11 thrilling miles of slush covered roads and trails. 11 miles of the sound of dog paws striking the ground. 11 miles of trails lined with excited Iditarod fans cheering on their favorite mushers. 11 miles listening to sled runners gliding across slush, snow, mud, and concrete. 11 miles I will never forget.
This morning 4th Avenue was lined with dog trucks, dogs, mushers, IditaRiders, fans, and many volunteers. The excitement has been building for months. Today was the day fans have been waiting a year for. Fans had the opportunity to walk the streets and snap pictures of their favorite mushers and enthusiastic dogs.
The Ceremonial Start began at 10:00 a.m. with mushers heading out every 2-minutes. Wade, my musher, was bib number 65 and was scheduled to depart at 12:18. What did we do for approximately 2 hours? What else, but enjoy watching the many mushers head down 4th avenue up close and personal. We were feet from the teams. Many times they stopped right in front of Wade’s truck and we were able to enjoy the awesome sound of excited howling dogs ready to get out on the trail. As it got closer and closer to noon, Wade and his handlers began to get the team ready. Dogs came out of the truck, bootied up, harnessed up, and were attached to the gangline. I took my spot on the sled and Wade helped walk the team to the starting line. After being interviewed all morning, Wade did one final interview before stepping on to the back of his sled. We listened to the announcer introduce Wade, and then it was “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”
Off we went down the trail. Fans lined the streets cheering Wade on. He tried hi-fiving as many people as he could. He even got off his sled and ran along side of it to reach out and hi-five some youngsters. We rode past a few stops that were passing out hot dogs, Wade grabbed one. A group of college kids lined part of the trail screaming and cheering mushers on. A little farther up the trail people dressed up as pirates and were cheering on teams. A few parts of the tail were peaceful and quiet. We curved around trees, barely made it past a telephone pole, and snuck through tunnels. We exited the wooded trails and were suddenly on the airstrip. A burst of wind came out of nowhere. Wade laughed and said, “this is what it feels like on the coast.” A short ways down the airstrip we finished our ride of a lifetime.
My ride was definitely a ride of a lifetime. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to ride in Wade’s sled. Last year he finished 16th in the Iditarod and is looking forward to improving last year’s finish. I am looking forward to seeing him out on the trail and cheering him on.
Next up, “the trail.” My flight leaves for Fairbanks tomorrow (Sunday) at 4:00 p.m. Many mushers began their drive to Fairbanks immediately after the Ceremonial Start while others will head up in the morning. Follow the mushers along the trail using the Iditarod Insider GPS tracking system to follow the mushers and me.