Chapter One of Iditarod XLVI took place at Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla on the last Saturday of June. Mushers and volunteers gathered at the annual Volunteer Appreciation Picnic and Musher Signup event to say out with the old and in with the new. The day started cloudy and cool but by the time the drawing for the free entry fees took place, it was sunny and warm. Folks would say it was a perfect day for a picnic, a perfect summer day in Alaska, and a perfect picnic dinner served up by the Golden Corral.
At the close of the day, fifty-two mushers were signup for the 2018 Iditarod. The number includes forty-two veterans and ten rookies. Not all were in attendance at signup. Thirty-one mushers were present, each hoping to have their name drawn for a free entry. Receiving the $4,000 fee would be a big help for anyone’s race budget. Other mushers signed up online or by sending paper work through the mail. Two mushers had their entry packets delivered by somebody who was attending. Not surprisingly, Kristi Berington delivered twin sister Anna’s packet.
Currently, the field for 2018 consists of fifteen women and thirty-seven men. Of the fifty-two currently registered contestants, forty-three are residents of the United States, six are Canadian citizens, one hales from Norway, one from Sweden, and one who claims dual citizenship of the US and the Czech Republic. Check the musher profile page to see who is in for 2018 at this time. Check back often, as the list will be updated over the next several months as new entries arrive at Iditarod Headquarters. The entry deadline is December 1st.
The picnic marks the transfer of responsibilities for the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. Annie Kelley of Illinois served during the 2016-17 school year. Heidi Sloan of Virginia assumes the duties for the 2017-18 school year. Heidi is the twentieth teacher to serve as the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.
While mushers signup, the ITC Annual Membership meeting and volunteer recognition are the “official” portions of the day, catching up with friends from the Iditarod Trail is the fun part of the picnic that everyone looks forward to.
Volunteer Jasper Bond attended his first Iditarod picnic in his twenty-four years of service to the Last Great Race on Earth®. Bond has served as the Mayor of Rohn Checkpoint and after mushers have cleared that checkpoint, he’s moved down the trail to Elim. Bond, a potter, from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota arrived at his picnic in a 1937 Ford Model A pickup topped off with a tiny house. Jasper spent the day talking with mushers and volunteers he’s met along the trail. Bond has upgraded the Model A a bit with seat belts, an alternator and of course, the tiny house. He’s considering stiffer leaf springs and wider tires for the back. Beyond that the vehicle is restored as “original.” There’s a decal on the door that signifies the regiment that constructed the Al-Can Highway. The red and blue rectangles represent the flags of Canada and the US, the white stripe in the middle symbolizes the highway, the star depicts the North Star and the shape is that of a winter tent.
One of the most exciting parts of the picnic is to meet the rookie mushers. They come with plenty of excitement and enthusiasm mixed in with a little bit of apprehension. In paying their entry fee and completing the lengthy application, they are taking one of the many steps toward living their dream of crossing Alaska by dog team. In reading their biographies in the Musher Profile section at Iditarod.com you’ll see that one fellow will be running Siberians, another fellow is the 2017 Yukon Quest Champion, another fellow has been featured on the TV series Life Below Zero and one of the females has worked in Nome with KNOM radio. The Iditarod class of 2018 is ready and rearing to go.
Defending Champion Mitch Seavey was on hand at the picnic as well as former Champions Martin Buser and Jeff King. Former champion Dallas Seavey registered early. Jim Lanier will be back on the runners and will perhaps be the elder of the 2018 race. Allan Moore and Aliy Zirkle will be taking SP Kennel teams to Nome. Laura Neese is back for another Iditarod run. Mike Williams, Jr., Pete Kaiser, Richie Diehl as well as the three Redington brothers – Ray Jr., Ryan, and Robert are in for the 2018 Run. DeeDee Jonrowe will be making her 36th Iditarod start. The Berington twins will be on the trail. Kristy will be mentoring her soon to be husband, Andy Pohl, in his first run to Nome. Noticeably absent from the top ten of 2017 are Wade Marrs, and Paul Gebhardt. Stay turned though as many more entries will be coming in.
The moment everyone has been waiting for arrived a few minutes after 1500. The first drawings were for ladles, booties, and dog bowls provided by John Cooper of Kipmik. Winners did not have to be present to win. Laura Neese and Cody Strathe won the ladles, Pete Kaiser won the dog bowls, and Ramey Smyth won the booties. Those names were returned to the pot and then it was time for the big drawing – two entry fees.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Shaynee Traska will have their entry fees covered by ITC! Way to go and congrats! That’s a great piece of luck and a fantastic way to begin Iditarod XLVI. Joar has completed the race five times finishing in the top seven each time. He also holds the record for the fastest rookie time ever. Shaynee Traska is a rookie. She grew up in central Michigan and moved to Two Rivers, AK, five years ago. When she was nine years old, she learned of Joe Redington and has had her sights set on Iditarod ever since.