Dublin and Hancock snowmobile racers reflect on Iron Dog

 Kim Bergeron in front of Mount Denali

Kim Bergeron in front of Mount Denali —COURTESY PHOTO

 Kim Bergeron makes his way to shore after being submerged. The accident forced the team to withdraw from the race.

Kim Bergeron makes his way to shore after being submerged. The accident forced the team to withdraw from the race. COURTESY PHOTO

 LEFT: Kim Bergeron with Iron Dog volunteers

LEFT: Kim Bergeron with Iron Dog volunteers COURTESY PHOTO

By CAMERON CASHMAN

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-28-2024 10:05 AM

With the majority of the 2,500-mile-long Alaskan course behind them, Iron Dog Team 15 had just over 200 miles left in the race when team member Kim Bergeron of Dublin fell through the ice of the Kuskokwim River, submerging both himself and his Polaris snowmobile in dangerously cold water.

In a situation like that, “you have one minute to catch your breath and get your heart rate down, and you’ve got 10 minutes to get out,” Burgeron said, referencing the 1-10 rule. This rule, used in cases when someone falls into freezing water, states you have one minute to manage the cold shock and 10 minutes of muscle movement before you start to succumb to hypothermia.

However, Bergeron, along with his best friend and teammate Jean-Pierre “J.P.” Bernier of Hancock, were prepared. The team had spent the months leading up to the race practicing everything they could – not only technical repairs to their snowmobiles, but safety measures and survival skills, as well.

“It was everything we had practiced,” Bergeron said. “We had everything we needed. Every tool, every part – we brought with us. And we got to that point of the race due to the fact that we were 100% prepared.”

While the team had to scratch after Bergeron fell into the water – there was no way to retrieve the sunken machine in time to finish the race officially – Bernier was able to complete the remainder of the course with another team after some encouragement from his teammate.

Until dropping out, the team persevered through wrecks, repairing any damage to their machines during the race, while also battling whiteout conditions over some of the most-rugged terrain Alaska had to offer.

“For hours and hours on end, there was zero visibility – wind blowing – you are just in a snow globe, and can’t see beyond the end of your snowmobile,” Bernier said. “You just have to keep riding by feel and by faith.”

In conditions like this, the low visibility can play tricks with your eyes, Bernier explained.

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“It’s just such a strange, surreal situation that requires hyper-focus. It really pushed me,” he said.

The team reflected on lessons they learned over the course of the race.

“I took out my GPS in a crash on day one,” Bergeron said. “I’m typically the lead navigator.”

Since Bergeron ’s GPS unit couldn’t be switched with his teammate’s, that meant Bernier had to act as lead navigator, a situation they hadn’t fully prepared for.

“I switched off sleds [with J.P.] now and again,” Bergeron said. “But you’re very comfortable on your own bicycle, if you know what I mean. You get on another person’s sled, it doesn’t quite feel right.”

In the future, they would run exactly the same equipment, so if a lead navigator’s GPS fails, it can be easily replaced by their teammate’s.

“The other big learning point was – you’re forming this relationship – I have so much intel on J.P. that I’ve never had before – and he’s my best friend.” Bergeron said. “But now that I’ve gone through this, there’s so many different things I would do. How I would act, how I would speak, how I would carry myself physically. We learned a lot of lessons and I think we’re stronger as a team for it.”

Coming home, the team is most excited to see their families and share their experience with others.

“I’m excited to be back with family and friends,” Bernier said. “The little things about being home – I’m excited to embrace that again.

“I’m really excited to share my experience with my work team, and showing them that you can have a goal, and you might not achieve that goal – that’s what happened to me – but I’m totally cool with it.” said Bergeron, owner of Bergeron Mechanical Systems in Keene. “It has been such an incredible experience, and I want to share that – what us humans can do when we put our minds to something.”

The team wanted to thank Iron Dog Team 30 – Kody Worley and Blake Elder – for assisting in their recovery after their incident in the Kuskokwim River.

As for whether they’ll do it again? Bernier – who did finish the course – said he was still processing the race.

“I can’t answer that right now,” he said. “I can’t believe that I’m sitting somewhere indoors right now, and I’m warm.”

“I’m already entered. I’ll be back,” said Bergeron.