This evening the Junior Iditarod Rookie Mushers had a meeting where they got to do just that. They got to hear from experts in the field about the types of situations they may face on the trail during this weekend’s race. Since six of this year’s ten racers are rookies, this was a very important evening. The juniors introduced themselves to each other and were encouraged to help each other out on the trail. A couple of them seemed very calm and confident and few seemed to be a bit nervous! I’d be nervous if I was getting ready to go out over a hundred miles on a dog sled race for the first time!
The Junior Iditarod is a special race for kids ages fourteen to seventeen. This will be the thirty-seventh running of the race. Due to the weather this year, they will be running the race from Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel instead of the regular location on Knik Lake. You can read more about that change here: LINK
The junior mushers were given lots of great information and hints and tricks of the trade to help them out with their upcoming adventure. They were shown the GPS trackers they will be carrying. These things are so cool! They will actually be carrying two trackers, a SPOT tracker and a smaller one. Each tracker fits into a dog bootie and will be safety pinned to the sled bag. The larger SPOT tracker is attached to the sled near the handlebars and the smaller one is attached to the front of the sled on top of the bag.
Ben Harper, who has competed in two Junior Iditarods and who will be competing again this year, told the juniors that his best piece of advice is to get some sleep! At Yentna Station, the mushers will take their ten hour layover. Ben told them that during his first Junior Iditarod he stayed up all night talking with the other mushers and because he was so tired he had a miserable ride to the finish the next morning!
Each junior musher was given a sled repair kit and some really neat suggestions on how to make simple and quick repairs to their sled. For example, did you know dental floss could be used as thread to repair tears in sled bags?
One of the vets for the Junior Iditarod, Jayne Hempstead, talked to the kids about dog care. She stressed that prevention is the key to the care of the dogs’ feet. The mushers really need to take care of the dogs’ feet, even down to making sure to trim their toenails! Apparently the weather is going to be quite warm this weekend for the race – about 30 degrees (!) so Dr. Hempstead also talked to the kids about warning signs for overheating in their dogs and what to do if they suspect a dog is too hot.
Then, two Iditarod veterans came to talk to the kids. Cim Smyth shared lots of information with the juniors about how to snack their dogs on the trail. He also talked about the possibility of a warm weekend for the race and about the importance of keeping the dogs hydrated. He said the dogs like to “snow dip” or grab mouthfuls of snow as they run down the trail. One thing that he does to keep the dogs from doing this is to make his special “meat cube” treats for the dogs. He takes equal portions of meat and water and freezes them in ice cube trays. When he gives these treats to the dogs, they are getting the water they need along with a yummy treat! It was especially neat for the Junior Mushers to hear from Cim because he is a Junior Iditarod champion. He admitted that he made some mistakes in his first Junior Iditarod race, but he learned from those mistakes and continues to learn from other mushers as well.
Iditarod veteran, Zack Steer reviewed with the mushers how to dress on the trail. He actually thinks about not only staying warm, but about preplanning enough so that he is also dressed in a way that will make effective use of his time in the checkpoints. For example, he ties his pocket knife to his belt so that it hangs down below his parka so he can always grab it. He has special pockets to carry things like extra lights, matches, earplugs (for sleeping at the checkpoints), etc. He puts the same things in the same pockets every time so he always knows where things are. A little preplanning makes things go easier on the trail and in the checkpoint where every minute counts!
Something that several of the presenters encouraged the juniors to do was to make certain that about five miles away from the checkpoint they eat and drink something themselves. This way, by the time they reach the checkpoint, they are hydrated and reenergized and are ready to handle the dog care that needs to be done.
It was a lot to take in for one meeting, but the juniors asked some great questions and seemed to soak in all the information. It looks like the Juniors Rookies are ready to get started on their adventure! And I am too…. In just about twenty-four hours I’ll be on my first bush plane soaring towards my first checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail! WOW!!