The 53-year-old winner of the 41st Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race made history this week as the oldest winner of the grueling endurance race, but an Iditarod dog lost for seven days may have had the most amazing journey at this year’s race.
May, a strawberry blond female, got loose last Thursday from the team of Newton Marshall, the Jamaican musher leading her sled in the 1,000-mile race across Alaska.
When Marshall stopped mid-race Thursday to help a fellow musher repair her sled, the lines of the two sleds became entangled, and May was separated from the team, according to a post on Marshall’s fan Facebook page.
As the search for May, a veteran Iditarod dog, got under way, it also played out on social media, with the team behind her owner, veteran Iditarod musher Jim Lanier, who also competed in this year’s race but did not race with May, posting sightings and frequent updates to his own Facebook page.
Lanier’s wife, Anna Bondarenko, flew to Alaska to “be the familiar face to call May in from the cold,” according to a post on Facebook. She relied on help from local residents to search for May, borrowing snow machines and crisscrossing the state by plane as new sightings of May came in.
May was seen running along the Iditarod trail numerous times but was always missed by those who spotted her, and by Anna who was “always a day behind her, due to weather issues flying between checkpoints,” read a Facebook post.
On Thursday, with hope running slim, the couple got the good news that May had been found by three snowmachiners on a trail.
“We had just pulled over on the side of the trail … and about 100 yards away a dog was trotting down the trail,” one of the snowmachiners, Kaitlin Koch, 22, told the Anchorage Daily News. “It was coming at a pretty slow pace, and we were waiting to see if someone on a four-wheeler or snowmachine was with her.”
Describing the dog as alone, skinny and with blood on her paws, Koch said she got off her sled and approached May, who welcomed the help.
“She came right up to me,” Koch said. “She sat in my lap the entire trip back to Big Lake.”
The trio had doubts that the missing Iditarod dog they had heard about could be this one, so far away from the race’s end, but they called Iditarod headquarters to report her found, just in case. One hour later, one of Lanier’s friends arrived to take the dog home, reports the Daily News.
“It’s an incredible journey,” said the friend, Stan Smith, to the Daily News, also noting the dog had eaten canned salmon and kibble stew as part of her recovery.
A Facebook post from Lanier, who could not be reached today by ABCNews.com, estimates that May traveled over 150 miles before being found while Smith, himself an Iditarod veteran, told the Daily News he thought May likely traveled 300 to 400 miles.
Based on the sightings of May reported along the course, Smith, who also could not be reached today, believes the dog was trying to find her way back to the start of the race but missed a crucial turn along the way.
“She was absolutely running home,” he told the Daily News. “She traveled several times from Rohn to Nikolai, all the way up the Dalzell Gorge, up the Alaska Range to the other side, through Rainy Pass, across Shell Lake; she was spotted multiple times in Skwentna. So many reports of seeing her. They were all heading south.”
While May’s musher, Newton Marshall, the improbable dog sled racer from Jamaica, was forced to drop out of the race in Nikolai after May became lost, her owner went on to finish the race.
Lanier crossed the finish line of his 16th Iditarod on Thursday — the same day May was found — in 35th place. The race took him 10 days, 10 hours, 21 minutes and eight seconds to complete, according to his Facebook page.