Musher Scott Janssen’s shining Iditarod moment came on the final stretch of his Last Great Race this year. While the 56-year-old “Mushin’ Mortician” didn’t complete the 2018 Iditarod, he was able to save his good friend and mentor Jim Lanier.
The 77 year-old Lanier was trapped on a chunk of driftwood early Friday between the checkpoints of White Mountain and Safety, in an area known as the Blow Hole. The roughly 15-mile-long formation along the Bering Sea coast acts as a wind tunnel, creating a “blizzard that would close highways in the Lower 48,” according to Janssen.
Janssen’s team was making good time — about 10.2 mph — when he happened to look to his left, where he saw reflectors on a dogsled facing the wrong way and hit his brakes.
“I yelled out, ‘Are you all right?'” Janssen said. “I heard a voice yell out, ‘I need help.’ So I threw my (anchor) down, tipped my sled over and I ran over. And it was my friend Jim Lanier.”
Lanier told Janssen he couldn’t get his team moving.
It turned out Lanier and his team had been there for quite some time. He had taken a wrong turn toward the ocean, turned back around and got his sled caught on the stump of driftwood at the high-tide mark that was buried in snow.
Janssen was able to muster the strength to move the sled off the stump, but the dogs still wouldn’t move. That’s when both men’s eyes started to cloud over, as their corneas started to freeze.
Frostbite and hypothermia were setting in.
“At that point Jim said ‘I’m not going to make it out of here,'” Janssen said. “He says, ‘You need to keep going if you have to.’ I said, ‘Jim, I have a satellite phone, don’t worry about it. I’m going to stay here with you.'”
Janssen laid down a sleeping bag and wrapped his arms and legs around Lanier, as the two mushers tried to keep warm and told stories for more than five hours.
Lanier, a former ranking official in the Democratic Party, and Janssen, who took his dog Thunder and wife Debbie to Donald Trump’s inauguration, shared a moment that Janssen truly appreciates.
“I said, “Jim, the country should be more like us,'” Janssen said. “He said, “What do you mean?’ I said, ‘A Democrat and a Republican — of course the Republican is helping the Democrat.’ It was tongue-in-cheek.”