Not one to put the sled before the dog team (… that whole cart and horse analogy is SO yesterday …), let's rewind to Saturday's ceremonial start. In short, it went very well! Ok, so the weather was better for spectators than mushers and their dogs, with temps easily hovering around, if not above, the freezing point. And yes, there was a lot of standing water in the gutters. So, sure, the snow that trail officials layered onto Anchorage's downtown city streets deteriorated pretty quickly.
Wait a sec, where was I going with this…? Oh yeah, it still went really well! The spectators were out in full force, creating a fun, energetic atmosphere for all. Both Kristy and Anna were graced with really nice Iditariders again this year (thanks, Tim and Brianna! You can read their profiles here). As mentioned, the trail deteriorated pretty quickly despite all the work race volunteers put into it. They went so far as to grind down icy sections to basically make a snowier surface to mush on. But despite some technical and rough sections of trail, an Iditarider in the sled basket, and towing a whip sled, neither twin had any mishaps or wipeouts (always a welcome outcome given the photographers lining the route). There must have been a few mushers that weren't so fortunate, though, as both twins mentioned seeing sled bits and other evidence of close encounters with trees along the route.
As soon as the 11-mile Ceremonial Start run was over, the twins packed up the dogs and all of their gear and started the long drive to Fairbanks. A 360 mile drive would be long enough under normal conditions, but when towing a dog trailer through whiteout blizzard conditions, what could have been a 7 hour drive quickly turned into around 10 hours. But they made it!
Sunday was a day with some downtime, but Anna and Kristy still had plenty to do. The dogs still needed to be fed and cared for, and they were busy packing sleds and making last minute adjustments to their gear.
This morning started early, still in the dark and cold. It was +2F (-17C) when we got up at 5am for final preparations. But a light snow was falling from the sky and the wind wasn't too bad, so all in all, great conditions for starting the race. As mentioned previously, the Chena River wasn't sufficiently frozen to permit launching there, so we had a bit of a run from the dog lot to the starting line. But by then, the sun was shining, the twins were smiling, and we were all ready for racing to begin in earnest.
With Kristy in bib 11, she was off the starting line at 10:22am Alaska time. I helped lead the dog team and was able to give her a big hug and wish her luck in the last 10 seconds before go-time. Anna hit the trail 56 minutes later, and I rode next to her on the sled runners, taking in a twins-eye-view and beaming like only a proud sister can. And then, they were off! And I was packin' up and heading to the airport.
As of this writing, both twins are in and out of Nenana and making the long, 90 mile run to Manley Hot Springs. They were planning to camp after picking up straw and a couple of other provisions in Nenana, so if you're following their GPS trackers on the Iditarod Insider and saw them stop for a bit outside of that checkpoint, that would be why. They're targeting 50-55 mile runs between 4-5 hour rests.
On that note, I'm going to upload a couple more pictures and scamper to my gate before they close the plane door on me. I'll be back to blogging as soon as I get back to Toronto, and I have a ton of pictures and some video to upload. Stay tuned, armchair mushers!