46th Race Underway

by Terrie Hanke

February 25, 2023

SIXTEEN!!!  Yes, sixteen mushers are on the trail heading to Yentna Station.  That’s the largest Jr. Iditarod field since 2009.  How incredible that while Iditarod numbers are dwindling, Jr. Iditarod numbers are growing.


The race began at 10:00 Saturday February 25th on Knik Lake when Bib #1, Honorary Musher Lance Mackey was called to the starting line.  In his lifetime, Mackey inspired many with his never give up attitude, his bond with his dogs and his unparalleled mushing accomplishments.  Lance is a four year veteran of the Jr. Iditarod and has won eight 1,000 miles races including both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod in 2007 and 2008.  Lance passed away in September of 2022 after a gallant fight against cancer.  Dick Mackey, Lance’s father, represented Lance and wore Bib#1 for the start.


Veteran Bristol Huffman wearing Bib #2 lead all mushers out onto the trail.  The Trail Crew reports that the trail is in excellent condition for the 150 mile round trip from Knik to Yentna Station.  Mushers departed the start in two minute intervals.  The final musher, rookie Jordan Bishop Bib #17, departed Knik at !0:32.  


Teams will serve the required ten hours rest camping along the shore of the Yentna.  The start differential will be added to the ten-hour rest.  Jordan Bishop wearing bib #17 will rest for exactly 10 hours and then will be eligible to depart.  Morgan Martens wearing bib #16 will rest for 10 hours and 2 minutes.  Ellen Redington wearing bib #15 rests 10 hours and 4 minutes.  Follow that pattern of adding two minutes for each start position all the way up to Bristol Huffman wearing Bib #2 who will rest for ten hours and 30 minutes to equalize for start time. 


Forty-four miles into the race the teams will come to the mid-way checkpoint at Eagle Quest.  Located near Deshka Landing, Eagle Quest Cabins and Lodge is accessible by road.  Teams will likely stream into Eagle Quest at 2 pm.  The final leg of the run to Yentna is 31 miles.  The leaders could arrive any time after 6 pm  Between checkpoints mushers will snack their dogs at least every two hours.


Upon arriving at Yentna, the first order of business will be a gear check and officially checking in.   As soon as the team is parked, the mushers will heat water to feed the dogs. A soupy first course will be followed by a real gourmet dog feast that will include kibble and other meat, perhaps salmon, lamb, beaver or chicken.  While the water is heating mushers will remove booties and spread straw.  While the dogs are eating, the musher will cook and devour their own meal and then go down the line caring for dog paws and massaging shoulders and wrists.  The dogs, on straw and under blankets, will enjoy a good night’s rest.  


While the dogs sleep, the mushers will gather with old friends and new friends around a large campfire, sharing stories and snacks.  They too will catch some shut-eye crawling inside their sled bags nice and cozy in a sleeping bag rated to minus 40 degrees.  


Two hours before their departure time, the mushers will become chefs again cooking up another meal for their athletes.  Then it will be time to pack sleds, clean up the campsite, care for paws and boot the team.  As the countdown begins, the dogs will be on their feet barking and lunging to go when the timer calls “GO.”


Today’s weather forecast calls for partly cloudy skys, a chance of snow showers with highs around 20 degrees and northwest winds of 10 – 20 mph.  Tonight the temps will drop to near zero with lights winds.  On Sunday for the inbound run, partly cloudy will turn to mostly sunny with highs around 15 and northwest winds of 10 – 20 mph.


Follow the teens on the trail using Standings and Trackleaders found on jriditarod.org.  There will be periodic posts on the Jr. Iditarod Facebook page.  The Jr. Iditarod Finisher’s Banquet will be at Held at Joe Redington High School on Sunday February 26th at 6 pm.  Tickets can be purchased at the door for $20.  Fish On Camp Grill will present an amazing spread - menu includes salmon, pork medallion, rice, gouda mac & cheese and harvest medley vegetables.  Join the celebration!