By KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News
SKWENTNA — Musket groaned as Iditarod musher Dan Seavey, 74, hiked the husky to its feet.
“C’mon,” Seavey said. “It won’t be so bad once we get going.”
The dog blinked. Straw, spread on the snow as bedding, clung to its fur.
“They’re in their nice warm bed. How would you like to be jerked out of bed, and your slippers put on your feet and your hands at the same time?” Seavey said as he slipped booties on the dog’s paws.
Even as his son and grandson rocket ahead, each in search of a championship, Seavey is trailing more than 60 racers at back of the Iditarod pack. But it wasn’t the old musher who was sleepy in Skwentna Monday. It was his dogs.
Many of the huskies are making the trip to Nome for the first time. “Their maiden voyage,” Seavey said.
For these 2-year-olds, the 2012 Iditarod is their triple-A training, not the big leagues. Other young dogs are running with mushers like rookie Matt Failor, their race blueprints calling for moderate speeds and long stops.
If young dogs enjoy their first trip down the Iditarod trail, they’ll race harder when called up to compete on championship teams, the thinking goes.
“They need more rest, just like little kids,” Failor said of his team.
Born and raised in Ohio, Failor is driving dogs 2-years-old and younger for four-time champion Martin Buser’s kennel.
Already, growling snowmachines and barking huskies tested some of the puppies’ patience at the Yentna checkpoint. Kinley, who is about one year, 10 months old, refused to lay down, leaping up from her straw bed like a pre-schooler, Failor said.
The musher lay with her for an hour to calm her down, he said. “I just kind of cuddled with her … She was so giddy she was just licking my face and kind of pushing into me.”
Failor, a former Eagle Scout, found himself working summers in Juneau as an Ohio State student, giving sled dog rides to tourists. The 29-year-old trained with Iditarod veteran Matt Hayashida before linking with Buser. He is beginning a dog-racing career.
Seavey is capping one with a last lap across Alaska.
The great-grandfather has little to prove. The Seavey family tree is already decorated with wins.
Dallas Seavey, 25, won the 2011 Yukon Quest and placed fourth in last year’s Iditarod. He’s considered to be among a dozen mushers who could capture a championship on any given year. Another is Dan’s son Mitch, who won the 2004 race and was forced to withdraw from the 2011 Iditarod after nearly cutting his finger off opening a bale of straw.
Which Seavey has the faster team this year?
Dan says he doesn’t know.
“The first time I really saw (Dallas’s team) this winter was at the starting line in Willow,” he said.
But the elder Seavey has watched Mitch’s dogs from the runners of a sled this season, training with his son in Seward.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, waving a bandaged finger, “my friend, if you’re a betting man, don’t bet against him,” A teacher-turned-recreational musher, Dan Seavey helped plan the first Iditarods and placed third in the inaugural 1973 race. While there are only 66 mushers this year, Seavey wears bib No. 100.
“People have asked me if that’s how old I am,” said Dan, who is sponsored by the Iditarod National Historic Trail’s Centennial. “But it’s just 100 years of the Iditarod trail, is what it symbolizes.”
Seavey, whose team includes a half-dozen promising 2-year-olds, left the checkpoint shortly before noon. Failor and his puppies followed five minutes later.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m in the back of the pack for a reason.”
MORE ON THE MUSHERS:
-- LISTEN to Matt Failor talk about why it's OK to be at the back of the pack.
-- WATCH Dan Seavey tell you who to bet on in the 2012 Iditarod.
Twitter updates: twitter.com/iditarodlive. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at email@example.com.