Wednesday afternoon I headed into Anchorage. I stopped by Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla on my way out, forgetting official vet checks were in process (for those not opting to have their own vet do them, as we do). I smooshed with some of the vets, did a few interviews, and got to catch up with a few musher friends before heading into Anchorage.
There I spend a fascinating afternoon visiting the Providence Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). You may not be aware but this year I have agreed to carry the footprints of 100 premature babies up the Trail to Nome in my sled. Touring the NICU, I was able to meet a few of these 2 lb wonders.
What an amazing facility and an even more amazing group of folks. I’m honored to be associated with them and the great work they do.
After that it was off to the Millennium to meet up with Mark (yeah!!). Mark was accompanied to Alaska by his brother Kelly and his wife, Karen. Yes, indeed that makes her a ‘Karen Ramstead’ too!
Hobo Jim drifted through the bar and played a tune or two (including the Iditarod Trail Song) while we were having dinner. A few folks stopped by the table to say ‘hi’ and wish me good luck.
Yesterday morning we had breakfast with family and friends before I headed into Musher Meetings and Mark headed up to Willow to get settled in and look after the dogs.
The meetings went well. Then it was time for more ‘meet and greets’, a few interviews, an Alaskan Amber or two with friends and then off to the Sullivan Arena for the Musher’s Banquet.
A bit of eating, a lot of chatting, signing autographs, catching up with old friends, selecting bib numbers (I’m number 36 this year), smiling for photographs, interviews, more autographs and then it was back up to Willow.
At around midnight I crashed into bed. I was mentally exhausted, but still sleep just didn’t want to come. I tossed, turned and fussed – finally falling into an unsatisfying sleep.
I was out of bed early this morning, wondering why I couldn’t sleep last night – normally sleeping in the days prior to a race isn’t an issue for me.
As I was opening the door to let Jamie’s house Siberian, Jenni-lyn back in, the cold, crisp morning air hit me and the almost full moon beckoned from the woods. That was it – the trail was calling. See, as much as I understand all the pre race ‘hoopla’ – and honestly, I think most of us enjoy a lot of aspects of it, whether we like to admit it or not – that isn’t what mushers are all about. Our hearts and souls are out in the woods with the moon, the cold and our dogs. I hadn’t even seen my dogs in the last 24 hours.
I’m not nervous or scared about the upcoming race, I’m just plain excited.
On Sunday afternoon a loudspeaker will count us down and we will be off. Sixteen dogs will hit their harnesses and we will begin to shed the noise and confusion. As we slip through the crowds and onto the river, head down through Yentna, passing off our flashy race bibs as we go, we will slip back into a different time and a different place – a place where my heart – and the soul of my dogs – resides.
I’m grateful to all those that come out to support us and wish us well as we get ready for our journey – honestly, I am – but forgive me if part of me isn’t already looking ahead for a trail marker.