Are you watching the countdown timer? Only 16 days left before the start of Iditarod 2019; it’s crunch time. There are 52 mushers who will drop off their checkpoint drop bags today or tomorrow. The field of mushers is divided and mushers are requested to come on one of the days. They are coming in by the trailer and truck full!
Early this morning, Mark Nordman, Race Marshall, began the day by thanking the volunteers who showed up to process drop bags. Some had just been here last week for straw drop and will be back again tomorrow. Without the dedicated volunteers of this race, it could not be run.
So how does it work? Mushers or musher representatives bring their drop bags to Air Land Transportation, which volunteers its space. Bags are unloaded and placed on a scale one at a time. A volunteer calls out the checkpoint name and weight of the bag for recording. Someone else lifts the bag and hauls it to the correct pallet for the checkpoint it’s going to. Yet another person wraps a full pallet to keep bags from sliding out and the pallet is loaded to go to its next destination. For checkpoints up to Rohn, the volunteer pilots of the Iditarod Air Force will be taking supplies from Willow to those places. The rest will be sent bypass mail as the straw bails.
Rookie musher Jessica Klejka was there with her husband, Sam, and her sister who has come down to help. She said besides what her dogs need, she sends out lots of lip balm, gum, and moose meat for herself. Jessica just laughed when I asked her what she was going to do with all the free time she’ll have after planning and filling drop bags. Right now she just plans to keep working until about a week before the race.
Jack Niggemeyer, handler for Anna and Kristy Berrington, was there to meet them when they got there. Thirty-six years ago, Jack volunteered for his first Iditarod at the musher food drop. Since then he has mushed it, been Race Marshall, been a race judge, been a handler, and done trail sweeps, as well as a multitude of other positions.
While this must be a big relief for mushers to be done, it marks the movement of time to closer to the beginning of the race, and it’s busy behind the scenes with the power of hundreds of volunteers.