Iditarod: Historic plane to transport Thomas Waerner home to Norway after dog musher left stranded for months in Alaska

It’s been three months since dog musher Thomas Waerner, who tells CNN Sport, is the kind of story he will remember until the day of his death.
The 47-year-old won the Iditarod Trail sled dog race in March, but canceled flights and travel restrictions prevented him from returning home.

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

He booked his passage on a historic plane intended for a Norwegian museum, with his team of companion dogs.

“Win the race and then get back on the plane … I think it was one of the cool things that happen in life,” Waerner told CNN Sport in a telephone interview.
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Iconic Iditarod

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

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

This year was Waerner’s second stab in the tough competition and winning after nine days of hard work was a dream come true for the veteran musher – the person who drives the sleigh.

Since crossing the finish line, however, he has been locked up with friends in rural United States while making his somewhat unusual return journey.

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

The aircraft benefited from more than 60 years of continuous service, making its first voyage in 1946 before flying on three separate continents.

Coincidentally, Waerner’s friends were related to the current owner of the plane, and with the help of his sponsor, he managed to get home on June 2.

Waerner will be joined on the plane by these 24 dogs – 16 of himself and eight others left by another competitor.

“Life is a little strange,” he laughs, admitting that the situation is a bit surreal. “But I am a positive and forward guy. If you are just positive, you will always find solutions and you will overcome your obstacles.”

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The Douglas DC-6B Cloudmaster prepares for its final flight to Fairbanks, Alaska, in May.
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“A strange feeling”

It has been more than three months since Waerner left for Alaska. His wife, Guro, had traveled with him but left early when the pandemic started to take over the world.

Waerner has five children and 35 dogs in Norway, so he is aware that he has a lot of catching up to do with his veterinary wife and children – not to mention an assortment of household chores.

“I feel a little bad for her to have all these jobs and I am not here to support her at all,” he said. “So it will be good to go home and resume a normal life.”

While stuck on another continent, Waerner filled his days training his dogs and walking with his close friends during what he dubbed his “retirement life in Alaska”.

He remains in daily contact with his family during video calls and is looking forward to having coffee with his wife and having dinner with the children again.

With the traditional Iditarod winner’s banquet and ceremonies postponed due to lock-in restrictions, Waerner’s personal victory parade was not quite what he had imagined.

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

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

“You get really strong mentally”

However, his adventure did not reject the idea of ​​returning to Alaska and he is ready to participate in Itidarod next year.

Waerner firmly believes that it was his ability to face the challenges posed by Itidarod that helped him overcome his current situation.

“It’s like a wave of negative things coming against you when you run because you have so much sleep deprivation,” he recalls.

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

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

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