So they tell me I ran Iditarod.
It didn’t really feel like it. None of the parts of Iditarod I was already familiar with were there. Not the sign up picnic; not the ceremonial start. Not the crowds at the Willow Community Center, sending mushers off into the wilderness.
None of these things are why I mush or what I was striving for– But in the context of my own life, they were the main touchstone for me, of what Iditarod was.
With Covid, that was all changed.
There were no over-enthusiastic friends and relatives from the far stretches of the country. All ceremony was fairly muted. Meetings were online.
I will tell you a secret– This was a blessing, in many ways. A little “get out of jail free” card. Something that let me embark on that first journey with much less pressure and anxiety. I missed having friends and relations nearby– And I was also quietly grateful to be able to sneak away with ease. Be alone more often than not. Sit, and meditate. Stew in my terror. Panic pack.
Without the ceremony, without the many visitors and well wishers around, last year felt like… A trial run, perhaps. Just a long mush. Mush and camp and mush and camp. And that’s what Iditarod really is, after all. 840 miles is nothing to scoff at. The dogs impressed me. I impressed me. We did it. I know we can do more.
Now, though, this year, things are seeming more real.
In a few days, the first big ceremony of Iditarod will pick up where it left off in our “lost year.” The Iditarod picnic– where mushers can sign up in person, thank the amazing volunteers who make the race happen, and scope out the summer attire of their fellow dog-folk– is upon us. THIS is the beginning of what I have always known as the race. This is the event I’ve been to time after time, hoping to be one of the mushers, hoping to be signing my name.
I can tell already that this will feel like my first Iditarod, really. Maybe I’ll re-write some madonna to be “Like a Rookie (Mushed for the Very First Time)…” I do partially wish that they race would let us 2021 rookies be rookies again in 2022. In many ways we are! We haven’t seen the coast! That’s such a huge part of the race. We will absolutely be rookies there. Newbs in finest form. And newbs to this particular part of the pomp and circumstance that many of us, honestly, try to avoid.
You can tell there’s some strange conflict for me there. In practice, the ceremony (especially the events so close to the race, when your mind is so focused on the next step and the next step) is a weird distraction. But it’s one that’s major for the promotion of the race itself, and we know that. For me personally, it is the indicator of what the event IS. The ceremonies are what will tell me: this is it. This is THE Iditarod. In a way I just never registered last year.
In short, I’m nervous. More nervous for this picnic than I was to run 800 miles last year! Mushing is easy. This part is… Big. THE moment. Woof.
Since I crossed the finish line of my Iditarod Pre-Trial, Iditarod Lite, Beta Iditarod… I have had this groundedness. It’s been phenomenal. For the first time in my life, there is not only peace inside my heart, but a togetherness I’ve never experienced. My two warring factions are not just at a ceasefire, but working together. I am a team. I am part of a team, part of the pack that is ATAO. But I, personally, am my own team. My own self. I can’t convey that very well, not in words or images or anything else. Which is part of why I’ve been a little silent about the experience here.
There is no shred of doubt that I want Iditarod again. I want it with this yearning and excitement that I haven’t felt since I was first mushing. A true drive.
Who knows if that will hang on. Who knows what it will look like in the face of other anxiety.
The last few months (has it already been that long?) have been a rush, it seems like. The moment I crossed the finish line, I was already calculating what I had to do next. The steps I needed to take. There’s a very concrete set of steps in my mind to guide me to the next race, to how I want to do it and how to improve it. That’s a big part of the motivation for me, of mushing, is to try something and then to refine it.
Soon I’ll get to do that. And in fact, right now I already am. I am working on specific things with the dogs. I am doing everything the summer months allow to get ready for winter. It’s not even so much that I do what I can in the summer– It’s that there is so MUCH to do, the summer is not even enough. I am rushing and rushing, because I know winter will be here soon, and I only have so much time, so many weeks and months, before we’re there again.
This picnic this weekend is the first pebble. The first shaking of the ground that says, it’s coming. The race begins now. This time, in a way I recognize. In a way that has made me thrilled and terrified since I was a kid.
This time, there is ceremony around it all. And even though I’ve done most of what Iditarod really is, already, my body and mind are primed to recognize these steps as The Big Event. Whew. The nerves! The anxiety– but also the absolute excitement. I’m going to do it. I’m going to run the Iditarod. Again! But, for the very first time.
It’s going to be a journey. This kind of a thing is always a journey. This journey is different. It’s one I feel both more equipped for, and more terrified for. One thing that’s great– The dogs don’t care about the ceremony. The Anchorage start will be exciting for them, sure, but what they care about is catching that next mile and meal and nap. They are pros. “Scrimmaging,” as you might be able to call last year’s race for us, was preparation for them that puts them in perfect ease and sync. I’m the silly water boy, ogling at the bigger arena.
I hope you’ll be following along. There’s lots of ways to do it, of course– And we’ll be introducing some new mediums soon, too. We are always trying to refine the way we bring you content. Sometimes we are able to do more content than other times! Like everything, it’s a learning experience. Stay tuned to see and hear more of how you can enjoy the ATAO dogs (and humans, now and then).
Okay, time to get back to projects and to worrying about those big next steps. Training begins now!
(With training begins fundraising for the race. Running a thousand mile race costs $30k +. If you want to pitch in towards making Iditarod 2022 happen, you can Be a Buddy, or you can make a simple donation here: