From KYLE HOPKINS in Cripple --
Jim Lanier won a heaping tablespoonful of gold nuggets for arriving first at the halfway point of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Thursday by sleeping just three hours in four days.
That’s the nice thing about getting old, said Lanier, who is 71. You wake up earlier.
The win marked the first half-way award for Lanier in an Iditarod career that began when Jimmy Carter was in office and was only interrupted last year so the musher could have a hip replacement.
“He’s kind of like a legend that’s still running,” said Anchorage musher Trent Herbst, a bushy-beared school teacher who won the gold for arriving at the halfway mark in the 2011 race.
Lanier has completed 14 Iditarods beginning in 1979 and never scratched despite a career of cringe-worthy, mushing-related afflictions. Put another way, the surest sign that this has been a gentle Iditarod is that Lanier didn’t need the hockey pads he regularly wears along the early stretch of trail.
Among Lanier's battle scars was the separated shoulder he suffered after leaving Rohn. Then there was the time he broke his ankle in the same area. He froze his fingers during the 1985 Coldfoot Classic, leaving an index and middle finger each a knuckle short. He has nine toes. Frostbite.
Still, Lanier says he plans to run at least one more Iditarod. He doesn’t know how many he has in him after that.
“Sometimes in the tough parts of the race I figure this is it. But that passes. I’ve never said I’m through,” he said as he ate a hot sausage beside his sled.
The reason that Lanier was first to Cripple and not one of the championship contenders like Mitch Seavey or John Baker is rooted in the race requirement that all mushers take a daylong break somewhere along the trail.
If you don’t take your 24-hour rest until late in the race, you have the best shot at winning checkpoint awards. Lanier said he wasn’t after the gold to begin with. He had planned on taking his 24-hour rest even further down the trail, in Ruby.
Lanier mushed through McGrath, where many mushers “take their 24” to enjoy bottomless pie pans and cooked-to-order cheeseburgers. But when he hit Ophir, 73 miles down the trail, Lanier encountered 1989 Iditarod champion Joe Runyun, he said.
“’You know, you should go for that gold in Cripple,’” Lanier recalls Runyun saying.
(The former champion is on the trail this year writing Iditarod analysis from the grizzled veteran’s perspective. He is nine years younger than Lanier.)
“I hadn’t really thought of that,” Lanier said.
Fourteen and a half hours later, the musher pulled into Cripple behind lead dogs April and October and collected his spoils. Everyone keeps asking him what he’ll do with the gold.
Herbst said it was tempting to cash in the nuggets he won last year – he is both a musher and a teacher – but he’s holding on to them as long as he can.
“Gold is going up in price,” he said.
Lanier has a couple of ideas of his own. “I’d like to get a really nice lead dog,” he said. “But I know what’s more likely to happen. It’ll wind up hanging from my wife’s neck.”
The musher is now taking his 24-hour break in Cripple and finally catching up on sleep. After the race, he’s looking to publish a book. It’s called “Behond Ophir: Confessions of an Iditarod Musher.”
His gold nugget haul in the 2012 won’t make the last chapter, Lanier said. “That’ll be in the next book.”