The Iditarod 2015 is off and running, with the ceremonial start in Anchorage on the weekend, which was even covered by an Australian news reporter - a first? Due to the poor snow in the usual southern area, the race restart was moved this year to Fairbanks, and is travelling through four checkpoints for the first time, creating some interesting challenges and opportunities for the mushers and their support crews.
Over the past couple of years, I have become a bit addicted to the Iditarod. Its fascinating to follow online from the other side of the world, especially with great commentators like Danny Seavey on Facebook, official Iditarod photographers like Sebastian Schnuelle, as well as all the unofficial updates from team facebook pages.
Its also really exciting to have an Australian running again this year - Christian Turner is competing for the second time this year. I'm looking forward to seeing Christian speak at the NVSDC Nationals in June this year - I'm not sure if he's raced in Victoria before, but hopefully we can convince him to get Iditarod to ditch the comments about being "one of only a handful of Australians who know what dog mushing is"!!!!
And I love the fact that this is a sport where men and women compete against each other, as do all age groups. 24 women in a field of 78 mushers, who are going to manage their dogs, maintain their sleds, travel through 1000 miles of uncompromising frozen wilderness, build campfires, haul heavy buckets of water - these women are Arctic Warriors, not Frozen Princesses! For the last three years, Aliy Zirkle has placed 2nd in the Iditarod, and perhaps this year will be her year?
But everyone's favourite thing about the Iditarod is of course, the dogs. Their goofy performances at the start chutes, their ability to find safe passage through storms and over dangerous ice, the cute little donuts they curl up into on straw beds, the power of their stride over the ice, the bonds between mushers and dogs... Most of these dogs are Alaskan huskies, but there are, according to information from Siberian breeder and Iditarod judge, Canadian Karen Ramstead, four teams running Sibes this year. Interestingly, they give a sense of the international flavour of this year's Iditarod.
Englishman Rob Cooke completed the Yukon Quest only a few weeks ago, so his team will be battle hardened and super conditioned. Rob's support team are posting on the Facebook page, Supporting Rob Cooke for the Iditarod. Their comments about the new checkpoints have been pretty fascinating.
German born Yvonne Dabakk's team live in Norway, but they compete all over the northern hemisphere. Last year, they ran in the 2014 Iditarod, and then travelled to Siberia to compete in the Nadezhda Hope International Sled dog race. This was undoubtedly just as challenging as the Iditarod, but Yvonne's team showed the benefits of their Iditarod conditioning and took out second place.
Frenchwoman, Isabelle Travadon, is a Rookie in this year's Iditarod, but her race list is amazing. She has competed in sprint and mid-distance mushing in France for over 20 years, but since 2005, she has also taken on some of the great long-distance races of Scandinavia and the Alps. Isabelle has taken out top ten finishings in a number of La Grande Odyssee - the race to Mont Blanc - which was my first glimpse of sled dog racing, during a trip to France a few years before I met J.
One of the best known names in Siberians across the world, is of course, the Norris family, of Alaskan Kennels. Their Anadyr bloodlines are regarded as the oldest Siberian bloodlines in the world. This year, third generation musher, Lisbet Norris, is competing in the Iditarod for the second time, with a team of these amazing dogs.
With so many amazing people and dogs to follow, I have no idea who I'm barracking for. However, I will be enjoying every update and post for the 2015 Iditarod.