Iditarod 2012, Ceremonial Start, 40th Edition.
First off, I have to admit I overslept this morning. I guess that is how it goes, if you are not a musher pumped full of adrenaline. Got to 4th Avenue late, was kicked out I do not how many times from the dog staging area, that I lost count. And that was even with wearing a damn handlers-mushers badge. At times I wished for my starting bib back. There is rarely any time other than the start of a race, where so much positive energy accumulates in one spot. Mushers smiling, friends hugging, well wished exchanged all over, dog exited to go, barking and lunging. Although there was noticeable differences in the teams appearances. Whereas Silvia Furtwängerl`s outfit was a snarling mess of fighting dogs, which even had some of the dog handlers scared to stand close, to other teams baking happily and exited like Rohn Busers team, to teams like Ken Anderson, who were utmost cool, calm and collected. The same reflected in Ken´s attitude. John Bakers team was a joy to watch also, eagerly taking in the excitement, while yet being very focused on the task ahead.
There was so many mushers I wanted to snap shots of, but with 66 of them, its hard to catch them all. I sure will have some more time on the trail over the next few weeks. Having trained with Gerry Willomitzer a bit this winter, I wanted to see who he had chosen for his team. Curly and Hippo were proudly in lead. I was glad to see Stevie in the team, young, but full of promising future. Gerry´s fan club sure made some of the coolest signs I saw out there. I weighed his sled down with some 200 extra pounds and rode out the starting chute with his handler Maria. She was beaming with exitement. “ I cannot believe this, look at all these people”…. “ oh this is soooooo cooolll “.
Next I caught a ride with Aaron Burmeister. While standing on the trail, talking dogs with Jessie Royer I could hear a very familiar bark: VASSER. And sure enough Aaron pulled up with Vasser and Grisman in lead. They were sure exited to see me. Saffron on the other hand, made no notion as if she would even know me. Some time on the couch will hopefully fix that in the spring once I get them back home. There were some others in Aarons team which I ran last year, like Govenor, Moss, Todd and Remmy. It was nice to see the gang again. I also caught a ride in Aarons tag sled for a while, hoping to get a bit more movie material.
Some familiar bark caught my ear again: TETSA. That was one of Jessie Royers dogs I was privileged to drive last season. Love that little dog. Black devil. Full of spunk and energy. She is turning 9. In that team were also M&M, Gojo and Borax, all dogs I had gotten to know while training with Jessie. Gojo and Borax were their energetic self again, jumping over top of each other, a thing they had come to master up on the glacier last summer. Certain dogs are just not meant for patiently waiting. On the back of the runners of this real nice looking team was no other than mushing legend and 5 time Iditarod Champion Rick Swenson. While his team was oozing with experience, Matt Giblin drove a team of young, but well behaved dogs to the starting line, belonging to Jake Berkowitz from Apex Kennels. The fact how well behaved those dogs were, despite only being 16 month old, shows how much time and energy Matt had spend with that group of dogs. Well done. Matt´s dad was riding his second sled and beaming from ear to ear. Minor little misadventure was that he did not make the first right hand corner towards Cordova hill, but he was by no means the first and only one spilling in that spot. After Ryan Redington leaving the starting line, it only took a few minutes and the City of Anchorage graders and dozers were already working on clearing the snow and restoring traffic in downtown. Wow, talk about being organized. One last afternoon, of time spend with friends and than tomorrow we are off to Willow, where the real show gets underway. 16 instead of 12 dogs will get hooked up. 1000 instead of 11 miles will the goal. And 1 musher only instead of handlers and riders will be on the sled. No more show, its gametime. A long game. 10 days of intense focus, determination to reach the ultimate goal, to arrive in Nome first. There is a lot of real capable teams and mushers out there battling for the bragging rights, the satisfaction, of getting to Nome first. Plenty of adventures will wait for them within the next 9 or 10 days. I hope to capture some of them and feel lucky I can go along for the ride.