WILLOW — A 2016 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race announcer’s voice dripped with sarcasm when he told the crowd of spectators that, due to the terrible weather, the race would have to be cancelled.
In fact, the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, with Willow temperatures well above freezing.
Most of the mushers were in good spirits.
“It’s just another beautiful day,” said Wasilla’s Alan Eischens at about 10:30 Sunday morning, three and a half hours before the official start of the 1,000-mile race from the Mat-Su Valley to Nome on the Bering Sea coast.
Eischens said he wasn’t nervous for his second Iditarod, but ready to appreciate the next week or two in the great outdoors.
Becca Moore, of Willow, said she wasn’t feeling as nervous at the start as she had been the past few days.
“I slept well last night and feel good,” she said.
Wasilla’s Kristy and Anna Berington said they felt good, too, but nerves had definitely kept them from eating that morning.
“It’s not the same as the first time but it never really feels like it settles,” Kristy said, hours before her seventh Iditarod race.
To try and combat the butterflies in their stomachs, though, the twins have put together some solid pump-up playlists, they said.
Anna said she loves her some Mumford and Sons, minus the “few songs that make me a little sleepy,” she said.
Kristy said she favors Nate Reuss, the lead vocalist for the band Fun.
“Fun always makes me feel good,” Kristy said.
Willow’s Lisbet Norris said she was excited to listen to Swedish indie pop band Miike Snow’s latest album at some point on the trail — “probably when I get tired,” she said — and Wasilla rookie Robert Redington said he’s well equipped in the music department.
“I’ve got 13,000 songs on my iPod,” he said. “256 days of music.”
Hopefully for Redington’s sake he won’t need that much as the race is expected to last between nine days and two weeks for most finishers.
Willow’s DeeDee Jonrowe said she usually has other things on her mind at the start of the Iditarod, especially this year.
The fact that all her belongings burned up in the Sockeye fire last summer was hard to take, but the loss of her mother a month later was a far more difficult experience, she said.
“I know that everything I owned I lost in the fire, but it didn’t even compare to the life of my mom,” Jonrowe said.
Knowing the shape that Nicolai Buser is in — the son of Big Lake musher Martin Buser is still recovering from serious injuries he sustained in a Seattle vehicle accident a few months ago — has had a similar effect on her, she said.
“He’s like a son to me, and I love him and Martin and Kathy and Rohn,” she said. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about them.”
Jonrowe said the family is one of the reasons why she doesn’t put much thought into what place she might finish the race.
“They are more important,” she said.
Martin Buser said that, even though his wife and recovering son aren’t in Alaska to celebrate the Iditarod with him this year, he and Rohn and their friends continue age-old, pre-race traditions — starting with Saturday night’s roast beef dinner.
“Rohn jumped in and … pan fried pieces to perfection. And to order!” Buser said, after setting down a can of Coca Cola.
He said they also ate their “typical, big, overwhelming breakfast” on Sunday morning.
“The kind that’s only good if you’re gonna be in the outdoors,” he said.
Wade Marrs, the youngest of 13 Willow mushers in the field (the most of any single community) was more concerned about getting over the flu than what to eat, though he picked at a plate of steak and grains while he talked to reporters around 12:30 p.m.
Returning champion Dallas Seavey said it didn’t matter much what he ate on day 1 of “a nine-day race.”
“I usually should eat, and I usually don’t eat and I usually wish I’d eaten, but eating takes time,” said Seavey, who won his third Iditarod last winter in 8 days, 18 hours and 13 minutes.
Seavey was getting over some kind of cold Sunday, but said that was “neither here nor there” in the grand scheme of the race.
“We’re ready to go so we’re just gonna rock and roll,” he said
Still, family and friends from Virginia, North Carolina and California — who were conveniently in town for Dallas’s cousin’s wedding — said a prayer over him Sunday morning, wishing him “Godspeed” and “good health.”
Seavey doesn’t claim to be a particularly religious man but told his relatives that he’d had his “most spiritually profound moments out on the trail,” along with “lots of things that just haven’t made sense.”
He couldn’t say whether those phenomena were a result of sleep deprivation or not.
“You don’t have to be able to explain it to appreciate it,” he said.
By 5 p.m. every musher had gone through the starting chute, quite literally riding off into the sunset across the lake, and towards the first checkpoint of Yentna Station 42 miles away.
For race standings, visit Iditarod.com.