Monday, March 3, 2008

Ah, it seems like it's been about two weeks since the Musher's Banquet, but it's only been five days. How time flies when you're having fun! Let me see if I can recap a little bit of the madness from the past week.

Our friends Eric Rogers and his wife Marti graciously purchased our Musher's Banquet tickets for us and we were given tickets to sit at their table. Boy, am I moving up in the world! I felt bad taking a spot at their table, since I didn't really do anything to help Eric out this year. I didn't go on one single training run with him, and I only staged him out of two races. Not much work to earn two banquet tickets, I think. Oh well. The banquet was just as I remembered it to be last year -- fun, but long! Eric drew bib number 25, which meant that we would be able to have him out on the trail fairly early (at least in the top quarter of the race, almost) and that was a bit of a relief. Poor Dr. Robert Bundtzen drew the very last bib, meaning he'd be the 97th sled to go out. Interesting, since his kennel partner, Zack Steer, drew bib number 26, just one spot behind Eric. Zack and Bob's handlers would be waiting around a long, long time between staging Zack and staging Bob. Poor guys!

We actually had to leave the banquet around 9 PM, since both Matt and I had to go to work bright and early the next morning. Word has it that the banquet stretched on past 11 PM, so I'm glad that we left early. As it was, we got home after 10. If you're thinking that the banquet can get a little out of hand, I think you're probably right. :)

Friday, I went to work for just enough time to get paid for the full day (oh, did I actually type that?) and then hurried home to make my tiramisu cream cheese spread and run over to Bonnie's to help her set up for her open house. The hours were supposed to be from 1 PM - 6 PM but come 1 o'clock, nobody but Eric had shown up. I began to worry that maybe we had overestimated the number of people who would be stopping by (we had gotten word that two tour buses were planning a visit) but my fears were unjustified -- by 2 PM there was quite a crowd. There was a spread of food showcasing everything from various cheese and cracker combinations to roast turkey (courtesy of Marti), ham, pea salad, delicious spicy meatballs, artichoke hearts, veggies with dip, and spicy italian ham. was enough to make any musher drool!

Trish says she's ready for the party!!

By mid-afternoon, our expected mushers had made their debuts. At one point, Sebastian Schnuelle (whom Bonnie hosts each year), Eric Rogers, Ed Stielstra, Jake Berkowitz, and Bryan Bearss were in one tiny room tucked away from the main action, animatedly chatting about the trail. Sorry, I tried to get a photo but nobody would look at me, and I'm always hesitant to interrupt these guys. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in that room -- I'm sure that I could have learned a TON. It's always awe-inspiring to me to be in the presence of genius :)

I had quite a nice time doing my usual thing, blending into the background and listening to people chat. Occasionally I chimed in with an answer to questions like "Who is that dog?" or "Who is that musher?" I also had a lovely visit with Kim Bertrand from DRIVEN Sled Dog Photos. She was up from WA to cover a local musher, Laura Daugerau. We had many chuckles over being from the South and being new to sled dogs. I got to see pictures of her rescued Siberians and her dryland rig. Pretty cool stuff!

There were still folks arriving at 7 PM but by 8, everyone was pretty much gone. After an extensive amount of dish washing, Matt and I headed home to feed and take care of our own crew and to prepare for the Ceremonial Start in downtown Anchorage on the following morning.

By 8 AM on Saturday, we were parked and on a mission to find Eric's dog truck downtown. He ended up being assigned to what I'd swear was the WORST parking spot on earth -- 4th and H, nearest to the inlet. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't looked at the forecast prior to leaving the house. 14 degrees and sunny, it said, with a high near 30. Wow, that sounded great! I put on what I thought was too many layers anyway (boy I am glad that I did) When we found his truck, it felt like we were in a wind tunnel. It had to be about 10 degrees with a 40 mph wind!! Things were blowing all over the place. Poor Trish couldn't even keep her free food hot. The water in the chafing dishes froze even though there was a lit can of sterno beneath them.

We had some good help getting Eric's team to the start line. Lexi was to ride the tag sled behind Eric and his Iditarider, so when we got to the start line, she ran back to the tag sled and I ran up front to stand with the leaders. Platinum and Dash were in lead, and I'm proud to say that they were not affected at all by the ruckus of the Ceremonial Start! It seemed like old hat to them -- after all, they had been through this before and it was a piece of cake. Before I knew it, the count down ended, Eric and Lexi were off, and the ITC Security was yelling at us to clear the chute so that Zack Steer and his team could pull up unobstructed. I was disappointed because this meant that I couldn't stand and watch Zack from any sort of a decent vantage point. I did manage to snap a picture of Bonnie Steer as they went by, but security was constantly yapping at me to move, so that's about all I had time to get. This morning I finally got to watch Zack's start on the Indsider and it ALMOST made up for not being able to see it in person.

Bonnie Steer at the Ceremonial Start

Matt and I hurried out to Campbell Airstrip to pick up Lexi and the tag sled. Just as we were getting to Eric's parked dog truck, he came in off of the trail and Matt ran out to guide him and the team in. Yikes, we hadn't gotten there a minute too soon, because there was nobody else to help get him to the truck! After feeding and brothing the dogs there, we loaded everything and everyone up and headed back to Chugiak to rest up for Sunday. Well, I guess resting up is not exactly correct, since Matt and I did end up going cross country skiing that afternoon and took the dogs out to the trail that night.

Nonetheless, Sunday morning started bright and early and we were out on Willow Lake by 9:15. Word had it that the mushers were supposed to be on the lake by 11 AM, but most mushers were clearly running behind. Eric didn't arrive until nearly 11:30. It made no difference, as Matt and I milled around, looking at other mushers and their rigs, noting what one did different than another. We got a chance to "shop" in the community center, admiring Dave Totten's beautiful artwork and some lovely skin sewing displayed by a native lady. It was nice to have a little bit of "down time" before the madness began.

The wandering masses on Willow Lake at about 11:30 AM

Blaze (center) waits for her turn to be bootied

I suppose that I should mention that Lexi, the ever-capable and knowledgeable "General" was conspicuously absent from the Willow restart. It seems that she was extended an offer to work the Tour of Anchorage, which she no doubt gratefully accepted, leaving the rest of us to be in charge of Eric and getting him ready to go. I was pretty worried until I heard that she had actually devised a timeline for us to follow. That was a load off. I quickly took over as "Generalissima Leslie" and made sure that we harnessed, bootied, brothed, hooked up, and staged the team on time. Thank GOODNESS that everything went off without a hitch. I'd have to say that it was ten times smoother than last year's restart. The ITC volunteer handlers were nice and very willing to follow directions on how we did things. We had an efficient, controlled walk to the start chute with Matt leading the team. Once again, before I knew it, the count down was underway. I tried to yell "goodbye!" to Eric but he didn't hear me. I guess I didn't even give him a sendoff. Then he was off like a shot across the lake. Once again, I was shooed out of the chute so Zack could come through, so, can you guess? I got no pictures of Zack.

Matt and I decided to walk across the lake to watch some of the other mushers come through. I got some photos of Mike Suprenant and various other mushers whose names are captioned below their photos. I didn't get a snapshot of Sebastian but I did yell at him as he drove by, and he saw me and waved. Nothing like being recognized by someone famous!!

Kirk Barnum heads for the start chute

Warren Palfrey from Yellowknife comes off of Willow Lake

Ryan Redington comes off of Willow Lake

We left at around 5:30 and headed back to Wasilla to indulge in what is becoming a tradition for us after Iditarod Restart -- eating at Cadillac Cafe. A yummy hamburger and some fries....the day before my new "POST-IDITAROD" diet was to begin. Well, it's always nice to go out with a bang.

So, that leaves me here on this day, Tuesday, wondering where Eric and all of my "step furkids" are...last I saw, he was in at Rainy Pass. He dropped two dogs, Lycos and Jewels, at Finger Lake, so he's down to 13 dogs now. He should be in good hands, if he's still at Rainy Pass, since Bonnie and Jim are weathered in there right now. They were supposed to fly out to and back from Rainy Pass yesterday afternoon but I got word via radio phone last night that they were weathered in. More recently, I got a message this morning that they didn't expect to be able to get out of Rainy until tomorrow. This means that I am now a dog drop contact for Eric, since Bonnie is not here...I hope for his sake and mine that there are no more dropped dogs for a good, long time. Fingers crossed!

Updates to come as I find out more information...


Folks Who Follow Lagniappe's Blog