This year’s restart was, as most everyone knows, different because it was a) in Fairbanks and b) a day later.
That meant we were able to get a reasonable night’s sleep, get up, feed dogs, pack the truck, load dogs and then make the 6 hour drive up the Park’s Highway. A pretty relaxing day actually – or so it was to be.
The night before I had read Joe Runyan’s Cabela's site and he was talking about how all serious mushers would have made the drive up on Saturday night because of the chance of weather moving in. I couldn’t see how driving up, while tired, in the dark and making your dogs spend another day in the dog truck was to anyone’s teams best advantage.
The next morning, it was lightly raining as we loaded the truck and dogs – that’s sure a pain, but by now we were getting used to it! By the time we hit Talkeetna, the rain was heavy and thick. In no time I was beginning to see some wisdom in Joe’s words – now we were in an honest to gosh snowstorm - so much for catching a glimpse of Denali on the way up the Highway.
The storm continued on until the halfway point on the highway, and then like someone flipped a switch, it was over. Phew! The rest of the drive was pleasant and uneventful. Some folks had signs out on the Highway wishing Iditarod mushers ‘Good Luck’. How thoughtful!
We quickly got settled into our hotel. The Seavey’s, Ted English, Todd Capistrant, Vern Halter, and a number of other sprint mushers were all staying at the Comfort Inn too. A few friends from California were there too and were gracious enough to help with dropping and feeding the dogs – always a treat to have help at the truck!
Mark and I ordered pizza and I fussed at a bit of packing.
The next morning we were up fairly early. I jumped in the shower and enjoyed a nice, long, hot shower – I knew it would be awhile before I’d see another one! We found a Denny’s for breakfast and I had my, now, customary pre-race steak and egg breakfast! Yum!!
The set up for the re-start was pretty nicely set up, especially when compared to the small, crowded parking lots that we had previously
used in Wasilla and Willow.
I packed and re-packed the sled. How is it that on my 3rd Iditarod I still have
the "rookie sled bulge" happening??? I tossed a few things out of the sled, squished a few more items, and jumped up and down on the load a few times trying to make a lot of gear look like a little gear.
In no time, it seemed, it was time to hook up dogs. I went over and hugged Pirate, Mannie, Freya, and especially Smiley before Mark loaded them back into the truck. This group of 20 dogs and I have logged over 2200 miles in harness this season – we are a team – if you think leaving 4 of those team members behind isn’t hard, think again!
But then it was time to focus on the 16 that would be my constant companions for the next few weeks. I shuffled dogs around in the line, settling on a final team makeup of:
In lead – Gus and Draco
Swing – Grover and Camilla
Team 1 – Chester and Orion
Team 2 – Odie and Loki
Team 3 – Surge and Nik
Team 4 – Denali and Squeaky
Team 5 – Kara and Nahanni
Wheel – Kaylinn and Olena
Olena was tucked into wheel because she was in standing heat and I didn’t want her distracting the boys. I placed the rest of the girls around her to act as a ‘buffer zone’.
Grover never goes in lead for stuff like this. Honestly, crowds aren’t his favorite things (although he will lead through them if asked) and I’d rather keep him fresh for situations when I really, really need him. His brother, Gus, always seems to be the leader I choose for this sort of thing. He is solid, dependable, and always has the greatest smile on his face when he roars out of starting chutes.
This was Draco’s first time leading in a huge crowd, but he has well earned the spot this season, especially after coming back from his December injury. I never regretted my decision to give him this responsibility at the start – he did a super job!
The team had been ‘soft’ on their starts this season, so I really wasn’t expecting the amount of power that came down the gangline as the sled was released. The smile on my face was a fake one until I managed to get my foot on the brake and some semblance of control over my 16 powerful teammates.
The crowds continued on and on down the river. Even Susan Butcher and her two children were out wishing teams well on their way to Nome. I wonder if her soul aches for the trail as the teams pass by – that is, before her head takes over and reels it in?
The afternoon was lovely. I visited with a few of the mushers as they passed by. Rick Swenson had some encouraging words to say about the team – that was really nice. I was getting just
a little discouraged by being passed by so many teams, but chided myself to not get caught up in the day and be tempted to do something foolish with my team. When we caught up with and passed GB Jones, that buoyed my spirits some. Soon after I passed a few teams, including Charlie Boulding, camped on the river. I figured we must be getting close to Nenana – and we were. Just before getting there we caught sight of Blake Matray just ahead of us. The dogs and I were all jazzed about catching up with another team and steamed up into the first checkpoint.