Winter can be long and boring in Alaska, if you let it. Fortunately, Alaskans know this, and once the excitement of Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's are behind them, the real entertainment can begin... Starting in January, with the Tustumena 200 sled dog race.
Jim and I go to the start of the T200 every year. Nothing gives us quite the same appreciation for Moya's quiet times as watching hundreds of other sprint dogs leaping in their harnesses, ready to run.
The T200 is a 200-mile race from Kasilof to Homer and back again. Mushers interested in running the Iditarod can use these 200 miles as part of their qualifying miles, so there are often big-name mushers competing. This year, we saw Iditarod favorites Jeff King:
And DeeDee Jonrowe. Here, DeeDee is booty-ing her dogs before putting them in harness.
DeeDee walks her own dogs to the starting line. Many volunteers help the mushers with the dogs, but the mushers are all very hands-on and care for their dogs themselves as much as they can.
These handlers are helping DeeDee hold her sled back so that there won't be a false start. Other handlers hold the dogs.
And away DeeDee goes! Unfortunately, this year one of DeeDee's dogs got loose and ran several miles alone, back toward the starting line, before being caught and returned to DeeDee, who scratched out of the race at that point.
We didn't catch the names of all the mushers. It was very, very cold that morning, and it was hard to hear the emcees through all our bundling, even though we were only feet away from the speakers.
Here are some of the mushers, on their sleds, headed to Homer:
It's fun to people-watch the other die-hard fans who came out in the cold to watch the races. This woman's fur sunburst ruff is incredible!
Many volunteers who'd been at the trailhead all morning were covered in frost by start time. This guy's hat, beard and mustache are all frosty.
So are his:
And, to a lesser extent, so are we. Jim's got frost buildup on his facial hair, and I had it in my bangs and my coat collar.
In spite of the cold, we stayed to watch all sixteen mushers leave the starting line. We don't go back to see the finish, though, because it will take hours for all the teams to return the next day.
Congratulations to Cym Smith, who finished the race in 22 hours 26 minutes to take the purse, Jeff King in second place, and Dan Kaduce in third place. (Photo of Cym from the T200 Facebook album.)
Can't wait to see the race again next year!