*** Better late than never right? ***
30 degrees – but what a beautiful day!
My day started super early as we had to drive to Willow from Anchorage which is about a 90 minute drive and we needed to be “at work” at about 8am! The first job of the day was helping to check in the volunteers who would be acting as ITC Handlers for the official start. At the start, handlers are needed to help the teams move from their parking space to the start line. Today, this would prove to be an extra challenge. The parking area on Willow Lake is quite a bit smaller than it is typically due to overflow on the lake that needed to be avoided. Since the parking area is smaller, the dog trucks are parked much closer together. This means that maneuvering teams of sixteen strong, pumped up dogs, around other teams of strong, pumped up dogs would be more important then ever! Once the handlers got the teams past the other teams and into the starting chute, they had to help hold the teams back so that then didn’t jump the gun and take off too soon! Most musher have a few of their own handlers to help, but most requested additional help in the form of ITC (Iditarod Trail Committee) handlers. Some of these folks will help multiple teams to the start line. How cool is that?
Once everyone was checked in, I headed down to the lake by about noon to check in with everyone and take some photos for the ITC Facebook page. Monica was in great shape! She seemed calm and collected. She was making some last minute adjustments to her load. In fact, she pulled out a large rectangular metal container with holes it that I had never seen before.
“Are you literally taking the kitchen sink with you this year?” I teased.
It turns out that it was her dog food cooker! The University of Oregon made it for her and she used it last year and loved it. It fits really well in the seat part of her sled, which let me get some clarification on the rule about where you can and can not carry things which has really been confusing me. So apparently, you can not carry any dogs or mandatory gear on a drag sled, but if it is on your main sled (like the seat part), even if it is behind your body, it’s okay. I noticed that there were just a couple of people who were pulling those drag sleds behind them this year, much less than usual.
Since Nathan isn’t running this year, I didn’t really have a definite job for the start. In the past, I’ve handled for his team at the start, so this was a different feeling. So, after checking in with the other mushers and wishing everyone good luck, Kerry and I decided to head out an find a good spot to watch the parade of mushers and teams head off for Nome.
We decided to walk across the lake, through the woods, and then out onto the road where we could see the mushers without the orange fencing that marks the official starting chute. It was a great spot! We could just hear the loudspeaker announcing the mushers leave the starting line, and then about four minutes later they’d pop out of the woods behind us, run down the road for a bit, and mush off into the woods in front of us. I literally sat on the edge of the berm (a snow wall built up to mark the trail) and was able to cheer and wish good luck to each musher as they passed by. It was pretty funny to see their reactions when they realized it was me sitting on the edge of the trail calling their names! Monica said, “See you next year! Thanks to you and the boys for everything!” Matthew Failor said, “See you around somewhere soon!” It’s so hard to imagine they will all be together again in a week or so in Nome while I’ll be watching from home on my computer!
Once everyone was safe on the trail, we headed back across the lake, checked in with the staff in the Community Center, and wished everyone good luck as they head off down the trail. Kerry and I gave Julien Schroder a lift back to Anchorage. He’s serving as a photographer on the trail this year. Watch for his work…. it’s amazing!
At 10pm I headed to the airport for my 1am flight. I flew to Seattle, where I had a five hour layover, then finally to Baltimore, where I arrived at 6pm on Monday. It was a long trip – but well worth it! Now I’ll be glued to the tracker along with the rest of the Iditarod fans!