Kevin Harper got a little sleep last night after doing his chores and feeding his dogs. He woke up at approximately 1:00 a.m. to begin his preparations to depart Alpine Creek Lodge at 4:18 a.m. Jimmy Lanier was doing the same preparations for his departure at 4:10 a.m. Eight minutes will separate the two Junior mushers looking for a Junior Iditarod win. The rest of the teams are completing their chores in preparation to make their journey back towards Cantwell. The last musher to leave the lodge was Jordan Seager at 7:16 a.m.
John and I loaded up the sled hooked to the back of his snowmachine and began our 65 mile journey back to the finish. Another gorgeous trip back to Cantwell with views I cannot begin to describe. We passed the mushers one by one. I knew we must be getting close to the leaders because we were only about 5-10 miles away. We passed Andrew Nolan, so I assumed Jimmy and Kevin would be just ahead. The next thing I know, I see the finish line. At some point in the run Kevin made up those eight minutes and passed Jimmy. Kevin crossed the finish line at 9:46 a.m as the 2015 Junior Iditarod Champion. With Kevin not even out of the finishing chute, Jimmy came in at 9:48 a.m. Two minutes separated the Kevin and Jimmy in the race to the finish.
Approximately a half an hour later Andrew Nolan rolled in with Iditarod veteran Wade Marrs looking as proud as ever. Wade has been training and helping out Andrew this season as well as another Junior musher, Marianna Mallory. Marianna came in sixth place. The Red Lantern winner, the musher that crosses the finish line last, was Joan Klejka from Bethel. Joan crossed the finish at 4:27 p.m.
The awards banquet was held this evening at the school in Cantwell. A few of the awards given out at the banquet were the Sportsmanship award, the Humanitarian award, and the Blue Harness award. The Sportsmanship award was given to Andrew Nolan. What an honor for this young man. The Humanitarian award is given out by the veterinarians by the musher that displays the best care for their dogs. Marianna Mallory was awarded this honor. Marianna and Andrew’s trainer put it best, “to our kennel, that’s just as rewarding as winning.” That is such a true statement. It shows young athletes that sometimes there is more than winning. The Blue Harness award is voted on by the mushers themselves to the best lead dog. This award was given to Jimmy Lanier and his dog Alpha. Another award was handed out tonight. At the rookie meeting Thursday night, Danny Seavey challenged the young mushers to have consistent run times on the way out and the way back. Marianna took home this award as well. For this award she won a $50 Cabela’s gift card.
I truly enjoyed being able to witness these young kids complete their journey of finishing the Junior Iditarod. They all displayed such respect and care for one another. It is more than a competition, it is a life long journey complete with many life lessons. These Junior mushers showed courage, responsibility, endurance, willpower, determination, and so much more over the course of their race and training.