February and March have become two of my favorite months. It’s not because of the snow or the cold, but because of two events — the Yukon Quest and Iditarod. These two premiere distance sled dog races pit the impossible against the unlikely. It’s man and beast partnered up against time and weather. This year’s Quest had the closest finish on record. After racing for nearly 1,000 miles, the two leaders crossed the finish line separated by 26 seconds.
As the races begin and the mushers begin establishing run/rest intervals and paces, it is always amazing to watch the almost constant changing of the lead. When someone stops to snack their team, three other teams go by.
When those teams stop to snack their teams, the lead changes back. It’s almost like watching the tide and the waves.
As the waves come in and roll out, it is impossible to tell whether the tide is coming in or going out. However, if you watch long enough, you can begin to see the almost imperceptible change as the water recedes or rises according to the tides. While there is much that I do not understand, it is interesting to me to watch them and try to figure out each musher’s race strategy.
As I sit and write at this moment, Jim Lanier is in the lead out of Ophir, racing for gold in Cripple. By the time this writing hits print, we will know whether his strategy worked. Jim is 71 years old and is racing his 14th Iditarod. He has run at least one in each of the five decades that the race has existed. He has completed every race he started, which could be a record itself, and the only blemish came last year. He had signed up for the race and had to withdraw because of hip surgery.
He doesn’t have a chance of winning the race itself this year. The lead pack is less than four hours behind him, and they have just come off their mandatory 24-hour layover. Jim has not taken his 24-hour layover yet.
Lance Mackey arrived in Nikolai two days ago in third place. Late that night, he arrived in McGrath in 10th place. The next day, he had slipped as far as 44th place, as most of the mushers went on to Takotna, and a couple to Ophir before they stopped for their mandatory 24-hour layover. This morning he was in 11th place out of Ophir and racing for Cripple, but two of the mushers ahead of him haven’t yet taken their 24. By the time the mushers come off the Yukon River at Kaltag and start on the trail to Unalakleet, the true race leaders will be evident.
The disciples of Christ were jockeying for position also. They weren’t racing dogs, but they were looking to establish a hierarchy among Jesus’ followers. Perceiving what they were doing, Jesus said; “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He was not telling them to fall back. He was teaching a principle. We are not in this world locked in a battle to become the top dog. That place is already taken. We are here to take our place as servants. The only question that remains is who we are serving.