Monday, March 8, 2010

OK, I'm Into It

I've all but forgotten that the Iditarod started Saturday. I was in the valley for the weekend. Being out of sync, off schedule, and out of routine, well I just forgot. But now I've just checked in with and caught the bug again. I have a handle on some of my favorite and familiar mushers, where they started and what position they're in now. So, I'm "on it" a little bit now.

I'd love to post some photos but the best I think I can do legally is post the links to some photos I've found on the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Stock websites. So, if you're interested, here goes and click away.

All of these photos were taken at the Official Restart on Sunday. If you remember, the race starts in downtown Anchorage on the first Saturday of the month. Because of cumbersome geographical hurdles to deal with by starting in the state's largest city, somewhere along the historical line of the race, they decided to do a Ceremonial Start in Anchorage for the fans. The Official Restart was moved to the next day in Willow/Wasilla about 50 miles outside Anchorage. Lots of people show up for the start, but just as many show up for the restart.

Here's "the incredible Lance Mackey" loving up on his dogs before his start - winner for the last 3 years, a throat cancer survivor, and 4 time winner of the equally challenging 1000 mile Yukon Quest.

Dee Dee Jonrowe is also a cancer survivor. She has survived breast cancer and is an active supporter of breast cancer research and awareness, and thus she clads herself and her dogs in pink. Dee Dee is also a Christian. She's in her 50's and has been running the Iditarod for about 20 years or more. Pictured with her, I'm guessing, is her "Idita-rider". For the Ceremonial start guest rides are auctioned off for each musher. The Iditarider gets to travel with the musher from the exciting start to the stopping spot about 11 miles away. Here's a great photo of Dee Dee.

Here's another musher I've grown very familiar with. Jeff King is known as The Winningest Musher because he has won so many sled dog races. He's won the Iditarod 4 times and is really working for # five. I read his book, Cold Hands Warm Heart, two years ago. His home and kennel is up near Denali National Park. When we drove up there two years ago, I looked closely along the road and I spotted what surely has to be his place along the Parks Highway. It had tall log posts with a cross bar, marking the driveway. Resting on the top beam was a laser cut iron piece of a sled and full team of dogs. The name of the road was Hickory, the name of his beloved dog that tragically died when Jeff decided to leave him in the house one time when he went to visit a friend's house for the evening and his cabin caught fire.

I like this next photo. It shows something I have always heard about but never really seen in a clear image. It was taken at the start line as a musher is getting ready to go. The announcer is probably counting down through the loudspeaker, getting very close... Four. Three. Two. The photo is of the "handlers" holding back the sled until the announcer says "Zero!" The dogs are so excited that they jump and leap in the air waiting to go. They pull on the harnesses, lunge forward, wanting to be set free to go. They have to be held back so they don't go before they're allowed. This is a great shot of how much strength and energy they have, and how much strength and energy it takes for four people to hold them back.

Here is the winner of the 2009 Yukon Quest, Sebastian Schnuelle. Don't ask me how to pronounce his name; it seems every announcer pronounces it differently. He's German born but lives in Canada. He is known for his thick accent, big smile and huge wild hair. He came in 2nd in last year's Iditarod so he's the one to watch this year as he's sure to be right on Lance Mackey's heels the whole race.

Here's Martin Buser resting up before the restart. He's one of my absolute favorite mushers. It's not a very good picture of him but I think it's a funny one. I like him because he is so full of smiles. The guy is always smiling and has the best attitude! He's a cutie with his dimples and his happy approach to life. Every musher I've read about adores their dogs and makes it their aim to have happy dogs, but Martin Buser seems to have found some great means of keeping his dogs extra happy. He designed these giant hamster wheels for his dog yard. He did it because the dogs love to run. It's not part of their training; the dogs just get in there on their own and run because they love it. They get on when they want to and they get off when they want to. He's Swiss born and has a lovely accent. He, too, has won the Iditarod four times. In 2002 he won it in record time, a record that still stands. As he crossesd under "the burled arch", he was given a big US flag which he waved proudly. You see, after he finished, he took his oath of allegiance and became a citizen of the USA. Here's another photo of Martin. The scars on his cheek are from frostbite.

Here's an interesting musher. You've heard of the Jamaican Bobsled Team? The very real Winter Olympics Bobsled team from Jamaica was the inspiration for the movie Cool Runnings with John Candy. Well, here we have the Iditarod's first ever Jamaican Dogsled team. Newton Marshall has trained with Lance Mackey this year and he entered the Yukon Quest as a rookie last month. Now he's running the Iditarod. How cool is that!

Here's some more dog photos, showing their excitement as they impatiently wait to finally hear the "Hike!" command from their musher and they get to take off. More and more jumping sled dogs.

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