Hugh Neff Finishes in Ninth Place in 2010 Iditarod
By Robert Forto, PhD
I have met a lot of mushers in my days behind the sled of my own teams and over the years at dog sledding events, but I will say that you can not find a nicer, more down to earth guy than Iditarod musher, Hugh Neff. I was honored to spend about three days with Hugh, his partner, Tamra, and his amazing sled dogs when I was up in Anchorage for the ceremonial start of this years race.
I met Hugh through Facebook, of all places, in the spring of 2009 when he posted on the social media site that he was booking school tours in Colorado. I sent him a message and we spoke on the phone and the next thing you know he is at my daughter’s middle school in Aurora, Colorado in September. Hugh showed up with a bag of “gear” but no sled so we ran home and got our’s for the demonstration and the show went off as planned in front of hundreds of kids.
After the school visit, Hugh, a childhood friend of his, and I had breakfast at a local place and talked dogs, mushing, football and just life. What a great guy and ambassador for the greatest race in the world, the Iditarod.
I was planning on being in Anchorage this year for a conference, so I decided to give Hugh a call and see if we could hook up before the race. His hospitality was gracious at the musher’s banquet and one afternoon we spent at his place while he was making final preparations for this years race.
On the day of the ceremonial start I was one of the handler’s for Hugh’s team and what an experience. Something that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Neff 42, of Tok, Alaska was the rookie of the year in 2004 and 2010 marked his 6th Iditarod. His best finish before this year was in 2009 when he placed 15th. This year was a marked improvement. Neff and his partner operate Laughing Eyes Kennel (http://www.laughingeyeskennel.com) and lists his profession as a professional dog musher and public speaker. He is quoted for enjoying “making people smile.” Neff is also a graduate of the University of Illinois and an Eagle Scout.
Early in the race Hugh had some trouble with his sled and lost his runners for a long stretch of the trail early in the race. I can only image what that was like.
Hugh had tough competition this year. With the likes of 4-peat Champion Lance Mackey, Iditarod icon, Jeff King and this year’s Yukon Quest champion, Hans Gatt, Hugh kept up with the leaders the entire race. Nothing could beat Mackey, one of Hugh’s good friends on and off the trail. Hugh spoke at White Mountain taking an 8-hour rest-stop of Mackey’s dogs: “He could take your dogs and beat his team with your dogs. That’s how good of a musher he is,” said Neff.
Hugh did something special this year. He was part of the National Education Association’s Read Across Alaska program and he carried a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat book in his sled from Anchorage to Nome. When he arrives he will deliver it to the children of the village at the edge of the earth. Hugh also carried ribbons of fallen soldiers for the organization, T.A.P.S. (http://www.taps.org)
Hugh was quoted as saying that he will “never retire” and was described as the “energizer bunny” during this year’s race. While I am sure he would have like to win the race, he did gain six spots from the his 2009 campaign. What is in the future for Hugh? I hope to find out when things settle down and he gets a chance to rest. I hope to have him on my show, Mush! You Huskies (http://www.mushingradio.com) in the coming weeks and ask him what is next. I know he plans on visiting schools this off-season and what more of an ambassador than, Mr. Neff.
Citation: The Official Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Guide 2010, Alaska Daily News website.
Dr. Robert Forto is a musher training for his first Iditarod in 2013 mushing under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Forto hosts a radio show, Mush! You Huskies that can be heard at http://www.mushingradio.com. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com