Well , the race has begun and we are back home stationed by our computers. The weekend Iditarod Start festivities were very fun and went smoothly. With 96 teams entered this year, the Thursday night banquet went a bit longer than usual but was extremely well organized and entertaining. Jeff and I spent most of the day Friday doing appearances and book signings. It was a full day! Jeff pulled number 11 as his start/bib number which made both the start and restart quick and easy. It is a great number for this year’s event. There has been over 15 feet of snow at Rainy Pass and through the Dalzell Gorge, so Jeff is eager to get through those areas near the front of the pack, before the trail deteriorates. His low number will help him get into position for that section of trail. The restart was spectacular and the trail was reported to be hard and fast. The recent stats substantiate that.
As you may know, there is no limit to the number of teams that may enter the race. Each team must successfully complete the required qualifying races prior to Iditarod.
Elaine Strong from San Francisco was Jeff’s Iditarider this year. Lanie is 10 years old and an exceptional puppy baby-sitter! She was a very brave girl at the ceremonial start with all of the excitement, people hovering over her and huge cameras in her face. I think she enjoyed her ride once she left all of that behind her. Jeff reported that she had a lap full of muffins and, of course, a hotdog during the hour-long ride. Spectators line the trail through Anchorage offering, muffins, high-fives and even a hotdog take-out along the way. Jennifer rode Jeff’s second sled and remained upright the entire time.
Jeff was very relaxed all weekend and was in a very good mind-set for the race. He hopes to be conservative for the first few days keeping the team well rested and relaxed.
This year Cabelas has combined sites with the Iditarod Race Committee. So, www.iditarod.com will be our best source of race information. Jon Little will still be writing articles daily from the trail and those will be featured on the Iditarod website. Be sure to sign up for the Iditarod Insider. It gets better every year and should prove to be invaluable for spectators in this year’s race. But probably one of the most fun things to come down the pike this year is the Live Tracking GPS systems that are being carried by 15 mushers. These units give off a locator beacon and you can get on the website and see EXACTLY where they are! It is really cool! Jeff has one along with many of the top contenders. This is a pilot project to determine whether this will be the race’s wave of the future. So far, it is excellent! Be sure to check it out. The information you receive is up-to-the-minute and faster than the checkpoint reports.
Another option for avid spectators is to check out the archives on the Iditarod website as well. I printed off Jeff’s run/rest schedule from 2006 so that I can compare his times to this year’s race. Remember, this year the race follows the northern route through Cripple, hitting the Yukon River in Ruby and then down the river through Galena and Nulato before reaching Kaltag. This is Jeff’s preferred route.
There are some fantastic teams in the race this year. The teams to watch, on my list, are Kjetil Backen from Norway, Lance Mackey, last year’s winner, Martin Buser (his son Rohn, a senior in High School, is running the race this year as well. He has a great shot at Rookie of the Year.), Mitch Seavey, Paul Gebhardt, DeeDee Jonrowe, Aliy Zirkle and the up and coming Zack Steer and more, I’m sure.
G.B. Jones announced at the banquet that he would be scratching after the ceremonial start on Saturday. He has a medical issue and is complying with his doctor’s orders. He mentioned that it was a very expensive 11 miles…..
As far as a trail report goes, at this point the teams are simply maintaining and focused on getting to Nikolai in one piece. At that point, the most challenging sections of trail through the Alaska range will be behind them and they can begin to focus on racing. Don’t get me wrong, mistakes can be made in these first few days that will effect the entire race for some teams. Calm focus is the name of the game now.
It was great to see all of our Iditarod friends including many Husky Homestead visitors over the weekend. This is Jeff’s 19th Iditarod so it is like old home week each March when we get to see our old friends. Thanks to all for a wonderful send off!