The Juniors Are Off and a Small Disappointment

The view from the playground at Cantwell School.

The view from the playground at Cantwell School.

This morning started off with a delicious pancake, egg, and sausage breakfast served up by the students at the Cantwell School as a they readied to send the Junior Mushers off in style.  The Cantwell School has about twenty students and also serves as the town public library, among other things.  As seems to the be tradition in Alaskan schools, the school has a kitchen and is able to cook meals for various events. It was great to see the school kids helping to cook and serve the meals as a fundraiser for the school.  The Junior Mushers were excited when Iditarod musher Jeff King  stopped by to give a bit of last minute advice.

DSC_0172After breakfast we headed to the parking lot along mile three of the Denali Highway. This is right where the road finishes being plowed and treated during the winter and large signs advising those that must travel beyond that point should be prepared with survival gear!  Gulp!

When we arrived, the parking area was already filled with dog trucks.  Two Norwegian mushers were just dropping their teams to head off on a training run, as was Iditarod musher Christine Roalofs.  The Juniors would not be the only ones utilizing the trail today as this has become a hot spot for mushers to travel to for training.  Christine was not the only Iditarod musher there, Wade Marrs was there to send off two junior mushers he has been working with, Ben Harper helped get his younger brother to the starting line and then took his own team out for a training run, and fan favorite Newton Marshall was there to lend a helping hand.

IMG_2701During the pre-race routine I got to help race marshal Emily Krohl by doing the sled checks for the mushers.  Just like the Iditarod, the Juniors have required materials that they must have on their sleds at all time and it has to be checked before the race, at the halfway point, and again at the end. Some of the items are identical between the two races:  ax, snow shoes, dog food cooker, spare booties, spare food, drop cables, sleeping bag, and promotional material.  But, the Junior Iditarod also has extra requirements that the Iditarod does not, including cold weather clothing and shoes, two head lamps, two ways to start a fire (matches and something else), three pairs of socks, rain gear, three pairs of gloves, and a specified amount of emergency food for the musher.

Once again, I was in awe of how mature and responsible these Junior mushers seemed. They were taking care of their teams and themselves, answering questions from the race marshal and other volunteers, and getting gear ready for their epic journey.  I have no doubt that they are all going to have successful races.

At the starting line I had another new to me job to do, and that was to collect the dog count for each team.  As the teams crossed the starting line I had to count and record how many dogs were on the team. This information was then later radioed ahead to the checkpoint so that the checkers there can make certain all of the dogs are accounted for.  All of the teams began with the maximum allowed ten dogs, except for one team who had nine.

IMG_2731Once all of the teams were headed off on the trail, my disappointment came.  There was no snow machine to take me out on the sixty-five mile trip the the halfway point.

So instead, tonight I am kennel sitting for Jayne Hempstead who is serving as one of the vets on the trail.  I have taken a long walk in the beautiful woods here in Cantwell that opened up into the most amazing mountain views, spent some time in the dog yard, and even have invited four dogs in for the night…. so don’t feel too badly for me… it would have been an adventure for sure, but there is always next year.

We are anticipating that the first musher will finish tomorrow morning around ten am…  and I’ll be there to welcome them back and then it’s back to Anchorage for the start of the Winter Conference for Educators!

Here are some more of my favorite pictures from the day:

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