About the time they were laying a garland of yellow victory
roses around the lead dogs of this year's Iditarod winner, the
cement finisher was trying to snuggle up to a snowbank to sleep,
712 icy miles and almost a week behind.
About the time the winner was tucking in for a 12-hour snooze
after a hot bath, the cement finisher was trying to find enough
kindling in 90[degree]-below windchill to make a fire.
About the time the winner was giving his victory-banquet speech,
five days after mushing his team up Front Street in Nome, Alaska,
to an adoring five-deep crowd, the cement finisher was alone,
trying to decide which ached worse: his freeze-dried 46-year-old
body or his heart, from knowing he'd probably never get to run
the Iditarod again.
The winner was the well-sponsored Doug Swingley, who was awarded
more than $60,000 in cash and a new truck. He's the owner of one
uncatchable dog team, two Iditarod feeder teams and the race
record--just under nine days, three hours, set in 1995.
But a lot of people figured the cement finisher for the real
hero of this Iditarod: twice-divorced loner Shane Goosen, an
unsponsored, wind-gnarled Alaskan, winner of the same sum,
$1,049, that all the way-back-in-the-pack racers got for
finishing the race, owner of a beat-up house, a truck that
doesn't work and--after blowing his last $20,000 on this
race--bubkes in the bank.
"Shane probably won't ever have this chance again," says one
bush pilot. The pilot, two mushers and a friend say Goosen has
cancer. "Agghhh, I got some health things," Goosen said last
Saturday as he fed his team pork in tiny Koyuk, 171 miles from
Nome. "But it ain't cancer, and it ain't for publication."
O.K., so it's a coincidence that after breeding, driving and
loving Alaskan huskies for the better part of 30 years, Goosen
finally scratched up enough dogs and gear and cash to try
mushing's Le Mans. "Well," he grumbled, "I had to do it once,
Put it this way: The cement finisher wasn't a heavy Vegas
favorite. Where Swingley's sled cover bore big-corporation
logos, GOOSEN'S HAD GRETA'S GRILL GOODIES, CLAM GULCH, AK. Where
Swingley dined on a seven-course gourmet meal at the Yukon
checkpoint, Goosen ate one of the bags of pale spaghetti he'd
sealed and shipped more than a month earlier. Where Swingley was
greeted at stops by roars and schoolkids and documentary crews,
Goosen would pull in to the resounding crescendo of one town dog
barking. "Hell," Goosen said. "One time I got to a checkpoint
and they'd already packed up the check-in tent. I had to wake up
Goosen wrecked his sled. Twice. One day his team took him a mile
off course, chasing caribou. Another time he turned his head
just long enough to get thumped off his sled by a low-hanging
limb--and had to run a mile in the pitch black to catch his
team. Exhausted, he fell asleep and off the runners "too many
damn times to count." And he relished every second of it. "I
didn't do this so much to race," he said. "I did this for me and
The Iditarod will tell you more about yourself than a month of
MRIs. No event in sports makes you feel less significant and yet
so wildly human. Spend two weeks trying to keep you and 16 dogs
alive out there with the whipping winds and wolves, and your
other worries get small real quick. "Will I miss it?" Goosen
said. "Hell, I'm already crying."
See, there's just no more money left. Upon finally hitting Nome,
he planned to sell most of his dogs and all his gear and get on
with his life--however long that is--by flying to El Paso and
seeing the 24-year-old son and the five-month-old granddaughter
he has never met, by fixing the holes in his roof, by defrosting.
"Do you know I've never once stood on a sandy beach?" he said.
Goosen didn't do this to get his picture in the paper. He runs
from attention. There was only one thing he wanted when the race
was over: the red lantern that goes to the last-place finisher.
"I want to set that on my fireplace mantel so one day my
grandkids can look at it and say, "Lookit there! Grampa really
did finish the damn thing!"
So, on Monday, a hunched-over hero too tired to quit finally
mushed the 1,161st mile into Nome, but not so you'd notice. The
streets were quiet, the race headquarters mostly closed and the
banquet long over. Goosen didn't get the red lantern--he had the
bad luck to beat two others to the line--but just finishing made
him feel like it was a greater glory than Swingley's.
Hell, maybe it was.