Mushing: Locals--Who Needs 'Em?

Outside magazine, June 1995

Mushing: Locals--Who Needs 'Em?
By Todd Balf (with Martin Dugard and Alison Osius)

As the first non-Alaskan to win the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Doug Swingley didn't go out of his way to empathize with the grieving hometowners last March. At the Nome finish line, his wife and teenage children were on hand waving the Montana state flag, and Swingley was calling his unhappy rivals crybabies. "Give them a pacifier," said the 41-year-old rancher, whose time of nine days and two hours obliterated Martin Buser's year-old record by nearly a day and a half. The gripes weren't about Swingley's tactics--the four-time Iditarod musher broke the race open by pushing far past the usual layover spots--but about his wife, Nelda, who runs a dog-bootie manufacturing business. She had outfitted many of the top mushers, including runner-up Buser, and according to the losers the equipment was inferior. "It greatly affected our racing," said Buser. "He better do something about it, or he'll be a very unpopular champion." Swingley, who was $90,000 richer for his victory, told Buser and company not to hold their breath for a refund. Wait till next year, said the spurned Alaskans. Swingley's push-the-pace style, well suited to the unusually mild conditions this year, is bound to backfire should more traditional arctic weather return.

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