The Juniors are all tucked in safe and sound at their camping spots at the halfway point for the Junior Iditarod – Yentna Station. Conway Seavey arrived first followed by Jimmy Lanier and Ben Harper. Dr. Phil Meyers, the vet, was really pleased with the teams coming in. When asked what he looks for he said, “Anything unusual.” But as they arrived the dogs were rolling in the snow and were looking like they could go another hundred miles. He said they all looked like they were having fun and that’s a great sign!
When the teams pull into the checkpoint as the dog’s lead dog crossed the line their time is recorded. This is a good thing, because the teams haven’t quite made it smoothly into the arrival chute! Most want to keep plowing right ahead, not make the sharp gee turn as they come in! The race officials then check their mandatory gear and the juniors sign the time sheet and gear checklist. They are given their drop bags, six bottles of fuel, and a bale of hay. They carry the hay to their parking spot by digging their snow hook into it and dragging it behind the sled. A volunteer then leads the team to their parking spot.
The parking location is a special puzzle that Lacey (the Race Marshall) has to orchestrate. The mushers will wait here for their ten hour layover plus the extra minutes they need to make up their start differential. So Ben Harper, who was the last musher out this morning, will stay exactly ten hours. The first musher to leave this morning, Jimmy Lanier, will stay for ten hours and sixteen minutes to make up for the starting differential. Because of this parking the teams can be an issue. Just because a team is first to the checkpoint doesn’t actually mean they are in first place or that they will be leaving first. So Lacey had to do some fancy math and figure out what order the teams will be leaving in the morning so that they can be parked in a way that they can get out in the right order easily.
As I walked through the teams, the kids were getting the dogs bedded down on straw, removing the booties, getting the cookers started and filling them with snow to melt. I got a chance to check in with Ben Harper and his younger brother Kevin. This is Ben’s third and final Junior Iditarod and Kevin’s first! Kevin and Ben both agreed that the trail was really warm, but was much better than they expected. In fact, Kevin arrived at the checkpoint wearing just a sweatshirt! He said he changed out of his parka about five miles into the race after pedaling and running with the team! They thought it was going to be glare ice the entire way, but were pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case. Kevin asked for some advice from Ben and after teasing him, “it’s a secret!” I left them sitting side by side cooking their dog food and swapping trail stories.
The first musher will be leaving around 2:00am and will finish right around sunrise tomorrow! It’s going to be an exciting race to the finish!