Brenda's 2003 Daily Iditarod Coverage
Countdown to Iditarod 2003 Restart — Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
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February 27, 2003

Musher Meeting at the Millenium and Musher Banquet at the Sullivan.

All mushers, veteran and rookie alike, are required to attend the musher meeting at the Millenium Hotel. As they break for lunch, many fans begin to gather autographs, sneak snapshots and generally hang around to see and be seen. The traditional champagne toast is the major photo op of the morning. Sparkling cider is available to those who prefer. Idita-Riders meet their mushers and have a pizza lunch and get to know them during the break. The musher meeting resumes after lunch and usually lasts until about 3PM. All received their handler arm bands and goodies from sponsors during this time. There was lots to discuss as trail changes were explained and logistical concerns answered. The mushers will be allowed to leave 4th Avenue with as few as six dogs but no more than ten this year. That is a change from last year where 12 dogs left the chute during the ceremonial start. Tag sled riders are optional and many are deciding just how to handle this. Judy Merritt who has withdrawn from this year's race will still take her Idita-Rider out and Bill will ride tag sled for her as her husband declined, having no sled miles of his own during training at all this year.

As the afternoon progressed, many interesting facts unfolded and little splinter groups were hashing out their thoughts on this new adventure. Many that I talked to seemed excited that they would be doing something different, something historic, as the trail goes on such a different route than ever before. This will be the first time the route follows the northern and southern trail in the same year. Jack Niggemeyer calls it "Idita-Detour." T-shirts with the older version of the new route were sold out early as they might be collectors items of a sort. Mayor Leo Rasmussen introduced us to Urtha Lenharr who is a first grade teacher in Nome. Urtha was at the finish line for the 1973 Iditarod and in 1978 ran the trail with the Race Director and some mechanics to become the first group to travel the trail via snowmachine. He ran the race in 1991. He sat with us awhile as did Richard Burmeister also of Nome, who designed the belt buckle that all the mushers receive the first time they complete the race. There are 541buckles now and Bill was #540 last year.

Mayor Leo had the trail mail all packaged but needed some help putting out promotional materials prior to the banquet. We would've been there right on time had Jordan not locked the keys in our truck. A local taxi driver was able to get us unlocked for $10. The info included the list of Idita-week activities in the City of Nome, info on the trail mail that each musher carries and brochures about joining the Iditarod National Historic Trail. Bill and Thomasjohn solicited members all during the evening. is the web site but it is not fully functional yet.

The huge staff of Sullivan Arena and volunteers set the tables, making sure each place setting was perfect," salads with tomatoes at 6 o'clock," and local girlscouts had made mini-tripods as centerpieces. The crowd began to pour in about 6PM quickly turning the Sullivan into a mass of fans and friends of Iditarod, plus dignitaries. Colonel Norman Vaughn, 95+ year-old Adventurer and last remaining member of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition 1928-30, was present. He completed the Iditarod in 1990 at the age of 83. What a neat fella to talk to!! Hobo Jim played, the National and Alaska anthems were sung and dinner was served. Dinner, however, is not the point to the Musher Banquet as everyone had posters, programs, photos and even ticket stubs autographed by mushers. The drawing for starting positions began later in the evening and had I been on my toes by then, I could've told you who had which Bib Number. I can say that Clint Warnke drew #65, John Baker drew #2 and will leave first. Bib #1 went to honorary mushers Howard and Julie Farley who were instrumental in getting the first race off the ground in cahoots with Joe Redington Sr. Cali King will leave before Jeff King and Martin Buser also drew a low number. The crowd was pretty thin by the time the banquet wound down about 11:30PM. The grand prize drawing for a lucky couple from Dothan Alabama was a $2500 trip to Maui. They were happy they stuck around til the end!!

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