by The Nome Nugget Newspaper
March 24th, 2004


Just 34 minutes after Norwegian Robert Sorlie claimed victory of Iditarod XXXIII, Kotzebue musher Ed Iten and his dog team arrived under the burled arch. An enthusiastic crowd along with Ed’s wife Ruthie and children Katie and Quinn greeted Iten when he finished the 2005 Iditarod in 9 days, 13 hours and 33 minutes.

Iten said he went into this race to win, but his expectation was to be in the top five.

Iten recounted the race saying that rests in the right places at the right time proved to be critical. Still he grapples with the question if his decision to rest for three hours in Shaktoolik cost him the crown or saved him the race.

“Once you lose speed, you’ll never regain it,” he said.

For the 51 year old, the race didn’t start too good but had a great ending. Like lots of teams this year, Iten’s dogs got sick. Up until Rohn, Iten said, he was not thinking of racing when he tried to nurture his team back to health. He rested 6 hours in Rainy Pass, running four and a half hours to Rohn and let the dogs rest again over 6 hours. In McGrath, the dogs slowly recovered and Iten stayed on his schedule of almost equal run and rest times. After giving the team 26.5 hours of rest in Iditarod he continued on to run a conservative schedule. A good run to Anvik followed and then the team started to look healthier and strong enough that Iten decided to make a strait run to Unalakleet from Eagle River, resting on the way.

Traveling together with last years champion Mitch Seavey, Iten said that they have almost identical training programs, which resulted in almost identical runs on the trail. “We are evenly matched with our teams traveling the same speed,” explained Iten. “I enjoyed Mitch’s company immensely.”

In Unalakleet, Iten looked at the times of teams ahead of him and decided to make his move.

His team looking better, and figuring that Norwegian Robert Sorlie can only do so many of the marathon runs that he is famous for, Iten counted on catching the top runners not with lengthy but speedy runs.

“Mitch and I did a 12 hour run with 3 hours of rest between Anvik and Eagle Island,” he said. Then he marched on with a seven-hour run from Eagle to Kaltag, took a two-hour break and pushed to Unalakleet with an 11-hour run and rested for 6 hours.

The team was looking good in Unalakleet. Iten then went to Shaktoolik and rested for three hours there while Mitch Seavey opted to pass through. Iten explained that he rested his dogs because after a rest, they were more likely to maintain the speed and thus the chance to catch Sorlie. “Once the speed changes, it won’t come back,” reasoned Iten.

“Sorlie was chased by Buser, King and Seavey. They crashed and were kind of sacrificial lambs.”

As King, Buser and Seavey slowed down on the coast run, Iten marched forward and made up time. But the race ended short of Iten catching the Norwegian champion. “I could see the food marks of Sorlie on the trail in front of me from where he was pedaling,” said Iten.

“Well, I just got to wait another year for the crown,” Iten concluded.

Liking things as simple as possible, Iten said, he never changed his socks over the duration of the whole race “Heck, I never changed no socks, no boot liners, no nothing,” he said. Preferring wool to high-tech micro-fibers, he said, he was damp but warm. “I want things simple. Simple clothing. Simple gear. Simple sleds.” Iten said he has no interest in the so-called Easy Riders, or sleds with a seat.

When asked why he chose to run a more conservative schedule rather than join Buser, King and Seavey in the chase of Sorlie, Iten explained, “We live sort of hand-to-mouth, so I have to run conservatively to finish in the money.”

“I’m not racing for a trophy and a paycheck, but it helps to carry over to the next race,” Iten said.

Without any bug money sponsors, Iten works as a carpenter and didn’t start training until December, Iten went on to place second in the prestigious Kusko 300 in Bethel behind Mitch Seavey.

The low-key dog musher lives 26 miles across the Sound from Kotzebue at a camp on the banks of Fish Creek with his wife, children, dog handler Tolef Monson and a kennel of almost 70 dogs. His nearest neighbor is three miles away, Louis Nelson, on the other side of Fish Creek. The Iten's live a subsistence lifestyle, trap, hunt and fish with the help of their dog teams and Icelandic horses. Living off the road system, Lynden Air Cargo proved to be an invaluable sponsor for Iten, flying his dog food to Kotzebue and also transporting the Iten's to and from the races.

Shortly after arriving in Nome, Iten said that Buser was not the only handicapped person on the trail. “A few days prior to the race, I stabbed myself in the knee with a knife when I was skinning an animal,” he said with a wry smile.
He had to be on antibiotics for the duration of the race and had trouble kneeling down.

Iten has won the Kobuk 440 seven times, the Kuskokwim 300 in Bethel, and placed second this year. Iten plans to take the same dogs that raced the Iditarod with him to the upcoming Kobuk 440.

But for now, Iten is off to warmer climates, saying that he promised his family a 10-day trip to Mexico. “I don’t know what to expect,” he said with a grin. “I’ve never been south of Minnesota.”

Iten is sponsored by Lynden Air Cargo, H. Watt and Scott, Drake Construction, Northwest Arctic Borough, AC Kotzebue and Wilderness Ski-Doo in Nome.

View article with photos and captions (pdf)


© 2005 The Iten Kennel, Kotzebue, AK. All rights reserved.
Banner photo by Jeff Schultz