Someone asked me today whether the weather is always this good for the start of the Iditarod. The short answer is no. The first start I ever watched was in Anchorage in 1975 at -20. The mushers leaving were dressed like old trappers, and modern racers would laugh at their equipment. But lately the weather has been spectator friendly, and that contributes to a festive atmosphere at Willow Lake. Today it was in the high 20’s, and good spirits prevailed in the starting area. But someone should tell the Iditarod they need an announcer who is stronger on his Alaska geography. An event of this magnitude can’t have as many mistakes on their booming PA system as we have heard for the past few years.
This report is abbreviated because of the amount of travel involved on starting day, complicated by mechanical problems with my airplane. But no analysis means much the first day. Some of the faster teams go very fast, and if they happen to have an early starting time they look like they are leading the race. But it takes a day or two to begin sorting the teams out, and all I can tell you tonight is there are a lot of nice looking teams on the trail. Martin Buser is running way ahead at this moment, something like 16 miles, but he will take a long stop soon. At the other end, Russian racer Mikhail Telpin is near the back of the pack. He is likely to stay towards the back. Mikhail is running dogs from his homeland that are traditional work dogs. They move slowly, but are extremely powerful and a treat to watch move down the trail. The Iditarod has room for teams like that—they make it the international event that it is.
Tomorrow I will try to identify some of the teams that have successfully made a fast start, and those who have lagged a bit too far behind for the first 24 hours. Meanwhile settle into watching the GPS tracker, the best innovation for race spectators ever. 20 years ago I thought I was on the cutting edge when I convinced Iditarod Headquarters to send me faxes every couple hours, based on calls from checkpoints that were at best sporadic, yet people would call my house day and night to find out the latest news. Now we complain when a tracker fails to report every few minutes. For newcomers to this site, John Baker has a history of starting fairly slow and moving up in the last half of the race. Buser, on the other hand, often starts fast, and when he doesn’t its usually a sign things are not quite right with his team. Folks expect big things out of his team this year, because he and his son Rohn combined their two teams into one. Keep an eye on Martin.