Winning the Iditarod; The GB Jones Story
On 9/11/2001 GB Jones moved to his property that borders the Iditarod Trail, in preparation to run the Iditarod Race. In GB’s words, "It was also the day when evil men tried to destroy our nation, but it only made us stronger, more determined, more American. Regardless of what’s thrown our way, we have to develop a stronger resolve and just keep going. We just have to." GB Jones has never finished in first place in the Iditarod, or any other sled dog race. In 2002 and again in 2004 he completed the 1,100-mile sled dog race at the "end of the pack." And he scratched from the 2003 race. This is GB’s account of his journey to Nome–how winning can occur to those who don’t arrive first. GB’s ability to take you on the race with him, with all the emotions and physical demands is unlike any other racer’s. You will feel you have run the race—and won—just like he has. Never again will you look at winning or losing in the same way. Come and run the Iditarod... with GB Jones. -softcover, 152 pages, 102 photos.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1 Snow Comes to the Iditarod 17
Chapter 2 Chaos Comes to the Iditarod 35
Chapter 3 The Loafer from Ophir 67
Chapter 4 Proving Yourself 85
Chapter 5 Cymba 101
Chapter 6 Nome! 113
Chapter 7 Winning the Iditarod 121
Chapter 8 Getting Started 133
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CHAPTER 4: PROVING YOURSELF
I talked to Emmitt Peters. He recalled having signed my sled a couple of years ago. I told him that the same sled was back here in Ruby and to check out his signature.
He came back later and said he couldn’t find it. His name had surrendered to the adversities of the trail only days before. His signature was among many names that had exploded along that trail way back near Finger Lake when I slammed into that tree. It now seemed so very long ago?and Nome was still a long way off!
Emmitt once again signed the Grateful Sled, and once again, I had officially closed down another checkpoint. Ruby’s Iditarod 2004 ended as I began the first of many river miles going down the Yukon. This Jewel on the Yukon won’t see another Iditarod until 2006.
This is my fourth time on the Yukon, and it’s always been seen in the winter when its vast waterway is frozen. Perhaps one day I will see her in the summer, when she freely gives up her abundance of returning salmon.
I did some skijoring and rode snow machines here many years ago with the military. It was a worthwhile time of life. I was getting fed and paid to learn various military skills and to help defend our nation from outside evils. Back then, we took time to do some ice fishing and just enjoy life on the Yukon while still training proficiently. The younger troops were caught up in that thing about taking a leak in the Yukon and being a real Sourdough Alaskan by having done so.
Okay, so maybe that day I joined the ranks of the Alaskan Sourdoughs.
In spite of lots of duct tape patchwork on my boots, clean dry socks, and new trash bag liners, my feet were not doing so good. The frostbite was worse on my right toes, but both feet stung. My back was also bothering me, but the dogs were behaving, so it wasn't all that bad.
When I first got Major, I didn’t really take to him. He was wild and unmanageable from the start. If he ever got loose, it might be days before I finally caught him. He was just too wild. Gradually I took a liking to this black and brown dog. He wasn’t really so bad after all. I can now turn him loose in the kennel area, and he freely comes to me. He’s always been a no-nonsense dog in harness and always ran in a team or wheel position.
Sometimes in a desperate situation, you have to do desperate things. It was at one of these moments of desperation that I decided to put Major up front in lead with Diamond. It worked. Not perfect, but it worked. Major was something like a loose cannon up there leading the team, just prancing around, checking out everything and just a groovin' and a movin’ down the trail. But at least he was getting us down the trail. Old dogs. New tricks.
Meet Bob Jones. No relation. Once again I met up with him; we were in Galena. Even though Bob and his traveling companion were each on a snow machine, I kept meeting these guys up the trail. They have very literally followed the Iditarod each year for the past several years?by snowmachines. They obviously have very long campouts in order to be able to keep seeing me at various places up the trail.
I almost ran over Bob way back at the buffalo tunnels. That was the first time I met him. That was also the time when I had that buffalo crap on my bag. Anyway, I almost ran over him.
It surprised every dog and me, but more than all of us, it surprised Bob!
He and his partner had just set up a big tent near the tunnels, and it was located in a scenic area overlooking a frozen river my team was about to embark on. The team was going strong. (My team is very capable of going fast; it just doesn’t happen too often!)
We loped past the tent, and as we made a turn in the trail, there was Bob on the trail taking photos of a quiet Alaskan scene, only to be interrupted by the rapid passing of sixteen Alaskan Huskies (GB huskies), GB, and the spirit of Cymba! Bob lost his footing and fell to the trail. He was okay.
I would see him again in Cripple where he took a photo of me holding the River’s book, and another photo of me holding my Dad’s sharpening stone that I was taking up the trail to Nome for Jarret my nephew.
Bob was here in Galena. Who would have thought that my team was making about the same progress as a couple of snowmachines?
Ararad Khatchikian would be the next victim of the trail. He’s that Italian guy. He scratched here in Galena. I hate looking into the eye of a scratched musher. I know about the anguish and the pain. Looking into the eyes of a scratched Iditarod musher tells of the loss of a dream?a very big loss.
May we all go through life without having to be scratched from fulfilling our dreams and ambitions. But if we do have to scratch and we survive it okay and re-bound, we are indeed stronger and wiser.
Yeah, back in Galena I was in some trouble. My right foot looked bad, and my right, duct - taped boot had split wide open. I put another thick coating of duct tape on both boots. I just let the duct tape flow! This stuff really is a great invention. I left Galena, and so did Iditarod 2004.
Too many hours later we reached Nulato. It had been a long haul getting here against a warm sun.
Buffer was hurting. I like this dog. He’s a handsome looking guy, but has always carried a tad bit too much weight. His two different colored eyes stand him apart from others. Buffer’s trail was coming to an end, and I was sorry to see that.
Chalky, too, was hurting. This had been Matt’s dog?a good leader. Big, hairy, and a little too slow for serious speed racing.
Both Chalky and Buffer’s body language told it all, and by being in tune with both of these dogs, I respected their message; their race was over. They had done their best, their very best. It was over. My sincere thanks, guys.
Meet George Bradley of Nulato! This young Native “GB” of Nulato wanted my dropped dog, Chalky, so ...I gave Chalky to him. I got his mom’s permission first. She told me that Chalky would be an indoor dog. Hearing that was a pleasant surprise. We got the blessings of the Iditarod Race Marshall that Chalky could stay with GB (the other one). I sensed that I would see Chalky again and bid him farewell. It’s never easy.
Buffer would be flown back to the kennel and yup?to a steak dinner!
Diamond has been a good leader, tried and true for sure. He, too, was getting weary of running up front. Both of his wrists were sore, and I treated them with an expensive and effective ointment, which I would massage into his wrists. While sleeping, he frequently wore wrist wraps.
The school children go all out in making real first class posters of every musher on the trail. In the past, I have looked up the poster of myself and signed a note of appreciation for the student who made the poster. It didn’t happen this year. I looked briefly for my poster, got tired, and fell asleep.
At Nulato, I was told there might be some drinking of alcohol by one or two of the locals. Just be aware.
I got a bit of a jump on the day by waking up around 3:00 a.m. and tending to the dogs. Went I went out back behind the checkpoint and used the outhouse. That Styrofoam padding on the seat does wonders as long as nobody pees on it. After I had done my business, I got ready to leave. I couldn’t find my hat.
It was more than a hat. It was the primary protective headgear for my early morning jaunt to Kaltag this cold crisp morning. I needed my hat now.
My headlamp revealed the tragedy of a hat, which had fallen down the hole and sunk into the depths of perdition below. It was a low point in my race, and even lower for the hat.
Do I reach down and pull it out?
I needed that hat. But not in it’s current condition.
Do I reach down and get it out or not?
Yup. I reached deep down in and grabbed it. I had to. I put it in a plastic bag and sent it back home. It’s not a good way to start your day off.
I said my good-byes to Buffer, and I was off for Kaltag. Once at Kaltag, about forty-two miles away, I’d be off the Yukon.
I always look forward to jumping onto the Yukon, and am just as eager to leave it.
The final Nulato 2004 Iditarod story had just been written. The Red Lantern musher was here. He gave away a dog. Lost his hat. Found it. Sent it away. Moved slowly on to Kaltag.
Once at Kaltag I felt the pressure of moving on. Just a year ago I was here and scratched. Not on this race though.
Even though I had just got here, I was preparing to leave. Didn’t even bother to open up a fresh bale of straw for the twelve dogs.
A 76-year-old Native Elder walked over and asked me how it was going. I was feeling a little down and told him I really didn’t know why I was in this race. He simply replied, “To prove to yourself.” He didn’t say anything else. He didn’t have to.
I entered this race under no pretense of winning that new Dodge or that giant check. Every musher enters this race for their own specific goals to be met. If you meet those goals, whatever they are, then you’ve won the race.
We all want to challenge ourselves in life?to prove ourselves. I think that Elder knows of what he speaks.
While at Kaltag, I was informed that just a few hours before, and back at Nulato, a young guy killed himself. Alcohol had been involved, I was told. He left some kids behind. This bothered me a lot. I was saddened and angered. What a waste. Nothing, absolutely nothing in this life—nothing—can be so horrible and eternally wrong as to cause you to take your own life. Nothing! I thought about the kids, and that thought stuck with me down the trail.
A memorial was now being planned here in Kaltag for the Nulato man.
Iditarod 2004 ends here on the Yukon, and a funeral begins.
It’s good to be back on land, and it will be even better when I reach the Western coast of Alaska?ninety miles away!
Having left the frozen river however, means having to negotiate various overland obstacles with a sled that had seen better days.
And the winds came back with a horrible vengeance?those wicked, mean winds that whip at you and the dogs at every second, never giving you a break. As we entered the Tri-pod Flats, those damnable winds slapped us around in a most unmerciful fashion. Nasty winds they were.
The dogs wanted no part of this blowing snow, lost trails, and blistering slaps to the face, and I didn’t want it either. But I wasn’t going to shut down the team in all this chaos and say, “Woe is us.” We had to keep going.
The Tri-pod Flats cabin was ahead—somewhere—and we weren’t stopping until we got there. No exceptions. “Hike! Hike!”
I wonder if all those high-speed mushers before me had to go through any of this chaos and discomfort.
It took a long time, through a lot of face-slapping torment, before we reached the BLM cabin at Tri-pod flats.
I got my cooker out, poured some bottles of Heet into it, fired it up, and gave the team a warm meal. We were home, if only temporarily.
All was quiet, we were out of the wind, and nobody else was around?until we heard the roar of several snowmachines.
The “sweepers” had finally caught up with me! This is a group of folks who follow the tail end of the pack up the trail. They monitor trash on the trail (there was lots!) and slow pokes (there was one!)
A couple of the sweepers looked at my sled and saw the name of Norback from McGrath. They, too, know the Norbacks and other good folks I knew. The Norbacks had signed my sled in 2002, and their signatures were still surviving the trail. Not so with some of the other names. One of the sweepers told me he saw pieces of my sled about five or ten miles back down the trail. Yup, that was from my sled. No, I’m not going back to get those pieces of Michigan Ash.
The sweepers left. They actually carry little menacing brooms on their machines! I liked these men and women, but was glad to see them move on up the trail. I could have the cabin to myself. Total solitude and a very deep sleep followed.
Back on the trail again, we all felt better. No winds and the dawning of a new and brighter day. About thirty miles farther, we passed the Old Woman Cabin. That’s where the Sweepers had stayed. It was an ordeal passing their several snowmachines and cargo sleds as the dogs always feel compelled to nose around, shop around, explore, pee, gander, space out, etc. It was always an ordeal when we passed by anybody or anything associated with people or dogs?always an ordeal. Patience and perseverance come to mind. So do frustration and a couple of other words.
I will make Unalakleet this early evening if all goes well.
About fifteen miles from Unalakleet, it finally happened. We hit a small trench in the trail, and it was just enough to break that one last remaining stanchion on the right side of my sled. It was a very bad feeling. Your heart just sinks into your soul and you think the worst?this journey has just ended! My mind flashed back to Mark in McGrath who warned me about going on with this sled. We both knew that if this final stanchion broke, so could all my Iditarod dreams and all that stuff about proving things to myself.
There was no other option, just drive on to Unalakleet and do some major repairs. I had been running the left runners for a very long distance, and now I was not only riding the left runner, but found myself frequently lifting up on the right side to compensate for the sagging on the right.
Movement to Unalakleet goes from slow to slower. I am once again carrying Sasha in the basket, and have been since we left Kaltag. This sister of Sport has some sore wrists and shoulders. Sasha is a sprint-type dog and lacks body fat and a good coat of hair for a marathon sled dog race. I always keep a good dog coat on her and Sport.
The singing continues, “Come Saturday morning we will remember long after Saturday is gone ... come Saturday morning, I’m going away with my friend?just I and my friend ...”
At long last I reach the West Coast of Alaska. It is so cool to be back here in Unalakleet.
It wasn’t so cool a year ago when Charlie Boulding and I were here. We had both scratched for differing reasons, and all our colleagues were moving on up the trail to Nome. It was just not a good feeling.
There would be no time for a nap here. After the dogs had been taken care of, I began major sled repairs. I got my big, yellow-handled axe out and duct-taped it to that one last stanchion that had not yet entirely broken off. The axe was just the right length and was now a permanent fixture of the sled. The axe covered up Jeff King’s signature and his positive words: “Keep on Truckin’.”
"GB Jones’ writing is vibrant, entertaining and personal, like catching up with a good friend at the kitchen table. We get to share his enthusiasm, feel his fear, and understand his obstinance when faced with an undertaking like the Last Great Race. Winning the Iditarod takes us along for a fast ride and inspires us to prove ourselves as well."
"GB Jones is living a harsh and hard life, but is enjoying every second of it. To speak with the man, you can see the devotion that he has to the sport and to his dogs. In reading his words, you can feel the realities and humor and humanity that all is a part of making the Iditarod such a great event. You will get a lump in your throat when you read what GB says about Cymba, but realize that her spirit truly lives with him and the race. To even race in this sport makes a musher as well as the team, winners."
"A true account of the Last Great Race, passionately told by the author who endured its hardships, and of his obvious love and admiration for his dogs."
-Avril Johannes, Author of When The Wolf Calls
"I thoroughly enjoyed G.B.’s book. It was a wonderful read and a great insight as to what G.B. is all about ...It is beautifully written and a most touching story and one I will read again and again and certainly one I will buy for my friends to enjoy."
"Winning the Iditarod"
Review By Casey Ressler, Frontiersman Valley Life Editor
Ask any finisher of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and they'll tell you that while they may not be a race champion they certainly are a winner for completing the grueling, 1,100-mile race.
Under that premise, the natural title for Knik musher G.B. Jones' new book is "Winning the Iditarod." Jones, who finished in the back of the pack in both 2002 and 2004 and scratched in 2003 and in this year's race, epitomizes that philosophy.
He pours his heart and soul into the race — not to mention his money — and he isn't under the illusion that someday he'll be the first to Nome. It would be nice, but it probably isn't realistic.
But just being out on the Iditarod Trail with his trusted canine companions makes him a winner, much like a good majority of all Iditarod mushers who run the race for the same reason Jones does — it's a dream realized.
"When you finish the race in Nome, you feel like you just won it," Jones said. "That's why we do it."
"Winning the Iditarod" wasn't meant to be a book, Jones said. While he dreams
of Iditarod every year, the dream of becoming an author never entered Jones' head, he said.
"Once I get back off the trail, I usually write every day or so on my Web site, kind of a way my supporters can see how me and the dogs are doing," Jones said. "I feel like I owe that to my supporters. One of them said it should be a book, and they contacted Tony Russ, and one thing led to another and now I've written a book. I never really intended to do it, though,"
Tony Russ owns Northern Publishing, which has put out a number of Alaska titles, most of which are hunting related. But nothing says "Alaska" quite like the Iditarod.
G.B.'s race results do not seem that impressive to some race followers ...although his finishing places have not been outstanding, his finishing of two Iditarod’s are personal successes,” Russ writes in the book’s forward. “ He runs his own race with his personal goals in mind, and this attitude comes through to Iditarod fans who follow G.B.’s personal race. In G.B.’s mind, a finish means he has won his personal race.
Jones said that so far, the reaction to the book has been “very favorable.”
The book isn’t a manual on how to win the race, but rather an inside look at the race in the back of the pack, where some of the best stories turn up. The book takes you through G.B.’s 2004 race, from the beginning to the very end, in Nome where chaos meets the mushers. He finished in 76th place, just 12 minutes ahead of the Red Lantern winner, but accomplishing his goals mean more to Jones than anything else, and that feeling truly comes through in the book.
This year, Jones didn’t enjoy as much success. A handful of problems surfaced even before he lift Willow, and ultimately, he scratched in Skwentna.
“Maybe next year I’ll write, “Losing the Iditarod,” he joked. “But I’ll be back. I feel like I owe it to my supporters to give them a better showing than this year. I’ll come back stronger.”
That kind of attitude has make Jones a favorite among many race fans.
The Iditarod is in his blood, and it’s hard to imagine Jones not attempting the race. It’s even in his blood during the summer – when the Iditarod signups are held each summer, Jones can be found camping out at the Iditarod Trail Committee Headquarters on Knik-Goose Bay Road at least a week prior. Why? So he can be the first person to sing up for the race.
If you happen to catch Jones at ITC during that week, you’re in for a great time. Chances are you’ll get to see the Grateful Sled, his trusty sled that has been signed by hundreds of people, and you’ll get to meet a dog or two. You’ll also walk away feeling like you made a friend.
“If you do have any opportunity to meet G.B., don’t pass it up. He will greet you with a hearty, arm-pumping handshake, a warm hello, and a genuine smile,” Russ writes in the book. “Personal stories about mushers abound on the trail of Iditarod glory. G.B.’s is one you should experience firsthand.
The book is available in bookstores and at Carrs/Safeway and Wal-Mart, Jones said.
“I never dreamed of writing a book,” he said. “It’s weird when you see your book in the store.”
For more information about Jones and his Iditarod stories, people can visit Jones’ web site at www.alaskanmusher.com.
The following is an Editorial Review taken from the Amazon website (5/25/06)
WINNING THE IDITAROD
Editorial Reviews Book Description
GB Jones Has Never Finished In First Place In The Iditatod, or any other dog sled race. In 2002, and again in 2004, he completed the 1,100 mile sled dog race near the end of the pack. And he scratched from the 2003 race. This is GB's account of his journey to Nome-proof that winning can occur for those who don't arrive first.