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BREAKING NEWS: I'm Alaska Bound

Maine and Alaska

I love reading the biographies of the great explorers of the great age of exploration. And one thing that is constant with all my heroes is their agility. Their ability to take advantage of slight changes in weather, an unexpected lead that opens in the ice during the night, or -as Roald Amundsen did- completely shift their momentum to a new goal once the old goal is no longer desirable. This past weekend, the winds changed, and I have tried to emulate that dexterity in our team’s goals.

Carpe Diem. Seize the day. As some of you may have already seen, Down East Magazine broke the story of my goal of getting a team of Seppalas to Nome in the Iditarod in 2025. That will be the 100 year anniversary of the heroic “Race For Life” or “The Serum Run”- when Leondhard Seppala and the ancestors of our dogs saved the children of Nome from an outbreak of Diphtheria. Our Seppalas are the descendants of those same dogs, and I feel this would be the greatest tribute I could give to the legacy of Leonhard Seppala and his dogs- To get iditarod qualified, and then to mush a team of Seppalas in the Last Great Race to Nome, Alaska in 2025. That is, however, a very ambitious goal. When we set that goal last spring, we had only 10 adult dogs in our kennel. And there are several mid distance qualifying races that a musher must run- two of which must be 300 miles or longer. We have grown to 14 adults and 4 pups. This was not enough to tackle a 300 mile race this season. And just barely enough dogs to attempt a 200 mile qualifying race this year. This is why we registered for the UP200 in Michigan- to begin chipping away at our ultimate goal. But this morning I notified the UP200 that I must withdraw from that race. Providence has opened a lead in the ice, and I must be flexible enough to change plans to take advantage of it. Last week, I was talking to four time Iditarod champion, Mitch Seavey about our goals for 2025. A decade ago Mitch offered me a job that I ultimately didn't take, but we have stayed in touch ever since. Often we discuss theology. But he is gracious with mushing advice to me as well. I told Mitch last week, “Don Hibbs is a mentor to me, and Lev Shvarts offers me advice from time to time, but I would sure be honored to have your voice of counsel and guidance in my corner for such ambitious goals.” I did not expect what came next.

Four time Iditarod champion and All Alaska Sweepstakes champion, Mitch Seavey.

Mitch is recovering from an injury. Christian Turner of Australia will be racing Mitch’s team in the Iditarod this year. But they need training and conditioning between now and then. His offer went something like, “If you’ll come up and train with me, I’ll let you run them in both of your 300 mile Iditarod qualifiers in January, right here in Alaska.” My thoughts went something like "Ummm… I’ll have to speak with my wife… and my sponsor… and the administrator of my school… but I’ll figure it out… yes. Yes!”

My wife, Tammie, wasn’t thrilled about me being gone for part of the winter- this will be the longest we’ve ever been apart- but she was excited for me, and gave me her blessing and support. My school and district both have offered me their consent and approval. My primary sponsor, Native Dog Food, and the Continental Kennel Club, are supportive of my change of plans as well.

This morning I signed up for both the Copper Basin 300 and the Willow 300. But it all still seems so surreal. Training with one of the greatest mushers in the world. Racing against some of the best mushers in the sport. Racing in Alaska. With a championship team. Just. Wow.

Jonathan Hayes at the finish of the Togo261 Dogsled Expedition

My family and handlers will continue training our team on a scaled down regimen while I am away. Christain will still be running the “100 Mile Wilderness” in February, and Caleb will still be running the “Can Am Crown 100” in March. I could not do this without their support

Mitch Seavey, I know you're a busy man, and probably don't have time to read an article like this during the musher’s busy season. But- a thousand times- Thank You! This is an honor to be entrusted with your team. I look forward to proving that your trust is well placed.

Leonhard Seppala and Bilkin at Poland Spring Maine, where he established his first Seppala Kennel.

After the “Race for Life” in 1925, Leonhard Seppala brought his team to resettle in Maine and founded Poland Spring Seppala Kennels. These race plans will bring us so much closer to realizing our dream of closing that loop and bringing Seppalas from Maine back to Nome, Alaska. We hope you’ll reach out to us and ask how you can help us make history!

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