Two Months Later, the Iditarod Champion May Finally Get a Ride Home

Thomas Waerner was contending for the lead in the Iditarod sled canine race in mid-March. Yet as he targeted on the race and his canines, he couldn’t assist decide up the whispers at relaxation stops: Coronavirus. Covid-19. Flights canceled. Borders closed.

When Waerner, 47, crossed the end line in first place on March 18, successful the race in solely his second strive, he celebrated. But he additionally confronted a stark actuality in a world a lot modified since the ceremonial begin of the race 11 days earlier than. He knew that he and his canines may not have the ability to get residence to Norway.

Sure sufficient, greater than two months later, Waerner and the 16 sled canines are nonetheless residents of Alaska.

“I had a feeling when we were still at the Yukon River — you get messages,” he mentioned on Monday. His spouse, Guro, who was anticipating to satisfy him at the end line, determined to fly again to Norway a few days earlier than the race ended.

Still, Waerner refused to be alarmed whereas on the course. “In a long-distance race, you don’t worry what’s going to be around the next corner,” he mentioned. “I didn’t think about it.”

But due to flight cancellations, particularly for cargo planes, and border safety guidelines, he quickly realized: “I can get home, but I can’t get home with my dogs. And I won’t leave them.”

Over the previous two months, he has lived with buddies, taken his canines for walks and tried to determine a way, any means, to get out of Alaska. The canines, although, are under no circumstances bothered about being stranded in the flawed hemisphere.

“Dogs are a lot better than us humans to live in the moment,” Waerner mentioned. “They like to train. We go walking. They enjoy it.”

At residence in Norway, Guro, a veterinarian, is taking good care of three kids youthful than 10 and 35 canines. “She’s been doing an incredible job,” he mentioned. “I’ve got a lazy, easy life. I’m a person with a lot of energy. I had to slow down a lot.”

That lazy, simple life may need continued indefinitely had not an off-the-wall answer emerged. Waerner heard of an aerospace museum in Norway that hoped to acquire an outdated airplane from an air cargo firm primarily based in Alaska. But these plans went awry, partly as a result of virus-related upheavals had brought on a steep fall in the value of the Norwegian currency.

“I just called the museum and said, ‘Maybe we can work something out,’” Waerner said. With help from his sponsors, he was able to book passage for himself and his dogs on the 1950s-era plane. The hope is to take off on June 2.

“I think it’s going to be an adventure,” Waerner said. “It’s not going to be a luxury trip. It’s a cool story. It’s a great ending to the race.”

Might the long flight and a potentially rough ride bother the dogs? Hardly, Waerner said.

“The dogs are so balanced,” he said. “When you put them in the boxes, they just sleep.”

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