FAIRFIELD — Fairfield’s Joe Vanegas’ took the ride of his life earlier this month and it had nothing to do with fast cars or roller coasters.
It was riding in a sled behind 12 dogs with a musher named Danny.
A nephew of the 67-year-old retired blacksmith won a bid in the 2014 Iditarider Auction, giving his uncle the chance to go an 11-mile sled dog ride as part of the opening ceremonies for this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Proceeds from the auction help support the race.
“My nephew (Larry Zirkle) called me up and said ‘I’ve got a surprise for you,’ ” said Vanegas, who’s made annual trips to Alaska “the last five to seven years.”
Zirkle’s winning bid to ride along with musher Matt Giblin was for $1,300, according to Vanegas.
“Some went as high as $5,000 or $6,000,” he added. According to www.iditarodauction.com, there were four winning bids for $7,500 in 2013. Auction winners are called IditaRiders.
“I’d seen (the race) on National Geographic and read about it,” Vanegas said. “I was always interested. My nephew made it possible.”
However, Vanegas never got to ride with Giblin, who suffered a broken ankle the week before the race and was forced to sit it out.
Enter Danny Seavey, son of 2004 and 2013 winner Mitch Seavey and younger brother 2012 and 2014 winner Dallas Seavey.
Danny Seavey, living in Florida, was called in to replace Giblin, whose ride was more to get 10 young dogs experience than to compete for the crown.
“He’s got two dogs that have got experience,” said Vanegas earlier this week while Seavey was still on the course. “He’s running two dogs that are lead dogs that have knowledge, the rest are puppies.”
According to Vanegas, teams usually go with teams of as many as 16 sled dogs, but a dozen still seemed like plenty.
“To me it was like 100 as much power as they had,” he said.
For his 11-mile ride outside Anchorage as part of the opening ceremonies, Seavey made it last a lot longer than under normal race conditions, which was fine with Vanegas.
“Normally it would’ve taken less than 45 minutes,” Vanegas said. “He (Seavey) stopped along the course. . . it’s for the people. He stopped to take pictures of me and the sled. He wasn’t there to race, just to have a good time. He was pretty good about it. It took me about an hour and half. He could’ve run faster, but he wasn’t interested in racing. He wanted me to enjoy it.”
And how Vanegas enjoyed it. He exudes excitement in trying to explain the experience.
“I was on Cloud Nine, I wasn’t sure how I can come down,” he said. “I have to work on how to tell the story to tell all my relatives. Just doing that, 100 years ago it was the only means of transportation. It was very exciting, I was very fortunate.”
Seavey finished the race 35th out of 49 mushers whose teams finished the race in Nome, covering the 1,049-milecourse in 10 days, 22 hours, 17 minutes and 41 seconds – more than two days behind his victorious brother.
Would Vanegas like to be an IditaRider again? In a heartbeat. He’d also love to run the Iditarod itself.
“Oh, yes, of course,” he said “It would be nice. Can you imaging going (more than 1,000) miles, standing for 8 or 9 days. Oh, Lordy, I’d love to do it again.”
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www. twitter.com/pfarmerdr.