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From a vet’s Iditarod diary day 1

It’s been weeks since my last blog regarding Iditarod and all things race ended up as a diary. Out of respect for the Trail Committee, race events had to wait until the last musher crosses the finish line. Congrats to Victoria Hardwick who won the red lantern award, the last but not least award, for making it home to Nome!

The Iditarod start was in Anchorage on Saturday, March 2nd but was a celebration and ceremonial event as the actual start would be Sunday the 3rd. As the “games began,” where was I?! In the air! After waiting anxiously for my trail assignment, Sat morning was my flight time to my checkpoint post in Wasilla at Finger Lake. That morning consisted of my husband and I strategically finishing my packing and so many thoughts swirling in my head about the adventure ahead. After good-bye pics and meeting the morning group, we walked ... whisking noisily from my extra padded winter gear.... only a few yards out to my ride. A helicopter rather than a tiny plane was our chariot out of Anchorage, right outside of the hotel on the lake. My worst fear is tiny aircrafts lol, part of why I dared myself to work the Iditarod, yet one additional worry that likely no other volunteers had that morning was “would they let me take my extra duffle of food with me?” I was over the 40lb limit allowed for camping and survival “essentials” but I live a bodybuilding lifestyle so my pre-prepped meals are an essential! I had to prep 84 meals in Texas for my time in Alaska! After an anticlimactic “no big deal” pack up of our gear we lifted off on a journey away from the “real world”. No more cell services or internet for who knows when! Only the Iditarod to focus on! Our flight was beautiful, scenic and glorious as we flew over snow, trees and even several moose! An hour later we landed at Finger Lake checkpoint. Breathtaking and at a little under 20 degrees, Finger Lake was the third checkpoint on the trail after the Willow starting line. Our tasks were to unpack and organize before sundown. Between setting up our lake-top tent, the rest areas for the sled dogs, and meeting our checkpoint team mates, we also hoped to enjoy sights like the Northern lights. There with us veterinarians were checkpoint officials, the trail judge, a group to cooks for meals in their tree branch tent kitchen, and media and communications teams. Areas were set up with bales of straw for musher teams, Heet for them to cook with and snow was packed down for the ease of us all to pass back and forth. The chute, the arrival area of the check point was set up and all was arranged for the arriving mushers who’ll be starting the race in the morning. Excited for what’s to come I was among a talented and well-oiled Iditarod checkpoint veteran group who work the strategic and logistics part of the checkpoint. There were 5 of us veterinarians for our medical team to help evaluate the over 700 dogs who would arrive on the lake within the next 2 days. We had 2 totes of gear from medications to IV fluids if a need arised. One of the early and unavoidable hurdles for myself, as life on the trail got real, was the “toiletry” tent. A zipper door standing room only tent complete with bucket, wobbly handle sides and slippery floor beneath! Challenges were drinking a gallon a day which is my usual and having such precarious facilities for relief, not to mention all of the bulky gear while trying to gracefully operate conditions in there!

Accommodations within our residential vet tent, our Arctic Oven haven, included a mildly warm oven fueled by propane (thank goodness) and our sleeping bags which essentially were placed atop snow and ice. Night views were light glimpses and teases of northern lights along with a crisp air so clean nothing back home compares! Our first day was all about readiness, for ourselves and for the musher teams with many firsts including landing and living on a frozen lake! Let the Iditarod adventures begin!


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