Monday morning arrived – the alarm clock was the howling of the dogs in the yard as they welcomed the sun.
First thing you do when you are watching and working a race? Check the tracker.
We had been estimating that the first junior musher would be in around ten am, and it looked like were were still on track for that to happen. Jimmy Lanier and Kevin Harper had been trading the lead back and forth during the race and for moment, Jimmy was out in front.
First thing you do when you are kennel sitting? Scoop the yard and feed the dogs.
The reward? The “thanks for filling my belly” dog yard howl.
About fifteen minutes after the dogs are fed and calmed down, Tank, the main man, sits down in the middle of the yard, throws back his head and leads the yard in a wonderful howl-song. And then, as if by some pre-agreed upon arrangement, the song is over. It’s really an amazing thing to witness.
Once the chores were finished, we headed back up to the Denali Highway to await the leaders. We didn’t have to wait too long, at 9:46 am, Kevin Harper crested the hill and headed to the finish line. When when he stopped and had his sled checked for all of his mandatory items, his dogs continued to jump and lung in their harnesses like they were ready to turn around and do it all again! Just two minutes later Jimmy Lanier appeared at the top the hill and made his way to the finish line. I’m expecting we will see some dogs from both of these teams on the Iditarod trail… Kevin’s with his brother Ben Harper who will be a rookie this year, and Jimmy’s with his dad Jim who has run the race many times. About half an hour later Andrew Nolan came into view and rounded out the top three.
At that point we had to bid farewell to beautiful, cold, and snowy Cantwell to make our long trek back to Anchorage so that we would arrive in time for the Welcoming Reception for the Education Conference. The junior mushers all finished the race with flying colors and celebrated that evening with a banquet at the Cantwell school. Some special awards were handed out that night as well. Andrew Nolan was awarded the sportsmanship award. The vets awarded Marianna Mallory the Humanitarian award for best dog care. The mushers themselves awarded the Blue Harness award for outstanding lead dog to Jimmy Lanier’s dog Alpha. I’m trying to get the stories behind those awards, and will share them with you as soon as I hear.
The drive back to Anchorage was pretty long, about four and a half hours or so. But the beginning of the drive was breathtaking. When we had driven up on Saturday, it was grey and cloudy and snowy. The views were impressive. But, oh my gosh, on Monday? The sky was crystal clear and you could see forever. Denali was out in all her glory. We even startled a herd of caribou as we came around a bend. The hustled off the road and into the chest deep snow on the sides. Denali is a magical place.
We stopped for lunch at the Trapper Creek Trading Post, where in true Alaskan fashion I had a peanut butter and chocolate shake. Did you know Alaskans eat more ice cream than any other state?
In Wasilla we ducked into Headquarters really quickly and were lucky enough to run into Nathan Schroeder, his dad Vern, and his handler extraordinaire Kerry who had brought the dogs in for their EKGs. Nathan arrived in Anchorage a couple of days ago after a suffering a broken down truck on his drive from Minnesota. He picked up a nice souvenir of the trip on his way, a brand new Hans Gatt sled! He’s super excited after trying it out on a training run in Eureka yesterday! Nathan and the team are in great spirits and are looking forward to a great race (top ten!?!?!)!
The reception was held on one of the top floors of the Hilton Hotel, with an amazing view of the surrounding mountains. I had my first taste of reindeer this trip, greeted some old friends and met some new. The teachers who have joined us are in for an amazing week!
And Iditarod fever continues to build!