I woke up with butterflies in my stomach… it was show time! Time to ride that tag sled for better or for worse!
I headed out to the Avenue bright and early. I stopped and took a few photos on my way to Nathan’s truck, but I was a girl on a mission.
It was actually fascinating. Since Nathan drew bib #4, he was one of the very first people out. So for the first time, I didn’t have a lot of time to wander and visit with people, which in and of itself presented me with yet another new Iditarod experience…. seeing how one musher prepares from arrival to departure. Usually I’m skipping around checking in on lots of people, but not this time! When I arrived at the truck, Nathan, Kerry, and Nathan’s dad, Vern, already had the dogs out of the truck, but everyone was still relatively calm. Reporters came by to do interviews, Nathan received his packet of trail mail and secured it in his sled, his IditaRider was getting situated, his bib arrived.. lots of stuff going on, but he and the dogs remained pretty calm.
Since it was quiet for a minute, I snuck away to check in on Monica who was a blur of bright colors and energy as usual. Dweezil was resting in the front seat of the truck. He was so sad, he completely seemed to realize that he was about to be left behind and I don’t think he was happy about it! We chatted for a bit – I wished her luck – gave her a hug from the boys – and I had to get back – after all – as an official “Musher Handler” I had a job to do!
Once back at Nathan’s truck, things were still calm, but revving up quickly. We had to get the sleds out and lay out the lines. It was a tight squeeze. Allen Moore was parked right behind us, and was leaving right after us – so everyone was trying to get their lines out without running into each other. The dogs started sensing the excitement and started showing just how ready they were to run! Lugi for instance was so excited! He is a big boy, and when he gets excited he wants you to pet and love on him, but I don’t think he realizes just how big he is! He almost knocked me over a few times jumping up on me! Miss Sally was more quiet and reserved, but loved to be caressed and petted just as much! Fillmore and Lightning were ready to go! It was so exciting!
I got some last minute advice on how to drive the tag sled. Here’s the sequence of photos my good friend Kerry Quade took. Can you tell what the conversation was?
Yeah. It went something like, “Lean when we go around the turn. Watch what I do. If I step on the brake, you step on the brake. Don’t let go. Don’t break that sled – it’s the one I’m taking to Nome.” Gulp!
Nathan and his dad laid out the harnesses and started bootying up the dogs! I put a couple of harnesses on – I can do it right, but not nearly as fast as they can!
Then next thing I knew, it was time to go! I had really lost track of time! I thought we had so much more time than we did! I jumped on the sled, reached down and pulled the hook, and we were off!
And then we stopped.
Apparently we weren’t really going yet. We were just getting in line to get ready to go to the starting line.
In fact, we had so much extra time that Nathan got off the sled and bought a reindeer hotdog from a vendor while we waited to get to the starting line! That guy has nerves of steel I tell you! I think that was the last time I was brave enough to take my hands off the sled to take a picture or to wave to anyone! I figured if he wasn’t on the sled we weren’t going anywhere too soon!
We slowly made our way to the starting line. And then it was really time. We were at the line. The crowd was cheering, the countdown was on, and then….. we were off!
What a blast!
The big turn at the corner? No problem! The big downhill I had forgotten all about? No problem! Not to brag or anything, but I rocked it! Totally knocked it out of the park!
The funny thing is that we had no idea where we were going! We were just following the trail and knew that eventually we were going to end up at a ball field.
At one point Nathan turned around and said, “Is it over already?” which is exactly what he said to me in 2014 when I was his IditaRider! It sure looked like we were pulling into a ball field, but luckily it wasn’t the end!
There had been some concern that the fans wouldn’t be as evident this year as the route had been shortened and some of the most typically most popular spots to watch the start were being missed…. I was pleasantly surprised that were lots of people watching and cheering! And celebrating. And passing out hotdogs to the mushers. And drinks. And kids begging for booties. It was a riot! And we did get to go over the bridge and through the tunnel, which I had been unsure of!
At one point, we came around a bend and found Jodi Bailey stopped on the side of the trail. We started to slow down to get a sense of what was going on.
“Go past us Nathan!” she shouted.
As we passed her, we realized what was happening…. Jodi was off the sled and was letting her IditaRider mush the sled!
“She’s seventy years old and has never mushed! She’s gotta try it!” Jodi cheerfully exclaimed!
Oh my gosh! What a treat! I turned around to watch for a bit, but I decided I didn’t want to fall off, so I turned back around to better pay attention to my own sled!
When we arrived at the end of the ceremonial start, it was a little chaotic! They had us pull off into a pathway, and then we had to wait. Another reason to be glad we were a lower number, we had a great waiting spot where the dogs were pretty well contained. The dog trucks that were making their way from the starting line to the ball field were taking longer than the dog teams to get there…. so everything backed up pretty quickly. Sarah, the IditaRider was swooped out of her seat and taken care of by the volunteers, so Nathan and I just hung around taking care of the dogs. We unhooked the tug lines, took the booties off, and then even took the harnesses off and waited. The dogs got a little impatient having to wait. I think that they didn’t even have enough time on the short run to get their energy out, so they fussed at each other a bit. Nathan had to pull out his “teacher voice” to keep them in line! The really odd thing was that the trucks didn’t even arrive in the same order the mushers did, so teams were moving past each other to get to the lot when the trucks did arrive! Finally Kerry and Vern arrived in the truck and I helped load the dogs into the truck and they were off.
By that time, Monica had pulled in and she was parked on the baseball field itself. I headed over to give her and Tim a hand. Her IditaRider had hung around, so the four of us tried to keep the dogs settled as they waited for the truck. In the meantime, the teams had started to pile up. A few mushers tried to ride the sleds from the field to the truck, but that was a bad plan as that was a recipe for wipe-out! So then mushers started walking the dogs to the trucks from the field one at a time. Which, while time consuming, seemed to work better. Once Monica’s truck arrived, she and Tim started walking dogs over. When they got the dogs all off the line and were walking the last dogs to the truck, I rolled up all the lines, disconnected the tag sled and got them out of the way so that the Beringtons could hook up their teams to the fence where we had been. Then Monica’s IditaRider and I lifted the sleds over the fence to her handlers and she was out of there!
I had planned to stick around and grab some photos, but it was a little crazy, so I hopped the bus back to the start line! I got to ride with a few friends back – a couple who had been IditaRiders and another friend who rode tag sled as well. She had a much rougher rider than I did, and is going to have a huge bruise to prove it, so I was again thankful that things had gone so smoothly for us!
Back in town, I was actually back in time to catch some of the teams who were still heading out! It was kind of surreal. But I grabbed some shots for the ITC Facebook page using my press pass to gain front row access!
So overall all I would say it was an amazing experience, and I’d happily do it again. People kept saying, “Aren’t you glad it was only three miles?” My answer, “Nope! I could definitely done eleven!”
Later that afternoon, I checked another item off my Bucket List – I actually rode the ferris wheel at the Rondy Festival. Every year I say I am going to do it and I never do – but this year Kerry Q., Katie, and I did. It’s very odd to ride a ferris wheel in full winter gear! And that evening was capped off perfectly with a chance to catch up with Philip Walters, whom my class worked with as he attempted his rookie run last year!