June 18, 2018

Eye on the Trail: JR Mushers on Trail to Yentna

Veteran Anna Stephan Departs for Yentna Station Roadhouse

Snow fell over night making the start of the JR Iditarod on Knik Lake a magical snowy winter wonderland. The temperatures were pleasant and the winds were light as the mushers prepared for the start. No matter how much preparation is done in advance of the race, there’s still plenty to do between parking the dog truck and going to the starting line.

Once the sled bags were packed, JR Iditarod officials circulated for the official mandatory gear check. It’s a long list created for the wellbeing and safety of the mushers and dogs. The list includes cold weather sleeping bag, ax, snowshoes, head lamp, booties, lighter, dog food cooker, socks, rain gear, gloves and HEET.  That’s an abbreviated list but you can get the gist of how prepared these kids are.

The start went flawlessly. Teams departed the start in two-minute intervals. As soon as bib number two departed, bib three came to the start. Handlers held the excited sled dogs for the count down and at ZERO, they charged down the trail. With the over night snowfall the outbound run to Yentna Station will be slower than in the recent past.

Mother nature has been kind to mushers and snow machiners this year. Dan Gabryszak, the host of the Road House, says the total is very near 75 inches. Thus the trail from Knik that travels through miles of woods and across swamps and rivers was smooth and covered with ample snow over the 75 miles to Yentna. The same will be true for the inbound run to Willow.

Bernie and Jeannette Willis – 2018 JR Iditarod Honorary Mushers

The honorary mushers chosen by the JR Iditarod were on hand at the race start this morning. Bernie and Jeannette Willis are being honored this year for their support of the young mushers. The Willises have built the sled and fabricated the sled bag that is given to the winner of the JR Iditarod for at least a couple of decades.

Teams will camp in the woods along the bank of the Yentna River. Once the dogs are cared for and fed, the mushers will spend time with both old and new friends around the campfire. It’s a race tradition that the first mushers to make the half-way check point tend to their dogs then build the campfire for all to enjoy through out the night,

After serving the ten-hour required rest plus the start differential the teams will depart for Willow. As I write currently from Yentna Station, we estimate the first teams to arrive between 7:30 and 8:00 pm. That puts the first teams back on the trail in the morning between 5:30 and 6:00 am. The inbound trail to Willow should be faster as the new fluffy snow will be packed down by then. Check the JR Iditarod website often for updates. GPS tracker is available.