Two mushers team up to find 13 runaway sled dogs on the Iditarod Trail

By Tegan Hanlon

Updated: March 6, 2019 Posted: March 6, 2019

NIKOLAI — Musher Iditarod Linwood Fiedler’s sled came to an abrupt halt early Tuesday when it hit a stump on a narrow path. And then he lost his team of sled dogs.

“The broken carabiner that ties me to the team. And here we go, 13 dogs, all tied together, running down the trail,” said Fiedler, of Willow. “You can imagine how my heart just sank.”

Fiedler tried to call out, “Whoa!” to stop his team of dogs. But in half a second, he said, they were out of sight. He grabbed his sled and started walking the trail between the Rohn and Nikolai checkpoints. He tried to find the team using the light from his headlamp, hoping they were around the next corner. They weren’t. Embarrassed by the weight of the sled, he said, he finally decided to pull over on the trail and wait.

About 30 minutes later, Swedish musher Mats Pettersson and his team of 14 dogs showed up.

Pettersson had left the previous checkpoint, Rohn, at 2:10 a.m. Tuesday. About 2 miles later, Pettersson said, he saw a flashing headlight. He stopped. Fiedler told him that he had lost his team of sled dogs.

“He saved the day,” Fiedler said. “We tied my sled to the back of his sled. So his poor team of dogs pulled him with his sled and me and my sled.

Pettersson said he didn’t hesitate to help. The Iditarod race rules allow mushers who have lost their team to be assisted by another musher or a motorized vehicle to find their dogs.

About 5 miles later, Fiedler said, his headlamp caught his dogs eyes. The dogs had left the track and sat tangled on an icy river.

“It was like a miracle when we saw the dogs,” Pettersson said. “I was really, really happy for him.”

Fiedler walked down the river, brought his dogs back to the trail, and tied them to his sled. He couldn’t believe they were all together and OK. Pettersson and Fiedler then departed for the next checkpoint, Nikolai. They stopped about 15 minutes apart.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the two mushers worked alongside their sled dog teams in Nikolai, about 263 miles from the 1,000 mile race. Fiedler said his dogs were exhausted and one had a sore wrist, but were otherwise healthy. He planned to take a long rest at the checkpoint.

“I imagine they probably went full throttle and we never do,” Fiedler said.

Fiedler cried as he recounted how Pettersson helped him on the track.

“It’s good in this sport that people give up running so quickly to help others,” he said.

This is Fiedler’s 25th Iditarod start. During the 2017 Iditarod, he fell off his sled after dozing off on the trail. His team proceeded to the next checkpoint without him. In 2016, Iditarod musher Kim Franklin lost his team between Rohn and Nikolai checkpoints.

Bette C. Alvarado