one hour after Burmeister.
Phillips began the journey back to the Yukon from Alaska on Friday.
Ahead of her is a two-week self-isolation, but that is of no mind to her.
“I live out in a cabin,” said Phillips. “It won’t be anything different. It was just nice to get out and race.”