Happy endings

Lanier’s 16th Iditarod turns into quite a tale


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There’s still plenty to be written in the tale of Jim Lanier’s remarkable Iditarod career.

“I’ll write another book,” he said recently after arriving home in Chugiak after completing his 16th career Iditarod.

This year’s event was supposed to be a book tour of sorts for Lanier, who recently completed a memoir called “Beyond Ophir: Confessions of an Iditarod Musher, an Alaskan Odyssey.” Instead, it turned into a bit more as one of Lanier’s dogs became a national celebrity.

The dog, a 9-year-old named May, was running this year’s race on Newton Marshall’s team on loan from Lanier’s Northern Whites Kennel. May got loose from Marshall’s team between the Rohn and Nikolai checkpoints and went missing for six days. Lanier said he didn’t know about the missing dog until a couple days after May got loose.

“I got a cryptic email concerning my wife that said, ‘Your wife is still in Nikolai and they’re about to shut down the checkpoint,’” he said. “I thought, ‘Why in the hell is she still in Nikolai?’”

Lanier then learned about May, and put the pieces together. His wife, Anna Bondarenko, had stayed behind to join the search for the missing dog.

“For six days she chased after that dog, and never saw her,” Lanier said.

Finally, Bondarekno flew to Nome to meet Lanier, who finished the race March 14. Just minutes after Bondarenko greeted him after crossing under the famous Burled Arch, the couple received the heartwarming news that the dog had been found nearly 300 miles from where it got loose.

“That was terrific for her and for me,” Lanier said.

May’s story got national press, and Lanier and Bondarenko ended up going on “Good Morning America.”

“It was a good story,” Lanier said.

Lanier’s storybook race actually had two happy endings. He originally planned to have copies of his new book available in Nome to sign when he arrived. But as he neared Nome, Bondarenko was still frantically waiting for copies to arrive. Just 10 minutes before Lanier arrived by dogsled, Bondarenko learned the books had arrived at the airport.

“She dashed out there, got the books and met me at the finish line,” he said. “She gave me a kiss and the book.”

The happy endings were a great way to end a race that was actually a bit of a slog, Lanier said. Warm, wet conditions on the trail made mushing difficult for most of the 1,000-mile trip.

“The whole race I had two runs that I could call fun,” he said.

Lanier said he was proud of the way his dogs performed in the rough conditions.

“They’d leap up and we’d march out of Dodge without any hesitation,” he said.

Lanier is already looking three years into the future, when he said Bondarenko — herself an Iditarod veteran — plans to come out of retirement to join Jim and their son, Junior Iditarod musher Jimmy, in an attempt to be the first husband-wife-son trio to finish the race.

With more adventures still ahead, the retired physician said he’s already got a title picked out for his next epic tale.

“The next book will be called ‘Way Beyond Ophir,’” he said.

Though he was the oldest musher in this year’s field, Lanier said he has no plans to slow down any time soon.

“At the finish line I was asked, ‘How do you get up for the race?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t get down.’”

Copies of Lanier’s new book (including signed copies) can be found on Lanier’s website at www.northernwhites.com

 

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

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