24 March 2014 2.30 PM 37 F Sunny
It’s hardly been the winter we had planned for ourselves or our dogs. In saying that, it’s hardly been a season that could be described as winter for most of us here in Alaska. We’ve been inundated with images and reports from all over the US and Canada about extreme cold and copious amounts of snow. It has served as a stark contrast to the conditions we have been experiencing, where marginal snow and warmer temperatures than normal have combined to make every day living quite easy, but have made running dogs a bit more of a challenge.
In fairness, a fair number of our little pocket of trails survived and saw lots of traffic, with teams seen on them that don’t usually frequent our neck of the woods. As one of the few trail networks that remained usable, it was a rare occasion indeed not to encounter another team on our travels. Quite a number of these teams were in training for this year’s Iditarod, and as the race drew closer, there were many concerns raised about the trail for the actual race and the lack of snow cover over much of Interior Alaska. With a couple of weeks to go to the race, a decision was made by the organisers not to switch the start to Fairbanks, as had been under consideration, but to depart as normal from Willow.
The Ceremonial Start takes place on the first Saturday in March, the teams leaving for a short 12 mile run through the streets and parks of Anchorage, in front of an amazing number of spectators. As crowds are not really my thing, I have always avoided being in Los Anchorage, if I can possibly avoid it, however last year, our friend/neighbour Joar Leifseth Ulsom was running his first ever Iditarod and has asked me to drive the tag sled during his run on the Ceremonial. Joar is part of Racing Beringia and we’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time in the company of the RB crew. I obviously brought him good luck, as he finished in 7th place and was Rookie of the Year. This year, he had entered again, and was obviously mindful of the positive impact my presence had on his previous result, so he once again asked me to be on the tag sled. Having survived last year’s run without dumping the sled or falling off, I was reluctant to risk my impeccable record of not trashing anything whilst in the public eye, but Joar insisted that I was the perfect anchor to slow his strong team down……………. thinking back, that’s perhaps not the compliment I imagined it was at the time.
Those of you who followed the race as they travelled across the Interior and up the coast, will have winced and worried with us as we saw an ever increasing list of scratched, damaged and broken mushers and equipment. This year’s race will live long in the memory and as time passes, more and more stories of the trail will doubtless appear. One of the things that has been indelibly marked on my memory, is the sheer number of mushers who have all said, with remarkable calmness, after the event, that they had never been so scared, ever and that quite a few of them felt sure they were going to die or at the absolute least, be very seriously injured. Some of the videos and images that are out there from this year’s race are extremely frightening and make me thankful that all of the people I count amongst my friends, running this year, all made it home safely.
Of course, I’m delighted to be able to claim some degree of credit for Joar’s wonderful result. He finished in 4th place and I like to think that my presence made it all possible. I like to think that, but of course, it is purely down to the amazing efforts of Joar and his wonderful dog team, not just during the race, but in the many months of training leading up to the start, as well as the care and attention he lavishes upon his dogs, all year round.