Iditarod XLI: March 2, 2013 Ceremonial Start: Technical Glitches Can’t Stop the Fun

A. Zirkle

Coverage of the 2013 Iditarod Ceremonial Start got off to a bumpy smart this morning. Iditarod.com was supposed to start its broadcast at 9:30am AKST, but it didn’t actually get underway until 10am, just as the first musher, Martin Buser, was lining up to start. Over on the Iditarod.com forum, there was a lot of frustration, especially as no one from Iditarod.com bothered to let people know what was going on for twenty minutes.

At 9:50, the site finally posted a message saying coverage would begin in a few minutes, thank you for your patience, etc. In the meantime, a few enterprising forum members discovered that pre-start coverage was taking place on KTUU’s website (KTUU is the NBC affiliate serving Anchorage), so I jumped over there and watched Kevin Wells and Libby Riddles engage in a pre-race chat. Riddles is the first woman to win the Iditarod back in 1985.

Iditarod.com coverage finally started at 10am, which was fortunate because KTUU ended its broadcast before the 10am start. As with past Iditarod.com broadcasts, sports announcer Greg Heister and Iditarod race veteran Bruce Lee provided the commentary. Lee pointed out that it was an unusually warm day in Anchorage, the warmest he’s experienced for an Iditarod ceremonial start. Temperatures crept into the thirties, which is roasting for Anchorage this time of year. Helping cool things down a bit was a blanket of fog that descended on the coastal town, obscuring the Chugach mountains.

Buser and his dog team looked good and were eager to go. It will be interesting to see this year if his drawing the top position helps or hurts the four-time winner. Scott Janssen, the “Mushing Mortician” (Janssen owns a funeral home), was wearing a Beatles beanie. I wonder if he’ll be listening to “A Hard Day’s Night” on his iPod on the trail.

It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog.

It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log.

Maybe not.

Jamaican musher Newton Marshall (who looks about 12 by the way) should be easy to spot on the trail with his bright orange earflap hat and neon yellow parka. Before he departed, someone handed him a Jamaican flag, which he proudly waved as his dogs pulled him down Fourth Avenue. Brazilian rookie Luan Ramos Marques also stood out with his giant Brazilian flag and neon green sled bag.

If there were a competition for best winter hat, it would have to go to Karin Hendrickson, who sported a blue beanie with what appeared to be long, knitted dreadlocks dangling from it. The winner of the most handsome dog team would go to Russian musher Mikhail Telpin, with his sturdy-looking, thick-furred Chukotka coastal dogs. As Bruce Lee pointed out, his sled dogs resemble the big dogs from Alaska’s gold rush era.

It was nice seeing Jeff King, the four-time Iditarod champion known for his seriousness and competitive drive, looking so relaxed, hugging his lead dogs, smiling and waving to the crowd. He looked like he was having a blast. Iditarod veteran Sebastian Schnuelle also brought fun to the proceedings. Schnuelle has retired from mushing (though Iditarod veterans have a way of coming out of retirement eventually) and is now working the media side of things for Iditarod.com, but he was having a bit of fun as fellow German immigrant and musher Gerry Willomitzer stepped off his sled at the start to say goodbye to family and friends. Schnuelle took the opportunity to hop on Willomitzer’s vacant sled and mug for the cameras as if he were going to take it down Fourth Avenue. His mad professor hairdo made it even funnier.

There are a few old-timers running the race this year, legends of an earlier Iditarod era. Ray Demoski Jr. and Sonny Linder were all smiles. Demoski, at age 67, looked fit, especially as the countdown wound down while he tended his dogs and he had to make a quick run to his sled. Mike Williams Sr. looked all business. Jim Lanier had his signature team of all white huskies.

Greg Heister spoke with Sebastian Schnuelle and Joe Runyon between musher starts. Schnuelle said he was enjoying the media side of the race. He picked Aliy Zirkle, who was all smiles as usual,  as his favorite to win this year. Joe Runyon picked Jeff King. Runyon also provided some insight into where competitive mushers might take their mandatory 24-hour rests. In recent years, musher strategy has been to try and take it further down the trail, in Iditarod or even Anvik. However, with the warm weather this year that might prove difficult. Warm weather is harder on the dogs, and if the long trail between Ophir and Iditarod has less snowfall than usual, the rough conditions may influence mushers to take their long rest in Takotna before tackling it.

Back tomorrow for the restart in Willow. Coverage of the restart begins at 2pm ASKT. Let’s hope Iditarod.com has gotten the glitches worked out.

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