Paws Along the Junior Iditarod Trail
Eleven junior mushers arrived at the Yentna Station checkpoint last night after a 75 mile run. Coming off the Yentna River, we could see their headlamps like beacons in a mass of darkness. The call, “Team!” was heard and the time keeper and race marshal were there to greet them. The rest of us gave them their drop bags with additional supplies like dog food they had sent ahead. Bales of straw were punctured by snow hooks and dragged for dog bedding as they made their way to their camping spots. After feeding and bedding down the dogs, the teens could sleep in their sled, bed down with the dogs in the straw, or just sit around the campfire for their 10 hour layover. They were on their own; no other help was allowed. They deserved a rest.
These young mushers had actually followed part of the Iditarod Trail before veering off. There were hills to climb, mogul-type bumps all along the way, spots of slushy overflow on the frozen rivers and lakes, and some quick descents. I know because I traveled the same trail by snow machine with three knowledgeable, adventure-loving trail breakers. Their job is to pack down the trail for the mushers as well as scare off moose who enjoy the dog team trails. Why wade through deep snow when you can walk along hard-packed trails? We did scare off a cow moose and then saw her trot to her almost equal sized calf in the woods.
As the teens were preparing to leave, checking their sleds for all supplies needed, I spotted the reason Lara from New Hampshire decided to dedicate herself to dog mushing. She had seen her father’s stuffed husky dog in the basement, asked about it, and was so intrigued, she decided to work toward her dream. A little nervous, she said, “This is a big deal, really important to me.” She is carrying her inspiration in the sled with her on the Jr. Iditarod.
After 10+ hours rest, they left in the wee hours of -15 degrees this morning as we watched these brave kids mush toward their dream. The trail leads back to Willow along the same route. Their families and friends will be anxiously awaiting their return.
Thousands of dollars of scholarships have been donated as prizes for times finished, but also a Sportsmanship Award decided by the juniors themselves is awarded; the Humanitarian Award for the exemplary care of their dogs honors another teen. Other prizes donated by area businesses will round out the awards for these adventurers.