Thursday, March 1, 2012

Musher's Banquet opens March Madness #iditarod

While most people hear "March Madness" and think basketball, those in Alaska know it's all about the Iditarod. Tonight will be the Musher's Banquet. This is one of the final fundraisers for the Iditarod, and it is the beginning of the race in many ways. All mushers are in attendance, and fans buy tickets to sit at their favorite's table. They dine on some fantastic vittles, and Hobo Jim entertains.

Then the dinner turns serious, there's an auction - which is fun, but also competitive in its own right - and then the headlining event. Mushers come up in the order of sign up to draw a number out of the hat. This will be their final strategy prep. They will say a few words to their supporters and sponsors and the race, they'll take their number, they'll head back to their seat. And then the mind games begin.

Most mushers will tell you that they want to be the middle of the pack, number wise. The earlier you run out of the gate you break trail, tire early, and you have a longer wait when you take your "24 hour rest". With teams leaving the starting line at 2 minute intervals, depending on how many teams there are, the first person out of the gate's 24 hour rest is actually longer than 24. This then starts everyone over and the race can begin. Again, it all comes down to strategy. The mushers have chosen, in their mind, where they will take their 24 weeks ago. Their food drop bags are marked, and their supplies are flown out to the check point a week or so before the race begins.

What's even more competitive are the fans waiting to hear the bib numbers so they can record them. Mind you, the Iditarod does a wonderful job of getting bib numbers out before the night is over, but folks are mad dashing it to find out. Fans and volunteers alike hover around to get the numbers as they're announced. It's exciting, but a little scary with the way some aggressively go to be the first to write down the numbers in their ITC Membership booklet!

No matter where mushers end up, it all comes down to the team running the week of the Iditarod.

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