Jan Steves gears up for 3rd Iditarod
Many of us have fond memories of family road trips – loading up the station wagon and heading off to exciting adventures.
But how many can claim to have done it via sled, behind a dog team?
Jan Steves and her daughter Nicolina Johnson will be in that exclusive club following this year’s 42nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Regular readers of the Beacon have followed Steves’ Iditarod adventures the past two years. The Edmonds woman is gearing up for her third Iditarod.
This time, she and her sled team will have company – at least for the Ceremonial Start on March 1.
Nicolina Johnson, a 2000 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High, will ride with her mother about 11 miles from Anchorage to the Campbell Airstrip in Anchorage.
On March 2, Steves will continue on with her team of Alaskan huskies, mushing more than 1,000 miles from Willow to Nome.
Johnson is actually making the longer trip, albeit in a bit more comfort. She will fly in from Vienna where she is working on an art project. (See accompanying story.)
Mother and daughter have been living their dreams, thousands of miles apart; both are excited that their paths are crossing again.
“It will be so incredible to share with my daughter my Iditarod,” Steves said. “Having her in my sled bag traveling down the trail together will be an experience and a memory of a lifetime for me.
“My daughter is my inspiration. She is truly following her dream.”
Johnson says the same thing about her mother.
“My mother always encouraged me to follow my dreams,” Johnson said. “Now, in her 50s, she is following hers.
“She is an inspiration and a shining example of how it is never too late to pursue your passion.”
Steves’ third Iditarod may be the most challenging, but for an unexpected reason. The jet stream that has delivered a ferocious winter punch to America’s heartland and East Coast has also given Alaska a mild one, with unseasonably warm temperatures and too little snow.
Steves said training has been a challenge. Several days of hard rain have washed out river and creek crossings that limit trail access.
With no new snow and warmer temperatures in January, Steves and the other mushers have had to truck their dogs in search of snow and good training trails.
And because of the poor conditions, organizers considered moving the start from Anchorage to Fairbanks, a change that has happened just once before, in 2003.
On Monday, they decided to stick with the traditional route, although the 70 mushers and their teams will take an overland trail that avoids nearly all of the icy river conditions and that will be groomed to offset poor conditions and improve safety.
Still, some Iditarod racers expressed concern about the conditions. Veteran DeeDee Jonrowe wrote on her Facebook page … “we need snow, safe trails for our teams, and lots of God’s blessings. I must say I am nervous.”
Steves said a sponsor has offered to provide her with a helmet that snowboarders are wearing at the Olympics; she plans to accept.
“The ground is frozen hard, and there’s no fresh snow,” she said. “It’s a little scary.”
But Steves said organizers are working to ensure the safety of the dog teams and their mushers.
Even if the ride is a bit rough this year, Steves will be eating well. She said Demetris in Edmonds is sending some food, including bacon-wrapped dates.
“I love the bacon-wrapped dates,” she said. “Those will be absolutely incredible on the trail.”
She’ll heat them up in special sealed bags, then use the boiling water to thaw her dogs’ meals.
Whether on the trail or home in Willow, the dogs eat plenty, too. Steves said they go through a ton of dog food in about 45 days.
But on the trail, the huskies will have to work harder this year. Because of conditions, Steves will probably use a 14-dog team, two less than usual.
“Every year, the trail is different,” she said. “I’m just more concerned this year about the trail conditions.”
Heading out Tuesday for a 30-mile workout with her dogs, Steves said the family “road trip” is more on her mind, thanks to the arrival of her daughter.
“I haven’t seen Nicole in two years,” she said. “I can’t wait to wrap my arms around her.”