Sleep is the great equalizer in the Iditarod. Everyone needs it -- both the mushers and dogs -- but the team that can get by on the least amount is usually the first to cross the finish line in Nome. As a result, mushers often push themselves past normal human limits, often getting just three hours of sleep over a 24-hour period. Eventually, after suffering through this for a week straight (and longer), the mind begins to go ...
It's seemingly not a matter of if the hallucenations will start, but when.
Dee Dee Jonrowe, three-time runner-up in the Iditarod, holds fastest time ever turned in by a woman:
Yes, the most common hallucination is seeing sticks and branches and dodging/ducking from them when I am out in the open on rivers and there are no sticks or branches to be seen. I remember seeing a grain storage silo on the Yukon River one year, it was such a strange thing to see.
Emmitt Peters, the last rookie ever to win an Iditarod, in 1975:
"All mushers do that," Peters said. "They just hate to say that, but I know -- it runs through my experience."
He remembers a time when he ran going from Shaktoolik to Koyuk, and he thought he was meeting up with a snowmachine.
"So I turned my light on to see who was there, but there I am -- talking to a chunk of ice," Peters said. "So that stuff goes on in the driver's mind."
More from Emmitt Peters:
'You know, I was mushing along out there and kept drifting in and out of sleep. 'When I slept, I dreamed about mushing dogs. And then I'd wake up and be mushing dogs.
After a while, it got all jumbled together: dream dogs, real dogs. Dream race, real race. Until it got so I couldn't tell the difference no more. Couldn't tell where the dream left off and the real began,' said the Yukon Fox. 'I was just floating.'"
Lance Mackey, set to win a record fourth-straight Iditarod:
On Thursday night, he was riding the sled and saw a girl sitting by the side of the trail doing something, probably knitting.
"She laughed at me, waved, and I went by her and she was gone," Mackey said of his hallucination. "You just laugh."
Martin Buser, fourt-time Iditarod champion:
Race leader Martin Buser Sunday was on the part of the trail where he has faced some of his strangest Iditarod moments. 'I've seen villages, freight trains and cabins that were not there.'"
Who needs actual hallucinogens? Just spend a week and a half without sleep in the Alaskan wilderness.