Iron Dog teams hit the trail

Rookies, veterans ready for 2,000 mile run


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Eagle River’s Chris Olds heads into the woods after crossing Big Lake at the start of the Tesoro Iron Dog snowmachine race on Sunday, Feb. 17. Trailing Olds is his partner, Mike Morgan.

Matt Tunseth

Every racer in the Iron Dog has a reason for wanting to make the 2,000-mile run across the frozen Alaska wilderness.

For Eagle River’s Vince Salzbrun, reaching the starting line on Big Lake Sunday, Feb. 17 was the culmination of a lifelong dream.

“It’s on my bucket list,” said Salzbrun, who grew up in Bethel and now lives in Eagle River.

The annual snowmachine race from Big Lake to Nome and then onto Fairbanks is called “The Toughest in the World,” and is wildly popular in the Bush.

“I always watched it growing up as a kid,” said Salzbrun, a Staff Sgt. who works as a Black Hawk helicopter crew chief for the Alaska National Guard.

Salzbrun is teaming up with Warrant Officer Mike Williams of Anchorage on the National Guard team’s Ski-Doo MX Z X 600 sleds, which Salzbrun said are world-class machines.

“The sleds are looking fantastic,” he said, moments before hopping aboard his bright yellow snowmachine bound for Nome.

Salzbrun and Williams should have no trouble working together on the trail. The pair was deployed twice together in Kosovo. Salzbrun said getting to ride the Guard’s sleds is a huge honor.

“I’m really excited to represent the National Guard,” he said.

Winning the race, he said, isn’t the primary goal. He just wants to finish in one piece.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said.

Eagle River’s Chris Olds said his plan is more ambitious.

“Obviously the goal is to win,” said Olds, a two-time champion who is teamed up with Anchorage’s Mike Morgan on a pair of Polaris Switchback PRO-R 600’s.

But with a field that’s chock full of former champs, the 41-year-old said it’s anyone’s race.

“There’s a lot of good racers out there,” he said.

Olds said the key to the race will be to stay close to the leaders, keep the sleds in good condition and put the team in position to make a push at the finish.

“We’ll take it easy at first,” he said.

Olds and Salzbrun are among six locals in this year’s race, which will finish Saturday, Feb. 23 in Fairbanks. Also taking off from Big Lake Sunday were Cody Kubitz, Stan Brown, John Dean and Tyson Johnson.

Dean and Brown are running together. The duo also entered last year, but failed to finish the arduous challenge. This year, the Ski-Doo riders said they were planning to use the 2012 experience to their advantage.

“Don’t let the nerves get to you,” said Brown.

Last year, the pair lost six hours on the first day. This time around, Dean said the biggest goal will be to stay in one piece and make it to Fairbanks.

“The biggest thing is you just want to get there,” he said.

For up-to-date Iron Dog standings, visit www.irondograce.org

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskatar.com.

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