September 20, 2017

Eye on the Trail: Reflecting on the Jr. Iditarod from Yentna

As of 1:30 this afternoon (Sunday), all Jr. Iditarod teams have crossed the Willow finish line.  In earlier stories, I referred to the mushers in this 39th Jr Iditarod race as the Ten Top Notch Teens.  Having seen them perform over the past two days, I’m going to change that to TEN TOP NOTCH TEENS.  These kids were fantastic and they made this Jr. Iditarod a fantastic event.

TEN TOP NOTCH TEENS of 2016

It become evident at the stating corral on Saturday morning that this groups of teens was on the high end when it came quality.  From the moment they pulled into the staging area with their parents or mentors, they were all focused on their dogs and necessary preparations for the 10:00 start.

All mushers arrived at the half-way point of the race where they signed in and went through sled check to show the mandatory gear.  Sleds were organized and so were the young mushers.  But it’s not about the sled, it’s about the dogs.  As the TOP NOTCH TEENS approached Yentna, their dogs were really energetic.  That energy was largely due to the pace the teams ran at.  These mushers knew their dogs and paced them and hydrated them correctly so they finished the 75-mile run still wanting to do more.

Bailey Schaeffer

Once the teams were parked, the mushers went to work removing booties, distributing straw and watering their dogs.  Then they took to preparing a gourmet meal for the dogs and while that was cooking, the dogs enjoyed special massage treatment and received a great deal of praise and love.  For the mushers, it was a freeze dried meal recreated with hot water.

The dogs were soon sleeping and the mushers enjoyed a Yentna Station tradition – the bon fire.  It’s a time for the kids to sit around the fire, talk with their peers, renewing old friendships and creating new friendships.  They didn’t stay their long.  With the mild overnight temperatures, most of the teens caught some sleep on the straw right along with their dogs.  Ten hours sounds like a long time but it went by pretty fast.

Dakota Schlosser

The race judges and the race marshall circulated amongst the teams all night.  One major sled repair was accomplished.  A couple of mushers decided to drop a dog at Yentna.

Morning arrived well before sunrise at Yentna.  As the starter/timer for the return run, my work began at about 2:30 am.  The thermometer showed 24 degrees, there were stars peaking through some light cloud cover and the winds were calm.  What a great mushing day.

Once again, these teens were at their best.  The had their teams ready to depart right on time.  Kevin Harper left at 2:49 with Andrew Nolan following closely at 2:58.  Harper stopped for a couple of minutes once he made the river to repair a neck line.  Bailey Schaeffer followed at 3:18.  There was a break in the action until 3:45 when Joan Klejka, Dakota Schlosser, Chandler Wappett and Denver Kay Evans in just 10 minutes.  After a half hour break in the action, Marianna Mallory, Rose Capistrant and Katie Deits left in the span of nine minutes.

Joan Klejka

The TOP NOTCH TEN had their routine down.  Dogs were feed, camp was cleaned, booties went on, the dogs stood with tails flagging and they were ready to rock and roll.  Each team was brought forward off their straw to a hard packed snowmachine trail for their countdown.  that’s easier said than done because once these dogs are charged up to run start moving, it’s not an easy task to have them stop and wait till the seconds tick down.  They don’t really care what time it is, they simply want to run.

Denver Kay Evans was running Ryan Redington dogs.  Her dogs trotted forward and stopped when Denver called whoa.  They stood very patiently through their countdown, leaning but not lunging, jumping or barking.  They were focused, they were ready to run.  That energy saving mode is a trait Ryan instills in his dogs and Denver reinforced it beautifully.

Race Marshall Danny Seavey and Veterinarian Dr. Phil Meyer had much praise for these Top Notch Teens.  Their dog care was exemplary and their race strategy was well managed.

Denver Kay Evans

I wasn’t at the finish line for the arrival of the Champion and runner-up.  The IAF sent planes out to Yentna at first light but it’s not the humans that have priority, it’s the dropped dogs.  As more planes arrived we returned two by two to Willow.  Bailey Schaeffer was the first team I photographed near the finish line.  All teams completed the race prior to 1:30 this (Sunday) afternoon, exactly as estimated according to their performance on Saturday.

Please check the Jr. iditarod webpage for complete results of the 39th race.  Kevin Harper reclaimed his title.  Andrew Nolan also in his third Jr. Iditarod claimed second.  Bailey Schaeffer a rookie placed and Dakota Schlosser followed for fourth place.  Rookie Chandler Wappett claimed sixth followed by veteran Joad Klejka and Rookie Denver Kay Evans.  Rose Capistrant, Marianna Mallory and Katie Deits all veterans rounded out the TEN TOP NOTCH TEENS.

Congrats to all mushers for a fine performance.  Congrats to Stan Hecker, long time volunteer, who was honored by the Jr. Iditarod.  Many thanks to the ever gracious Gabryszaks for their hospitality at the Yentna Station Roadhouse.  Additional thanks to the dedicated army of volunteers who make the Jr. Iditarod happen and to the pilots of the IAF.