The opening ceremonies kicked off on Friday night in the town of Jackson, Wyoming. We started Friday with the vet check and the mandatory musher meeting and bib draw. All 16 dogs passed their vet check with flying colors. In this race you can have a pool of up to 16 dogs, and you can run up to 12 dogs each stage. My 16 dogs were: Bella, Alice, Jasper, Emmett, Otter, Super Cub, Kaycee, Khufu, Cessena, McGee, DiNozzo, Ziva, Paul, Quil, Ra, and Embry. After the vet check, we headed over to the location where the musher meeting would be. All the mushers had to sign the race banners that were to be used at each stage, and there were a ton of them, As I was signing the last couple of banners, I felt like my arm was going to fall off! After all the musher and their handlers had filed into the room, the meaning started. The rules were explained and questions were asked and answered. Our starting order for the night's ceremonial leg was drawn, and then we were free till that night.
Of the whole entire race, this opening ceremony had me the most nervous. The leg is only about 2 or 3 miles long, and the course starts in the town square and heads down the city streets to the ski resort. Every year they truck in snow to put down on the streets. They do the same thing for some other races, including the Iditarod. I had never done such a thing, and did not know what to expect. We were only allowed to run 6 dogs on this stage, so I ran Bella and Alice in lead, Emmett and Jasper in swing, and DiNozzo and McGee in wheel. Though they are my 6 best behaved dogs, they also happen to be my 6 strongest and fastest dogs. I didn't really want to run the "big guns" on this trail, but they are the best about being calm if I have to stop, which I would at the end of the trail because the dog teams would be arriving at this finish before their trucks and handlers could get over there. I made sure to put some meat snacks in my sled so I could give them to the team after we got to the finish, which was in a playground at the bottom of the ski hills at the Snow King Resort. I hoped this would convince the dogs that we were stopping for a while, even though we had only gone a very short ways. We had to take the team about 1/4 of a mile from the truck to the starting line at the town square, so I led the leaders while dad stood on the sled and brake. We got up to the start without a problem, and got into the starting shoot. They were doing dual-starts for this leg, so I would be starting at the same time as Dennis Laboda from Minnesota. I could see many people lined up and down the street and didn't really need my headlamp because of all the street lights. At this point I started to feel a little more excited and less nervous. The slowest team in this stage leaves first for the next stage, and the fastest team would leave last in the next stage. My plan was to be one of the faster teams, so I could leave further towards the back for the next stage starting in West Yellowstone. A lot of new snow was predicted for the night before the West Yellowstone stage, so I wanted to be starting as far back as I could so I wouldn't have to be breaking trail as much. With this strategy in mind, I let the dogs take off like a bullet out of the start chute. We made it out onto the trail before Dennis's team, and I tried to not ride the brake too much though it went against what I am used to doing. We flew down the trail, it all went by so fast. Before I knew it, we had arrived at the finish line. I stopped for a second there, and one of the volunteers offered to lead my team into the playground. I asked her to lead me up close to a sign post that I hooked with my snow hook. I got the dogs stopped, but they were still barking and pulling, wanting to keep going. I quickly got the snacks out of my sled and fed them to the dogs, and that helped as they decided that they must be in a checkpoint or something. The area was filled with dogs barking and screaming to keep running. At that point, looking around at all the teams being noisy and wild, I was glad that I had a distance team that was used to stopping at checkpoints. A couple skiers came up and talked to me while I waited for Sydney and Dad to arrive with the truck. They had to park a ways away, so we left Sydney with Bella, Alice, and the sled while Dad and I took Jasper, Emmett, McGee, and DiNozzo by the collars back to the truck. We came back and Dad and Sydney led Bella and Alice to the truck and I rode the sled. After getting the two girls unharnessed and put back in the trailer, we loaded the sled back unto the truck and went into one of the ski resort's buildings for the banquet.
Photos by: Chris Havener