By Terrie Hanke
The start from Knik Lake for the Junior Iditarod went off without a hitch. Eleven young mushers left the start line at two-minute intervals. The morning was bright and sunny with the temperature in the single digits – crisp but not really cold. Winds were calm. It couldn’t have been nicer but the weather forecast promised a change for overnight and into Sunday.
Organizers provided the junior mushers with plenty of support. The trail was marked by trailbreakers out in front of the teams. Snowmachiners were interspersed between the teams to keep an eye out for moose. Seems the big animals are having trouble navigating this year in the deep snow and prefer packed trails. The trail sweeps bring up the rear.
Teams arrived at Yentna Station in a flurry – in more ways than one. Mushers Lyon, Seavey, Vitello and Harper pulled off the river and into the checkpoint within five minutes of each other beginning at 17:31. Another group of four, Klejka, Greger, Davis and Ferrano filed into the checkpoint in the next twenty minutes. Along with the mushers, the snow arrived too. Snow has been falling all night at a rate of about two inches per hour. While the run out to the rest stop was fairly fast, the new snow will slow the return to Willow.
These young mushers are very skilled at dog care. It’s a joy to watch them care for their dogs upon reaching Yentna. They’re very focused and business like. When the dogs are feed and sleeping, the mushers join as friends around a bon-fire built by the first musher to arrive in the checkpont. Way before the sun rises, the kids will be feeding their dogs breakfast and preparing to depart for the finish line.
After the ten-hour rest and differential the first musher, Conway Seavey departed Yentna at 03:35. Seavey was followed closely by Bailey Vitello at 03:38. Progress of the mushers on the return trip to Willow as well as final race results can be found at www.jriditarod.com.