To paraphrase an often-cited quote when it comes to risk assessment, and apply it to the Iditarod – when it comes to planning out how this race may unfold, there are ‘known knowns’, ‘known unknowns,’ and ‘unknown unknowns’. The final category – ‘unknown unknowns’ – encompasses risks, dangers and situations that are so unexpected, it would be impossible to put contingencies in place for them.

The 2020 Iditarod had its fair share of unknown unknowns. Who knew that the race would take place as the biggest pandemic in a century was spreading across the globe? That was something none of us had prepared for.

For a handful of competitors in that race, however, there was a scenario they could not have envisaged in their pre-race planning. 

In our previous episodes – Short Notice, and On Pins & Needles – we spoke to two mushers with vastly different experience levels when it came to racing in the Iditarod. Sean Underwood, the subject of the first of those episodes, only found out a matter of days beforehand that he would be making his maiden Iditarod voyage by stepping into the shoes of four-time Iditarod winner, Jeff King. In the latter episode, Matthew Failor – with a decade of mushing experience behind him – spoke about what the Iditarod meant to him, and how passionate he is about the sport of mushing.

Yet in the early hours of March 20, 2020, the paths of these two mushers converged – literally. In the latter stages of the race, after sheltering from a huge storm, Underwood headed out on the trail towards the final two checkpoints of Safety and Nome. Little did he know what he would encounter on that journey – and little did he know that Failor would be stuck in the midst of it with him.

What will you learn in this episode?

In this podcast episode, you’ll hear first-hand experiences from Underwood and Failor of their fateful meeting on the path towards the checkpoint at Safety.

At the best of times, the journey across Alaska in the Iditarod can be a treacherous one. The rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions mean that this 1,000 mile race is a true test of mushers and their dogs. So you can only imagine what it must be like when the trail conditions are far from optimal.

Stuck in a pile of icy slush and snow, rendering the trail impassable, discover how these two mushers worked together to extricate themselves. In addition to the physical toll, Underwood and Failor also discuss the emotional consequences of ‘pushing the button’ and scratching from the race.

sean underwood mushing dog

Additional Content

If you enjoy this episode of A Life of Dogs, why not check out these related episodes?

Short NoticeThe full story of how Sean Underwood entered the Iditarod with just a few days’ notice.

On Pins & Needles – Learn about Matthew Failor’s journey into the world of mushing.

Bonus Interview with Matthew Failor – Check out this bonus interview with Failor after the 2021 Iditarod.

A special thanks to Sean Underwood and Matthew Failor for participating in these interviews. All photos used on this page are with permission from Sean Underwood. 

We would like to thank our episode sponsors.  Be sure to visit them to learn more and show them your support.  Without their continued support our podcast wouldn’t be possible.

Royal Canin


Highland Canine Training, LLC


Podcast Transcript

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