Yesterday 62 dog teams raced through the streets of Anchorage, Alaska for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod race to Nome. Covering 1,049 miles, the dog teams follow a faint snowmachine trail over two mountain ranges, through frozen tundra and across pack ice.
Scott Janssen, a musher from Anchorage known as the Mushing Mortician, due to his day job in funeral services, told me about the possible conditions out on the trail. During a recent mushing event, Janssen and his team were forced to cross a patch of water in the pack ice. Unsure of the water’s depth, or if the ice below would hold his team, he urged his dogs across. It was 40 degrees below zero.
His dogs hardly stalled when Janssen found himself up to his crotch in the icy water. The dogs pulled hard, their bodies straining against their harnesses, and they made it to the solid pack on the other side. In such cold temperatures, Janssen knew he had to get his team dry, so he covered each dog in snow and rubbed their fur. Calling Alaskan snow the Bounty paper towel of the frontier, Janssen “dried” the dogs with it.
His own boots were filled with water and his clothing quickly froze solid. But Janssen didn’t bother to change or even worry too much about himself. When he made it to the checkpoint several hours later, he walked in monster-strides, unable to bend his knees. His biggest mistake, he claims, was leaving the zippered pockets on his thighs open. The water filled those pockets and froze solid, acting as ice blocks against his clothing.
Yesterday’s run took the teams twelve miles out of town, where they were picked up and transported to Willow, where today the true start will begin. Check out the Iditarod website for updates on the teams.