Armchair Musher: Sebastian Schnuelle

Sebastian Schuelle won the Yukon Quest in 2009 and has been a top finisher in the Iditarod, including second in 2009. Schnuelle, from Whitehorse, Yukon, won the Iditarod Humanitarian Award in the 2010. He'll be following this year's Iditarod on snowmachine and writing about it for the ADN. Follow him on his blog or on Facebook.

Patience is the name of the game - 3/16/2012 3:32 pm

Rookie of the year - 3/14/2012 3:18 pm

The push up the coast - 3/12/2012 9:13 am

The race on the coast is on - 3/11/2012 3:01 pm

Nulato sees a blast of mushers midday - 3/10/2012 8:06 am

Yukon thoughts - 3/9/2012 7:46 pm

Race strategy along the Yukon River - 3/9/2012 9:20 am

How Jim Lanier decided to go for the gold - 3/8/2012 4:42 pm

The push up the coast

7:45 p.m. update: A hell of a race to White Mountain

Talking to Dallas on the ice, he was confident that Aliy would now more focus on what is behind her.

He was swift in his tasks, make sure every bootie is on, chickenfeet gaitors are on. The dogs left focused, Aaron Burmeisters old leader "Elim" in lead. Aaron is now in 4th place (behind Ramey Smyth), being beat by his own old leader. As soon as Dallas had left his camp spot, Aliy Zirkle came around the corner, urging her dogs to keep on going. They also looked focused. Those two will have a hell of a race to White Mountain. Apperantly at some point to Elim, Aliy had already caught Dallas once. And both have to look over their shoulder for Ramey Smyth!

Dallas Seavey at his campspot outside Elim on Monday afternoon. (Sebastian Schnuelle)Dallas Seavey at his campspot outside Elim on Monday afternoon. (Sebastian Schnuelle)

Zirkle chasing Seavey after Elim. (Sebastian Schnuelle)Zirkle chasing Seavey after Elim. (Sebastian Schnuelle)

5:35 p.m. update: A place of headgames

From Elim --

Elim.

A place of common headgames. In 2008 Lance Mackey snuck out of there while Jeff King was sleeping. It is really crunch time, if you want to make a move. Most likely Ramey Smyth will blow through here, in the hunt of Aaron Burmeister. Its been a tough and windy run over here. It was blowing a steady 25 mph from the northeast. Somewhat from the side, still making conditions difficult, the trail blown in.

ALL mushers were pushing hard, either nonstop pedaling like Ramey or ski-poling like Mitch and Aaron. Now unbeknown to Aliy Zirkle, Dallas came and went, without her seeing him. He grabbed straw, also unbeknown to her and now is resting just outside of town, just 20 minutes out. So both will have to play their own game and can not feed off each other. In my books, fair and square move by the young Seavey. Aliy seemed a bit down, once she saw Dallas had left. If she only knew. Time will tell who pulls the hook earlier and whose dogs get a better rest. Dallas, sitting all on his own on the ice in a sunny spot, or Aliy, in a busy checkpoint but with good vetcare and good food.

Personal choices I guess. The heat is on!!! Once Ramey gets here, things will get real interesting....

A pensive Aliy Zirkle rests at the Elim checkpoint on Monday afternoon. (Sebastian Schnuelle)A pensive Aliy Zirkle rests at the Elim checkpoint on Monday afternoon. (Sebastian Schnuelle)

4:50 p.m. update:The leaders hit Elim

From Elim --

Into Elim. Dallas has left before Aliy got here. Windy as hell along the Kwik River Delta and Moses Point. Some pics will follow

Playing catch up: Ramey Smyth, in 4th place, on the trail to Elim.Playing catch up: Ramey Smyth, in 4th place, on the trail to Elim.

10:15 a.m. update: Ramey Smyth's surge

From Koyuk --

There aren't many mushers who can be in Takotna in 30th place and now arrive in Koyuk in 7th place with one of the fastest runtimes of 6 hrs 45 mintues. There are not many mushers who can do that feat with a relatively small team of 10 dogs. There really is only one guy who can do so, and has done incredible moves like that in the past, that is RAMEY SMYTH.

Ramey Smyth's sled in Koyuk (Sebastian Schnuelle)Ramey Smyth's sled in Koyuk (Sebastian Schnuelle)

While nursing a very sick dogteam in the Nikolai Checkpoint and thus forced to run very slow and conservative, he is now putting on the heat. And the mushers he is leaving in his dust are some pretty big names, but also putting in some very incredible runtimes themselves.

This shows how important it is in a dog race, to never give up hope, to always move forward and take care of the team you have. Anything is possible, same as us humans, the dogs will work through rough times. It is amazing how a dogteam can bounce back. And it is equally amazing, what a good musher can do with them. Ramey is super athletically fit. At any given time I either see him running, kicking or poling. His equipment is not state of the art, no fancy sitdown sled. Matter of fact not even a fold down seat on his old wooden sled. He is driving a sled many of his competitors would not even trust to take on training runs.

Ramey Smyth's dogs in Koyuk under woolen blankets - and a parka. (Sebastian Schnuelle)Ramey Smyth's dogs in Koyuk under woolen blankets - and a parka. (Sebastian Schnuelle)

His team is led by two older dogs Zeus and Scott being 7 and 9 years old. That means they know where they are going, been here before and are used to Ramey's strong pushes. Interestingly enough, 30th place in Takotna was only 5 hours off the pace of the leaders. That also tells us another story, that many of the mushers push very hard early in the race to then often fade towards the end. Looking at his dogteam outside, it also tells a story. While all others are a sleeping without blankets ( they do have dogcoats on), Ramey´s team is covered in old woolen blankets, dogs not visible. He was short a blanket, so he used his down parka to cover up Zeus and Scott.

Ramey is going all out, making do with what he's got, and doing very well with very little. When I asked Ramey how things are going a few minutes ago: "It’s a story of survival,“ which sums up his attitude very well. I am sure he will pick off a few more mushers before reaching Nome.

9:20 a.m. Monday update: Heating up at Koyuk

From Koyuk --

The Koyuk checkpoint is filling up, but the first team has already left, Dallas Seavey pulling out right when his dad Mitch pulled in. Dallas quickly stomped in his snowhook and ran back to greet his father. This might be the last time those two meet until the finish line in Nome. Dallas is moving much faster. His runtime over the ice is misleading with him stopping for 2 hrs along the way. That makes his runtime a whooping 2 hours faster than John Baker and one hour faster than Aliy and Aaron. John is commenting on his slow runs, that they do not feel right, but that his team is doing nothing wrong neither, they just are not on fire this time.

The leader: Dallas Seavey pulling out of Koyuk on Monday. (Sebastian Schnuelle)The leader: Dallas Seavey pulling out of Koyuk on Monday. (Sebastian Schnuelle)

A team on fire is for sure Pete Kaiser. His dogs were baking when arriving here. That is a great come-from-behind success story. Pete himself looks also much more rested, with longer breaks earlier in the checkpoints. It is a super fine line to keep a team within striking range of the leader, yet keeping the speed in them to be able to come from behind. If a team is run too long too early, the speed drops and it is hard to get back. Mitch thinks in his team, the run from Takotna to Cripple was the run, which slowed him down. Yet if a musher takes too many breaks at that middle point of the race, they have a fast team, but have fallen back too far in the standings. In 2008 I ran Takotna to Cripple in 4 runs, all short 40- to 45-mile jaunts. That had me fall back in the standings into the low 20s, just to catch up along the coast to finish in 10th place. Pete Kaiser managed that fine line even better, with now already getting close to the top 5, likely to move up even higher.

Mitch, on the other hand, is not as chipper as the others. The sleep deprivation is showing on him a lot, from being crabby with the volunteers to at times just standing there, wondering what to do. That crabbiness is by no means rude, it is just a telltale sign of a musher pushing himself to the edge. An hour nap and the world will look much brighter again.

Mitch Seavey in Koyuk (Sebastian Schnuelle)Mitch Seavey in Koyuk (Sebastian Schnuelle)

Looking much further back in the standing, teams like Mike Santos are zipping along with 9.1 miles an hour towards Unalakleet. Dan Seavey is even moving faster in 3rd last place at over 10 miles an hour towards Galena. Galena seems like in another world right now, that far away from coastal Koyuk.

There is a group of teenagers here at the checkpoint, some have been here all night and they are cheering on their favorite mushers. They also get rated by cuteness and Dallas and Pete are both high in that ranking. It is very entertaining to see them giggle when those guys enter the room and comments are exchanged in hush-hush voices.

8:15 a.m. Monday update: The push up the Coast.

Trails have been very soft for the front runners, so a few more of them have been taking shorts rests along the way. Aaron Burmeister took 4 hours in Shaktoolik, while John Baker and Mitch only too about 2 hrs. Dallas took a 2 hour rest on the ice coming over here. The only 2 mushers who have done a hard push over to Koyuk are Aliy Zirkle and right now Ken Anderson is on his way. He is known to run strong on the coast and has set up his dogteam well to pull of a few long runs. After running in the middle of the pack for much of the race, Ken has now pushed his way into the Top 10, same counts for Ramey Smyth.

John Baker in Koyuk (Sebastian Schnuelle)John Baker in Koyuk (Sebastian Schnuelle)

A funny side story: When Aaron decided to take a break a few years ago, he has skipped the last 2 Iditarods, he sold his team to Dallas Seavey, who is now leading the race. Coming into the Checkpoints, Dallas is running as single leader, called Elim, which is Aarons old leader. So it looks like he is getting beat by his own dogs. Aaron himself is running a new supestar lead called Ruger, a big 75 pound male, with a rather clumsy gate, but a big heart who puts it all on the line for Aaron, also arriving here in single lead. Aaron must have carried half a cooler full of food over from Shaktoolik, as he dished out a meal as soon as he arrived here. His dogs wolfed it down, little Moss actually getting into a squabble with her neighbor over it. Moss is the sister to Ruger, about half his size. Remmy is another dog of that litter, which I guess you know the theme by now, who has developed into a nice lead dog for Aaron, just being shy with people, he has to take him out of lead driving into checkpoints.

Food? Did someone say food??? Aaron Burmeister, 3rd into Koyuk, with Moss and Melinda. (Sebastian Schnuelle)Food? Did someone say food??? Aaron Burmeister, 3rd into Koyuk, with Moss and Melinda. (Sebastian Schnuelle)

While Aaron is getting his snowsuit dried out, its soaking wet with sweat from him skipoling hard, Aliy and Dallas are both up and packing up, planning to leave soon. I think the race for 1st place in now between those 2 mushers. John Baker and Mitch Seavey are hot on Aarons hells. Peter Kaiser took an almost 3 hr rest in Shaktoolik, which will keep the speed in his team. Pete has been posting some very fast runtimes. I still think he is in the hunt for a Top 3 position. With 170 miles left, there is still quite a bit of ground to be made up.

Aliy Zirkle on Sunday's run to Shaktoolik (Sebastian Schnuelle)Aliy Zirkle on Sunday's run to Shaktoolik (Sebastian Schnuelle)

Editor's note: We've posted a gallery of Sebastian's Iditarod photos here.

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