Thirteen kids between the ages of 14 and 17 left Knik Lake today at ten am on the start of their own adventure… the Junior Iditarod!
The Junior Iditarod was started in 1977 by five kids who were too young to compete in the Iditarod, but wanted a long distance race of their own! The starting point varies from year to year based on the weather. This year they started on frozen Knik Lake and will travel through the checkpoints of Berman Road Crossing, Su River Crossing, and Eagle Song Lodge before arriving at the halfway point of Yentna Station. At Yentna Station, all racers must rest for a minimum of ten hours. They also must prove to the race officials that they can camp with their dogs successfully – feeding and caring for themselves and their dogs with no outside assistance. After their rest, they will return down the same trail to Eagle Song Lodge and Su River Crossing before turning and changing trails to head to Old Hunter Trail Head and the ending line at Willow Lake. The race started today at ten am and is expected to finish early tomorrow afternoon. By the end, the mushers and their teams will have travelled 150 miles.
Many of the rules for the Juniors are very similar to the Iditarod, but there are some differences. For example, the juniors start with between seven and ten dogs and must finish with at least five. There is even a rule that talks about the type of food the mushers must bring for themselves – they are not allowed to carry only junk food in their sled!
So who are these kids? Several of them come from mushing families. Both Conway Seavey’s and Jimmy Lanier’s fathers are running the Iditarod this year. Some are kids who have gotten interested in mushing in different ways and are working with Iditarod mushers. For example, Taylor Steele is a young lady from Pennsylvania who has been training with Conway Seavey and Noah Pereira, from New York, has been working with Dallas Seavey and is actually taking Dallas’ “B” team on the trail!
The winner of the Junior Iditarod gets some pretty cool prizes – a cash prize, tickets to fly to and attend the Iditarod Finisher’s Banquet in Nome, and the privilege of being an honorary musher at the start of the Iditarod! Just like the Iditarod, there are lots of prizes awarded like the Sportsmanship Award, Humanitarian Award (for best dog care), and a Red Lantern for the final finisher. All finishers win a trophy, patch, and other prizes.
The kids have been working hard all season to train themselves and their dogs. Their faces at the start showed a lot of joy at finally being out on the trail – lots of big smiles! I’ll be anxious to check in tomorrow and see how they finished up!
I took over two hundred pictures today! But here are some of my favorites: