For three hours, spirited teams rolled into Yentna Station on Saturday evening. After recording the time in, dogs in and bib number and then completing the bag check, I asked all the mushers the same question, “How was your run?” All thirteen mushers answered with a variation of great! I heard AWESOME, FABULOUS, AMAZING and PHENOMENAL. Ask me how the dogs looked and I’d say ditto!
The mushers gathered straw, drop bags and a few containers of Heet then set to pampering their canine athletes with foot care, massage and a gourmet multi-course meal. Some of the mushers decided to follow the example of the canine athletes and curl up for a nap. Other mushers participated in the ageless tradition of gathering around the bon-fire. It’s a place where the teens make new friends and keep old friendships alive. Race officials experienced much the camaraderie, courtesy of the Gabryszaks, owners of the Yentna Station Roadhouse. Once all the mushers had arrived, Dan and Jean laid out a late supper of pork tenderloin with all the fixins. It happened to be veterinarian, Phil Meyer’s birthday so birthday cake was a special delight – there was the choice of chocolate or spice. After supper, Dan, a singer entertainer from years back played guitar and sang.
Some four hours before sunrise, the first Junior Musher, Noah Pereira pulled his snow hook and followed the snowy trail out to the Yentna River. Conway Seavey followed then Jenny Greger. By 06:52, all the mushers were running toward the finish line at Willow Lake. The sun rose at 08:19. The temperature was a balmy 19 degrees; the winds were calm and light snow drifted to the ground.
As the starter from Yentna Station, the teenage mushers impressed me on a number of accounts. First, and almost unbelievable, every musher was ready to depart on time after serving the required 10-hour layover plus the differential. This fact speaks well of their ability to plan and follow a checkpoint routine. Second, every dog on every team was on its feet, lunging, barking and ready to run from the moment the booties went on their paws. It seemed like the start at Knik Lake all over again. The dogs were happy and energetic for the home bound leg of the race. Third, the mushers left their campsites CLEAN! Fourth, for the entire race, there were three dropped dogs, which speaks volumes about the skill of the Junior Mushers in taking care of the canine athletes. Finally, the camaraderie amongst the mushers as well as volunteers was impressive. Thank you, please and well wishes were plentiful.
Watching the home bound run via Ion Earth GPS tracker, one saw the icons for Noah Pereira, Conway Seavey and Jenny Greger right on top of each other for many miles. As the three front-runners approached Willow, Noah pulled ahead and Jenny dropped back and that’s how they crossed the finish line. At the Junior banquet Noah, Conway and Jenny sat next to each other and shared plenty of friendly fun conversation. One is the champion, all are winners.