Bright and early today we drove into Anchorage for the ceremonial
start of Iditarod 2003. We passed several dog trucks doing the same
thing. Parking is not a problem if you get there really early and
you get to walk among the teams, petting dogs, visiting mushers
and taking photos.
G.B. Jones' team looked great in their red, white and blue bandanas
and Bootie Brigade specialist, Becky Griffith, was there cuddling
Sport, now known as "her" dog. [See Photo Gallery] The
Seavey bunch was scattered on different streets but we got by to
see most everyone. The Linwood Fiedler Factor had become the Wild
Hat Gang today which complemented the bright neon yellow doggie
booties for the team.
Bill spent awhile with Lynda Plettner and had to act as her publicity
agent at one point when he saw her being interviewed and photographed
with her hair stuffed under (his words) an ugly green and blue hat
and no make up on. Bill told her to let her hair down, lose the
get some lipstick on. He saw the reporter later and had him go back
to Lynda (another of Bill's practical jokes) and tell Lynda "Now
that you aren't wearing that ugly hat any more I can take your picture."
All the while Lynda's husband Dan, son Shane, handler Sue Allen
and Bill were laughing their heads off while watching this encounter
take place. Frank Silher had two of the dogs that were in Jordan's
Jr Iditarod team, purchased from Bob and Maureen Morgan, in his
starting line up, Casper and South. Charlie Boulding was looking
well as was DeeDee Jonroe, considering they are both battling cancer
this year. Clint Warnke was in great spirits with Sonny King's dogs.
Jerome Longo helped Melanie Gould get their dogs to the line. Palmer
Sagoonik and family were celebrating and waving flags on the way
down the chute. Susan Butcher walked around the crowds several times
and some say Libby Riddles was there but I did not see her.
There are 64 teams in the race, 65 bibs counting the honorary mushers
but 68 left off the starting line today. Numbers 66,67,and 68 were
Doug Grilliot, Rick Horstman and Judy Merritt who were asked to
take their Idita-Riders on the eleven mile trail to BLM Campbell
Judy Merritt asked Bill to ride her tag sled and he was thrilled!!!
Had a blast doing it. He became her publicity agent, like he did
for Lynda, when Judy's rider expressed interest in riding the runners
instead of sitting in the sled basket. Bill said to Judy, "Get
in that basket and do your parade wave and everyone will want to
take your picture." Sure enough, everyone did just that as
her 60+ year old rider drove the sled to the starting line
while Bill controlled the team from the tag sled.
I rode with Bill Merritt to the airstrip to watch the last few
teams pull up. It was very muddy by then and 40+ degrees as the
teams packed up to get ready for Fairbanks.
The Anchorage Daily News says today, "The National Weather
Service issued a special statement Friday warning that a mass of
frigid air will likely flood the state from the northwest beginning
Monday. By this time next week, Anchorage could be descending below
zero." This should make for an interesting race as weather
conditions will be a big factor. Interior Alaska is always much
colder than other areas of the state. And wind on the Yukon
has shut down many a team. Most mushers seemed worried about the
mental aspect of the miles and miles of boredom on the huge Yukon
River but all seemed to acknowledge that weather could move in at
any time. MP3, tape or CD players will be almost required equipment.
Check our photo gallery for more pictures from the start!!