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Don't cry for Iditarod laggers

3/25/2005
Norwegian musher Robert Sorlie won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but he's not the only racer enjoying himself in Alaska. 

McGRATH, Alaska — Phil Morgan is running with dogs in heat
and was more than 200 miles behind the leaders of the Iditarod
Trail Sled Dog race Friday

He must be miserable, right? Wrong.

"I'm having the time of my life," the 44-year-old Anchorage
pilot said just before pulling out of this windy Interior Alaska
town firmly in 69th place. Only three others were lower in the
standings in the 1,100-mile race to Nome.

For Morgan and other laggers, just participating in the Iditarod
is the prize, the thrill, the test of endurance. So what if they're
still 722 miles from the finish line? So what if they're in another
league from front-runners like 2000 runner-up Paul Gebhardt of
Kasilof, Alaska, 2003 winner Robert Sorlie of Norway, and four-time
champion Martin Buser of Big Lake, Alaska?

"I've been around mushers for a long time, and so many middle-
to end-of-packers see this as an adventure they may experience only
once," said Steve Kovach, an Iditarod volunteer in McGrath. "It
doesn't matter where they place. To finish this race is an
incredible accomplishment. Anyone who's willing to try it has got
to have a lot of gumption."

Not that it's been an easy run for Morgan, who took the required
24-hour layover in McGrath. Much of the earlier trail was slushy,
making for an unstable ride. Worse, three of his female dogs went
into heat, creating a tizzy among the males during the 128-mile
stretch between the checkpoints of Rohn and McGrath.

"We had close to a hundred tangles," Morgan said. "It's not
an exaggeration to say we've crashed at least 100 times."

He dropped one of the females in McGrath and put the other two
at the back of the gangline, hopefully out of distraction's way.

"We're ready to go to Nome," he said.

So was rookie Greg Parvin — sort of. Many of his dogs were
stricken with diarrhea early on, he's crashed his sled more times
than he could count and a lack of sleep has shrunk his eyes into
slits.

Until now, running dogs was a pleasant hobby for the 37-year-old
musher, who works as a criminal defense attorney in Nome.

"I'm exhausted, totally exhausted," he said after gulping down
a hot dog at the checkpoint here. "I'm used to training dogs on
comfortable, groomed trails. When you run the Iditarod, you're
going to be tested. I look at it like a personal challenge to see
if I can make it, if my dogs can make it."

By Friday afternoon, his dogs were rebounding, thanks to
numerous visits with volunteer race veterinarians. Maybe now Parvin
would be able to get some sleep instead of worrying about them.

However long it takes to reach Nome is OK with him. Finishing
near the end won't detract from the experience, he said.

"It's like being a very good weekend golfer," Parvin said.
"You're not going to try to win the Masters, but that doesn't mean
you can't go out and play the best you can — and not be discouraged
because you can't beat Tiger Woods."