Sunday, March 4th – the Official Start!

After experiencing the Ceremonial Start on Saturday, I was more excited than ever to go to the restart in Wasilla, which is the official start of the race.  I left Anchorage early Sunday morning, headed north to Wasilla.  The restart for the Iditarod takes place on Willow Lake, but because of all the snow, the parking was extremely limited at Willow.  Volunteers and fans were asked to ride shuttle buses from various locations, and the earliest bus was from a sports complex in Wasilla.  On the bus ride over there was some spectacular scenery, including a view of Mt. Denali.  Since Mt. Denali is SO big, it actually creates its own weather.  It is only visible 20% of the time, so it was really an unexpected treat to be able to see it!

Mt. Denali on the way to Wasilla

The shuttle bus arrived at Willow right at 10:00.  I had already signed up to volunteer at the Volunteer Cabin from 10:00-12:00 and was able to find the cabin pretty easily.  Everyone there was so friendly!  I met a lady from Kotzebue, Alaska who was one of John Baker’s teachers; she was sooo proud of him 🙂

The volunteering was easy:  as volunteers checked in, we would look them up and let them know where they were to report.  Everyone got armbands identifying their assignments.  In addition, dog handlers had a meeting to attend, trail guards were stationed at multiple locations, and security had a variety of assignments.  The time passed quickly, and soon I was off with my own security armband to photograph some of the mushers and their dogs. I walked out of the Volunteer Cabin and followed the growing crowd down a fairly steep slope towards the starting line.  I couldn’t help but think about how different the weather was.  It had snowed all day the day before at the Ceremonial Start, and now at the re-start, the sky could not have been any clearer.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day!

The musher parking lot area was on the left, with the starting line and crowd on the right.  My security armband allowed me access into the musher parking lot and the mushers were parked pretty much in a large oval, with the inside area open.  There was a completely different vibe than at the Ceremonial start.  Yesterday was more of a relaxed environment – mushers were chatting with fans, posing for pictures and seemed fairly at ease.  Today, it’s the real deal.  When the mushers pull out of the starting chute the clock is ticking and they are on their way to Nome.  As I walked around the parking area you could see mushers taking inventory of equipment, packing sleds, talking to the dogs, getting ready.  Here’s a video that will give you a feel for what the area is like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6-p1dMeubk.

The mushers were primarily parked in numerical order going around the outside of the oval.  I was able to get some great pictures of the mushers and their pre-race preparations.  Below are some pictures of Mitch Seavey, going through his sled and double checking his list of required items.

Mitch’s father, Dan Seavey, is also racing in this year’s Iditarod.  Dan and Sebastian Schnuelle are in the middle picture below.  Dan is 74; he raced in the first two Iditarods (coming in 3rd place in the first one).  Mitch won the Iditarod in 2004, and Dan’s grandson Dallas is also racing this year’s race, making three generations of Seaveys running the Iditarod this year.  Dan is talking to fan favorite Sebastian Schnuelle.  Sebastian came in second in the Iditarod in 2009 and won the Yukon Quest a few years ago.  He followed the Yukon Quest this year on a snowmobile and wrote a column for the Anchorage Daily News, and will be doing the same for the Iditarod this year.  You can read Sebastian’s column here:  http://community.adn.com/adn/blog/127576

Dan Seavey & Sebastian Schnuelle

I really enjoyed talked to Dan Seavey – he was so friendly both at the banquet and also at the re-start.  He and his family lived in Virginia for awhile, and Dan was a history teacher when he first moved to Alaska.  Another of Dan’s grandsons, Conway, won the Junior Iditarod this year, and he was kind enough to take the picture on the right of me and Dan.

Like his father and grandfather, Dallas Seavey was also at work, getting ready for the race.  I am still just so disappointed the weather was so extreme earlier in the trip and I wasn’t able to drive to Seward to meet the Seavey’s and do the Exit Glacier Tour (part of their Iditaride business).  I am glad I finally introduced myself to Dallas and got to talk to him  for a bit at the restart.  Wish the picture was a bit clearer!

Below are some pictures of Paul Gebhart, Anna Berington and Kristy Berington’s teams.  The Berington’s are identical twins.  This is Kristy’s third Iditarod and her sister Anna’s first.  The twins were very happy to have drawn starting position numbers so close to each other.  Kristy said at the musher banquet that she hopes to finish ahead of Anna so she can be at the finish line when Anna arrives, just like Anna was for her.

Here are some pictures of John Baker’s team.  I had the pleasure of hearing him speak a few nights earlier, and he is honestly one of the most humble men I have ever met.  Some of his dogs were enjoying the sun and napping while he walked around, checking all of their paws, hips and general well-being.  While on the trip I learned that John is a Native Alaskan and has done a lot for the youth in his community, speaking at many schools.  You can read more about Team Baker here:  http://www.teamjohnbaker.com/

It was interesting to see all the different types of dog teams.  While there were many huskies, there were also some that were not.  I love this picture on the right that shows one dog resting his head on another dog’s back 🙂

There were over 60 mushers in the parking area, and it was really exciting to see them as they were making their preparations.  Some of those at the end of the line still had dogs in their boxes, and were still talking to fans and the media.

Josh Cadzow (left), Jodi Bailey (center), Rohn Buser (right)

Mushers in the middle of the pack put booties on dogs and double check their gear.

Putting on booties (left) Zoya Denure's sled (right)

And then, finally, those mushers starting at the front of the pack began their final preparations.  They put out the ganglines, hooked up their sleds and slowly hooked the dogs to the line.

Putting out the gangline!

At this point I left the parking area and walked down to the starting line.  After watching the start and restart on the Iditarod Insider for years, it was pretty amazing to hear the commentator over the loud speaker.  I could not believe I was really there!

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About merryfwilliams

High school math teacher and mom of 3 amazing kids. I have a high maintenance husky and am adding a knitting obsession to the juggling routine. @merryfwilliams on Twitter
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