From Twila, affectionately (sometimes) known as the Alpha B:
A lot of people have asked me why we chose this slogan, many think it is silly to aspire to take last place in anything, and others think we are eliminating our team’s potential for success by announcing to the world that we hope to finish last. Maybe a brief history of the Red Lantern would help?
In the early years in Alaska and the Yukon, supplies and mail were mainly carried by dog team. Dog drivers relied on a series of roadhouses and outposts along their routes between villages. These early mushers carried their cargo regardless of time of day, weather or trail conditions and since this was incredibly dangerous they developed a safety system. When a musher was on the trail between roadhouses a kerosene lamp was lit, hung and not extinguished until the team(s) were in safely. Not only did the lamp help the dog drivers find the outpost, a lit lamp also signified that there were team(s) out on the trail somewhere.
In the mid 80’s the tradition was revived by hanging a red lantern on the burl arch in Nome. The lantern is lit at the beginning of the Iditarod every year, hung at the finish line and not extinguished until the last musher has crossed the finish line. That musher crossing the finish signifies the official end of the race, and that musher is the winner of the “Red Lantern Award”.
Modern day Iditarod rules allow the elimination of teams that are not “in a position to make a valid effort to compete”. Specifically; “If a team has not reached McGrath within seventy-two (72) hours of the leader, Grayling/Galena within ninety-six (96) hours of the leader or, Unalakleet within one hundred twenty (120) hours of the leader, it is presumed that a team is not competitive.” Winners of the Red Lantern Award in this day and age may NOT even be the last team on the trail, they might be the last team ALLOWED to finish the race. In 2009, Rob Loveman was withdrawn for non-competitiveness, in 2010 Hank Debruin was forced to scratch or be withdrawn due to non-competitiveness, even though he was well under the Unalakleet time limit. What a shame these mushers were not allowed to finish! I do understand why the ITC put this non-compete rule into effect; volunteers were being kept extra days at the checkpoints for the last couple stragglers to make a camping trip out the the race. That being said, it is a painful end to a life’s dream to be withdrawn when you are making sincere effort to finish the race in a timely fashion.
So let’s take a look at our chances of actually finishing the “Last Great Race On Earth”. It can be done by a malamute team. In looking at the average speeds of some of the back-of-the-pack teams over the last few years, it is possible to finish before being dq’ed. Possible-IF the team is at their physical best, IF trail conditions and storms keep the leaders of the pack slower than normal, IF there are no serious gear malfunctions, etc. In other words, if EVERYTHING goes our way, we will finish. We are determined to leave as little to chance as possible, training hard, making sure our dogs are as fit and healthy as possible, making certain that our musher is as experienced (as well as fit and healthy:-) as possible, and using every possible tool at our disposal to increase chances of success. With all of this, please understand that this is a huge undertaking for our breed; to be able to finish a race of this magnitude, even coming in last to win the widow’s lamp, would be a great honor. It would be the culmination of decades of breeding, tens of thousands of miles of experience on the runners, and thousands upon thousands of miles of training on the team. It will take over one hundred thousand dollar to get there. It will mean that we eat, breathe, sleep (not much) and live this dream for the next 2 years. We will sacrifice much; money, rest, vacations, fancy coffee drinks, new clothes (except those that help us get down the trail better:-), date nights, having any life outside of dogs.