By Michael Rogers
It is the Friday before the race and mushers are making their way to Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start on Saturday at 10AM Alaska time . The ceremonial start is part of the festivities of Fur Rendezvous, the week long winter festival stretching back to Anchorage’s frontier days. Racers will run downtown with “Iditariders” who have won bids to ride with their favorite mushers in the start. It’s part of the pageantry of the race, but isn’t actually part of the race itself.
Last year’s champion, Pete Kaiser, will be carrying Janet Kaiser and followed by Ron Kaiser in his chase sled. They’re his parents who were largely responsible for promoting dog mushing in Bethel. No pressure there Pete.
The real race starts Sunday, at 8:00AM out in Willow- some 70 miles to the north past the suburban sprawl of Wasilla. From there mushers will be on the clock, making their way the 1000 miles to the Burled Arch of Nome. This year’s race runs on the northerly route and from Ophir will go north to Cripple, Ruby, Galena, and Nulato before landing back on the permanent trail at Kaltag.
The big news this year is the weather. Winds are high in Rainy Pass and Rohn making it difficult for the Iditarod Air Force to land race officials and others who make up the traveling support staff that make the race possible. The other big news in weather is snow. The amount of snow across most of the course is significantly higher than normal. That will work both ways, on sections like the infamous Farewell Burn which is routinely a barren, wind blown tussock maze the snow will make the section a breeze. On other areas, deep drifts will make normally easy sections seem like a slog with more than four feet in some areas.
The other factor is temperature. The Interior is having one of the colder winters in years, with temperatures of -30F or colder seemingly endless north of the Alaska Range. The weather will play a significant factor as always, but perhaps more pronounced this year. With deep snow and cold, moose are likely going to be a major problem for mushers this year. On years like this moose will congregate on packed trails and refuse to yield for almost anything. In this year’s Iron Dog, a moose kicked in the side panel and disabled a snow machine breaking trail near McGrath. Moose are the primary wildlife hazard on any Iditarod and will likely be more so this year. Tangles with moose have happened in the past and generally end badly.
The field of racers contains many fan favorites and racing veterans and a small selection of rookies making their first journey to Nome. Absent this year is perennial fixture Jeff King who withdrew on Tuesday due to emerging medical issues. We wish him well this year and hope to see him back on the trail.
His team will be ran by rookie Sean Underwood, who has been King’s understudy since 2016. Also withdrawn is Brett Bruggeman, Rick Casillo, and rookie Jesse Salyer..
I’m rooting for Ryan Redington!
God bless all the Racers & their dogs. Safe trip!!