As I mentioned in the last post, the ceremonial start on Saturday was not timed  and not part of the actual race. I twas a chance to show off the teams to all the fans in Anchorage.. So the Willow restart on Sunday was the real deal. This is when things get serious for the mushers. We arrived at the Willow community center in the morning so that Paige would have time to get organized and pack her sled for the 1000 mile trip.  In her sled he carries mandatory gear such as an axe, sleeping bag, dog food cooker, booties, snowshoes, and dog food. She also carries dog coats, extra human clothes, and doggy first aid kit. We already shipped food to each checkpoint for Paige and the dogs so she can resupply along the way.

Choosing the 16 dogs that will make up this team has not been easy. We brouht 18 dogs to Anchorage. Stout was just along to run as a leader in the Ceremonial start, but Paige had to make a decision between Denbigh, Bleeker and Yeti for the final spot. All three have had minor joint/muscle soreness in the recent past, Denbigh ran 800 mile of this years Yukon Quest, Bleeker finished last years Yukon Quest as a leader and Yeti is only 2 and only run 2 mid distance races this season… In the end Paige decided to leave Denbigh since he tends to have problems with overheating when it is warm.. The 10 day forecast for the entire race course showed temperatures no lower than 0 Fahrenheit and sometimes as high as upper the 30’s..


The final team she picked was: Elmer*,Okie*, Nukluk*, JD, Sable, Thule*, Galbraith*, Yeti, Kraken*, Fisher*, Brutus*, Bleeker, Dorado, Dundee*, Allover*, and Blue. (* denotes members of Cody’s Yukon Quest team)


Teams left the Willow starting chute in the order of the numbers that were drawn at the Banquet. A 2 minute interval separated each team’s departure.  This start differential will be adjusted during their mandatory 24 hour layover further down the trail. So that the first person to Nome is the official winner. Our awesome handler crew was once again on duty to help move the dogs to the starting line from the truck.. this time it included friends, Todd McCracken, Diana Zitmanis, Sue Ellis, and fellow racer, Mike Ellis who was starting much later.


The start attracts thousands of more people to the lake at Willow. If you consider the ceremonial start as the party for the city people, this must be the party for the suburbanites… the party for the hardcore  Alaskans continues to Skwentna Checkpoint and beyond. People ride their snowmachines or fly their bush planes out to different spots along the trail and have trailside parties with bonfires, barbeque grills and coolers full of beer!


This is the last time I got the chance to see the team and Paige, until I catch up with her on the coast, later in the race. It was a pretty amazing feeling to see my wife and dogs head out on such an awesome adventure.. couldn’t be prouder and it brought a tear to the eye.. I only wish I could join them, but I certainly am in spirit!



Here is the Television broadcast of Paige’s team at the official start.


Photo by Andrew Levi on the trail out of Willow