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  • Writer's pictureShaynee Traska

Our Rookie Iditarod Story, Part One

They say the hardest part of a one-thousand mile race is making it to the starting line, now I believe it. In the days, weeks, and months leading up to the start of the 2018 Iditarod, it seemed like the only thing Jeremy and I had time for was dogs and Iditarod prep...oh wait, that IS all we had time for. Throughout the race, while having twelve days to let my thoughts wander, I realized what a totally selfish endeavor this had become. All of the time spent getting ME to this point. And so, in starting off this account of my rookie Iditarod adventure, I must give the utmost thanks to everyone who not only made this dream possible by way of prayers, monetary donation, and endless words of encouragement, but to those I, in a way, neglected. Thank you for understanding the craziness and oodles of time and energy that went into this, any lack of communication was not intended. To all of you who invested yourself in any way to our journey, I can't say it enough and the words honestly don't do, but they will have to...thank you. I hope in some way, you all gained something from following our journey, and that this wasn't totally in vain like it has sometimes felt. That maybe you felt the beautiful wilderness as we witnessed it-God's beauty dancing in our eyes. Maybe you felt the power of the triumph of a dream, and now believe that you, too, can make that desire come alive. Thanks for sharing the trails with us, you all lingered in my thoughts on the tough and dark sections and pushed us forward. Here's the story. The last couple of weeks before the race began, Fairbanks got dumped on with snow. Days and days of snow added to our work load while getting ready for the race. The dogs were breaking trail through the fresh snow on almost every training run. Typically, mushers are ecstatic at the sight of endless snow, but with all the snow we already had on top of the new snow, we were ready for a break! The last training run we did at the kennel before we headed south for the start of the race did not come any easier. Jeremy and I each took a team out for what turned into a shorter run due to blowing snow that had closed the trails in. It was windy and the snow was falling like crazy. Returning to the kennel just a mere two hours later, we found the doors to the dog houses almost completely blown shut with snow...back to work! This should have been a sign right then of what the Iditarod was going to look like, it should've been no surprise. A week later the team and I would find ourselves thrown into storm after storm of snow and wind. Breaking trail would become the norm.

Race preparations inside of the cabin, it was organized chaos!

The final days leading up to the start were thoroughly overwhelming. Wednesday had Jeremy, our dear friend Jeni, and I packing up dogs to start the nearly 400 mile drive from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Along the way, we stopped for a quick training run on the Denali Highway to let the dogs stretch out one more time before the big day. We hooked up twenty dogs and two sleds which toted the three of us grinning ear to ear on a unbelievably beautiful sunny day with Denali, the highest peak in North America, looming directly in front of us. After the run, we quickly made our way further south where my mom and dad along with Jeremy's mom would be waiting for us at a hotel in Anchorage.

20-dog team on the Denali Highway, last training run before Iditarod-Photo by: Jeni Clark

Shaynee and dear friend/Iditarod handler extraodinaire, Jeni, on the Denali Highway

The next day was filled with "social time", which anyone who knows me, knows I am not much for talking and this would be the hardest day for me. The first several hours of the day were spent in a mandatory musher meeting, going over rules, expectations, trail reports, and how to ignore the PETA protesters that were to descend on the start of the race. Lunch time is where we would meet our "Iditariders", folks who have paid thousands of dollars to ride along in the sled during the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage. My rider, Lesley, was very nice and also owns a bakery...bonus! A couple hour break allowed me to get a quick nap in (trying to get SOME rest before two weeks without) before we were expected back at the Musher Meet and Greet. Hundreds of autographs and pictures with fans later, it was time for the start banquet. I remember an Iditarod veteran giving the prayer for the evening, both in English and in his native Alaskan tongue, I could've listened to his native language for hours. After dinner and music, each musher went on stage to draw for his or her starting position and to thank sponsors. I drew bib #5! I was happy with this as it would give me more rest time during the race (due to how starting times are calculated to account for teams going out at two-minute intervals). I was exhausted after this crazy day! Friday would bring a more "quiet" day with no mandatory Iditarod events. One of the veterinarians that would be on the trail whom I had become acquainted with this fall offered to do some pre-race chiropractic work on some of the team. Kim spent a couple of hours looking over dogs, stretching, and making the kids feel marvelous. Her knowledge and ability to work her hands over the dogs and find little places that need popped and cracked is truly amazing...thanks Dr. Henneman, for sharing your awesome talents and your friendship! After our "doctor appointment", I took time to pack my sled with everything that I would need on the trail to make sure it all fit (and it barely did!). The day was finished off with a pizza party with family and friends that would be helping keep any dogs that were dropped along the trail. It was a great day immediately proceeding the next two weeks spent the majority of the time in the company of my furry family. We just had to make it through the ceremonial start, an eleven mile run Saturday through downtown Anchorage (literally, down the streets of the city) lined with thousands of cheering fans and then Sunday would be THE day. The day I would set out with sixteen of my best friends, not knowing what might lie ahead over one thousand miles of Alaskan beauty and wilderness.

Dr. Henneman stretches Logan and gives a pre-race exam!-Photo by: Jeni Clark

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