Iditarod: historic plane to transport Thomas Waerner home to Norway after the dog’s musher was stuck in Alaska for months

iditarod dog sled race alaska epic snow_00025113
Three months have passed for the dog musher Thomas Waerner, which tells CNN Sport is the kind of story he will remember until the day he dies.
The 47-year-old won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in March, but canceled flights and travel restrictions prevented him from returning home to his family.

But don’t worry, the intrepid adventurer has come up with an innovative escape plan.

He booked his ride on a historic plane destined for a Norwegian museum, with his team of dogs for company.

“Winning the race and then returning by plane … I think this was one of the interesting things that happen in life” Waerner he told CNN Sport in a telephone interview.

Iconic iditarod

The Iditarod is a legendary long distance race held every year on the track between Anchorage and Nome.

The nearly 1,000-mile race covers some of the most extreme terrains on Earth, each team powered by 64 legs and the stubborn desire of a musher.

This year was Waerner’s second stab at the demanding challenge and winning after nine days of hard work was a dream come true for the veteran musher – the person driving the sled.

Ever since he crossed the finish line, however, he has been locked up with friends in the rural state of the United States while tracing his somewhat unusual way home.

Waerner’s plan came about after reading that a local airline was trying to sell a DC-6 plane – a historic airliner – at the Aviation History Museum in Sola, Norway.

The plane enjoyed over 60 years of continuous service, making its first trip in 1946 before flying to three separate continents.

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Coincidentally, Waerner’s friends had ties to the now owner of the plane and, with the help of his sponsor, managed to bring a ride home on June 2nd.

Waerner will be joined on board the plane by those 24 dogs, 16 of them own and another eight left behind by another competitor.

“Life is a little strange,” he laughed, admitting that the situation was a bit surreal. “But I am a positive, positive boy. If you are only positive you will always find solutions and overcome your obstacles.”

The Douglas DC-6B Cloudmaster prepares for his final flight to Fairbanks, Alaska in May.
A man's best friend is ....

“A strange feeling”

More than three months have passed since Waerner left for Alaska. His wife, Guro, had traveled with him, but had left early when the pandemic started taking over the world.

Waerner has five children and 35 dogs in Norway, so he is aware that he has a lot to do with the vet’s wife and children, without forgetting an assortment of household chores.

“I feel a little bad that she has all these jobs and I’m not there to support her at all,” she said, “So it’s going to be nice to go home and go back to normal life.”

While stuck on another continent, Waerner has filled his days by training his dogs and walking with his closest friends during what he has nicknamed his “retired life in Alaska”.

He remains in daily contact with his family during video calls and can’t wait to enjoy a coffee with his wife and have dinner with the children again.

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With the traditional banquet and ceremonies of the Iditarod winner postponed due to blocking restrictions, Waerner’s personal victory parade was not exactly what he had imagined.

“I really wanted to win the race at some point in my life, and then suddenly you do it,” he said. “I have yet to look at the trophy and remember that we actually won, it’s kind of a strange feeling.”

Waerner during the 2020 race.
Waerner raised his arms in triumph after winning.

‘You become very mentally strong’

However, his adventure hasn’t stopped him from returning to Alaska and he’s ready to participate in next year’s Itidarod.

Waerner firmly believes in his ability to face the challenges posed by Itidarod which has helped him overcome his current situation.

“It’s like a wave of negative things that challenge you when you run because you have so much sleep deprivation,” he reflects.

“You have a hot, cold climate, it is raining, you are going through bad paths, good paths and things are happening that you have to face all the time.

“I think my distance career has helped me to become very mentally strong [in order] to deal with negative things. “


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