Your Mad Blogger arrived in Anchorage Thursday evening. I had hoped I might get to the banquet in time to see the twins draw their bib numbers, but alas a traffic jam in baggage delayed things, not to mention my travel-weary bag was one of the last to come tumbling down the conveyer belt. I did get to the convention center in time to see Kristy and Anna smiling and signing autographs for dozens of fans, a neat sight in and of itself. And as I'm sure you're already aware, Anna drew bib #66 while Kristy managed to pull the final bib, #73. While she certainly didn't have any burning desire to be the last musher off the line, she's not concerned by it. After all, someone has to be last! And both twins are glad they're reasonably close together, as they very much look forward to making their way to Nome together. There's plenty of snow and Seeing Double won't be at the back of the pack for long!
After the banquet wrapped up Thursday, we drove out to the kennel in Knik, near Wasilla, about an hour's drive from Anchorage. It was insanely windy, particularly through some of the flats, and I couldn't help but marvel at the tie-down job that was keeping one of the sleds secured to the top of the dog truck. Despite nerves and excitement running high, we managed to get some rest before tackling a variety of things on Friday. Errands were ran and projects completed. Yours truly was given the task of writing each dog's name on a new bright orange collar and attaching the official Iditarod tags. And if any pet owners out there ever struggle with those darn rings when attaching a new tag, boy do I have a tip for you… Invest in a pair of split ring pliers. I managed to get 32 tags on in record time without the cursing, broken fingernails, gouged finger tips that normally accompany this task, a minor miracle as far as I'm concerned!
Anna and Kristy also wanted to get some dogs out on the trail to stretch their legs, so we hooked up two 14-dog teams and pulled out of the kennel for a short run on a portion of the historic Iditarod trail. Kristy opted to use a snowmobile instead of a sled, commonly referred to as moto-mushing. The trails out of the kennel were pretty fast, and using a snowmobile helped her keep the team at a controlled trot more easily than she would have been able to with a sled. And I didn't mind the added comfort of a padded seat and suspension system! We had barely pulled out of the kennel when a big moose crossed the trail not far ahead of us. Kristy promptly warned me to keep an eye out for momma moose, as apparently the small building with shaggy brown fur we had just seen was only a calf! Sure enough, a even larger momma moose wasn't far behind. Fortunately they kept their distance and we mushed on our way without incident. It was a great run of about an hour, with other teams out enjoying the gorgeous day and beautiful trails, offering high-fives as they went past.
Friday night took us back into Anchorage for an event hosted by sponsor Halliburton at 49th State Brewing. Musher Jodi Bailey was also in attendance, as was artist Andi Havens and the painting she made of the twins and their dog teams. It was even more impressive in person! The twins cut the evening fairly short, though, so they could get back out to the kennel, feed dogs, and get things organized for the big event in the morning.
By 8am Saturday, the twins, dogs, and gear were back in Anchorage and parked in their designated spot, which given their bib numbers was close to the start - one perk of drawing higher numbers. We got to watch all the other teams go by and had a much shorter haul to the starting line from the truck than most. We couldn't have asked for a better day… Sun blazing, bright blue skies, and appropriately chilly to maintain the snow that was trucked in overnight to line the city streets and to keep the dogs comfortable. Hundreds of fans clamored around the starting line, cheering their favorite teams on, grabbing pictures and autographs. The twins clearly have their groupies, with lots of folks posing for pictures or carrying BERINGTON signs.
I once again had the honor of standing on the runners with my sister as first Anna and then Kristy made her way to the starting line. Each twin had her auction-winning Iditarider in the sled basket, a second tag sled and musher (for safety as they made their way through the crowds lining the 11-mile ceremonial start trail), and 12-dog teams (smaller than the 16-dog teams they'll each have at the restart, again for manageability). The run to Campbell airstrip was largely uneventful, aside from a persistent moose that didn't want to share the trail and the fact that Kristy tipped her sled for the first time in 8 years during this portion of the race. The only consequence was a bit of embarrassment, but I think she shook it off quickly… after all, Kristy wasn't the only one to tip a sled this year, and it happens to lots of mushers. Heck, even I was on a sled that tipped one year in the past while riding as 2nd musher for Paul Gebhardt. Makes for an exciting story for the Iditarider, too.
Back at the start, I helped collect the handler jackets and tear down the dog truck so we could go pick up the teams. We arrived just before Kristy pulled in. There were also plenty of fans here, and I suspect several stuck around longer than they might otherwise have so they could see the twins come in. After snacking the dogs, we got everyone loaded up and the twins went back to the kennel to get everything organized for Sunday's 350 mile drive up to Fairbanks.
As of this writing, I'm enjoying the rumble of excitement at Pike's Lodge in Fairbanks as mushers and fans arrive. The twins are enroute and should be joining me soon. I hope you don't think poorly of me for opting to fly and not make the drive with them… but the dog truck was packed to the gills and frankly I feel as if I've paid my dues over many many hours in an airplane seat!
We'll take care of the dogs tonight and tackle any remaining tasks before trying to get a little rest. The restart begins at 11am Alaska time Monday morning, and it promises to be a thrilling if chilly experience. When my flight landed this morning, the pilot announced it was a balmy -10F (-23C). But at least winds are mild and the sun is shining, so it isn't as bad as you might think. Trail conditions are reported as good over the first couple hundred miles of the race, with plenty of snow base for teams running the freeway of the Tanana and then Yukon rivers.
Once the twins and their dogs arrive, I'll work on snapping pics of each amazing canine athlete and get the dog team bios posted. I've also found a ton of articles with pictures and quotes from, or mention of, the twins, so I'll be sure to post an entry with links.
It's our last night in civilization, folks! Get ready to get your mush on…