by Terrie Hanke
Mushers and volunteers were busy. The temperature was mild. The sky was more cloudy than clear. Excitement and expectation filled the air. Folks greeted each other with handshakes and hugs. It was Iditarod, not the race itself but the farewell to Iditarod XL and the launch of the forty-first Last Great Race. The annual Volunteer and Musher Sign-up Picnic took place the last Saturday of June at Iditarod Headquarters just a few miles shy of Iditarod founder, Joe Redington’s homestead on Knik Lake.
Contestants for Iditarod XLI began signing up at 9:00 sharp. Even before that, volunteers gathered at the nearby Senior Center to count ballots for the Board for Director’s election while more volunteers were setting up tables, chairs and tents on the front lawn of headquarters. Race sponsor, Golden Corral, provided a delicious array of salads, entrées and desserts for the noon feast. As a special treat, Stan Hooley, Iditarod’s Executive Director, and Board Member, Stan Foo, grilled fresh salmon.
Educators from around the world spent the day at the picnic as part of the Iditarod Summer Teacher’s Conference. The teachers enjoyed the opportunity to personally meet, photograph and collect autographs from the veteran mushers their students have followed in previous races. The teachers adopted rookie mushers for their students to encourage and support for their 2013 journey to Nome.
Blynne Froke, Target® Iditarod Teacher on the Trial™ in 2012 was recognized for her contributions to the Iditarod Education program over the past year. Linda Fenton, a Wisconsinite, who will serve as the 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ was introduced. Froke, of California, passed the official sleeping bag and other trail gear to Fenton during the day of festivities.
Fifty-four mushers registered on the initial day of sign-up. Nine are men and women making their first trip to Nome, seeking the coveted belt buckle. Forty-five are veterans returning for yet another run to Nome. Defending Champion, Dallas Seavey, is joined by former champions – John Baker, Lance Mackey, Jeff King, Martin Buser and Mitch Seavey. Together, these fellows have collected fifteen winner’s checks over the past twenty-one races. Dee Dee Jonrowe is making her 31st trip to Nome. Newton Marshall of Jamaica will be returning to the race running a Kelly Griffin team.
The current field of rookies includes Brazilian Luan Ramos Marques, Canadians Susie Rogan and Jerry Joinson along with Norwegian Joar Leifseth Ulsom and a lower 48 contestant, Charley Bejna.
With two top ten finishes, Rudy Demoski returns to the Iditarod Trail after twenty-eight years. Demoski ran to Nome in 1974 then again in ’75, ’76 and ’80. He scratched in “77 and “85. His best finish was 4th in his rookie run taking 21days, 21 hours, 32 minutes and 2 seconds. Rudy placed 9th in the 1975 race. His best time was in 1980 as he earned 15th place in 16 days, 9 hours, 35 minutes and 56 seconds.
Toward the end of the day, all eyes turned to the podium for the drawings. Names of the registered mushers were drawn to determine the bib draw order at the Thursday Musher Banquet. Then items of particular use for mushers were awarded. Aaron Bermeister will dish out dog food with a new stainless steel ladle. Justin Savidis won stainless steel bowls that will make 12 dogs feel like royalty. Paul Gebhart walked away with a box of 500 booties. Finally the last official business of the day. Who’s names would be drawn for the two race entry fees? Cim Smyth and Jeff King please step forward, your entry fees will be refunded! Congrats guys!