N.D.-linked mushers endure dog days of winter at Iditarod
BISMARCK -- Kelly Maixner knew he had good dogs. But just how good, he didn't know until he crossed the finish line in Nome, Alaska. Maixner, 35, a Beach, N.D., native and Iditarod rookie musher, said he received several offers to sell his team r...
BISMARCK -- Kelly Maixner knew he had good dogs. But just how good, he didn't know until he crossed the finish line in Nome, Alaska.
Maixner, 35, a Beach, N.D., native and Iditarod rookie musher, said he received several offers to sell his team right there on the spot.
"Not a chance," Maixner said was his response.
The pediatric dentist now living near Anchorage, Alaska, had a goal of finishing the 39th Iditarod near the middle of the pack.
Maixner hit the bulls-eye. He finished the 1,131-mile race in 30th place out of 62 teams that started the race.
His time, 10 days and 20 hours, was only two days off the time of the winning team.
Bismarck native Heather Siirtola finished 46th in the Iditarod and Ellen Halverson, formerly of the Thompson, N.D., area, finished 47th.
Maixner has lived in Alaska just three years but said he fell in love with the dog sled lifestyle almost since Day 1.
Next year, the goal is to finish in the top 20, the top 10 the year after that -- then who knows?
Maixner went into the race with a team of 1- and 2-year-old dogs that had the heart of champions, he said, but stamina takes a while to come.
Teams start the Iditarod with 16 dogs and in the event of injury or illness, drop off dogs at checkpoints along the way. Maixner finished with 11 dogs. He said the trail took its toll on teams.
"The trail was torn up at the beginning," he said. Maixner said snow was soft and deep in places, then gone in other places. "The trail would just come out from underneath you," he said.
The result was teams crashing around turns, often injuring dogs. Maixner said he had his share of health issues with his team.
"I spent a lot of time in the beginning working their feet and wrists," he said.
Once the dogs were tended to, Maixner said things went fairly smoothly until he got to the sea ice area of the trail.
The nearly 100-mile run along Norton Sound, the eastern edge of the Bering Sea, was the one area that tested Maixner's team.
Setting out on the sea ice at night, Maixner said his dogs were fine until the sun -- and the wind -- came up.
The wind either buried or took away the trail markers and Maixner said he lost the trail.
In the midst of the wide open, he said his dogs became confused and began running in circles. Stopping for a while to regroup, Maixner tried again with the same result.
Thinking he might have to withdraw from the race a little more than 200 miles from the finish line, Maixner said he sat down with his dogs and took a five-hour break.
After trying to direct them toward the lights of Koyuk, Maixner figured he was roughly 11 miles away and decided to walk it.
"I was the lead dog for about five miles," he said.
Then, the dogs were back. "They needed to get their minds right," he said. "I suppose I spent about 13 hours on the sea ice," he said, longer than planned.
After that, Maixner rested 12 hours in Koyuk to recharge both his and his dogs' proverbial batteries.
Maixner said finishing the race was emotional. His wife, Margaret, and his dad, Joel Maixner of Bismarck, were there to greet him.
Kelly and Margaret were married in November. He said his father and wife were a big part of his inspiration.
"Dad was there at the start, and I didn't expect it, but he was there at the finish," he said.
Maixner said his wife and dad flew to meet him at some of the checkpoints along the way.
"She's really into it," Maixner said of his wife. "She feeds and pretty much does everything else that needs to be done."