2004 Iditarod Sketch Pad

Jon & Jona Van Zyle's exclusive sketches, stories from the trail

Lighting the way
2004 Iditarod Poster
Jon Jona Van Zyle
Jon & Jona Van Zyle
Sneaking Out
2004 Mush Poster

Visit Jon Van Zyle's Iditarod Art

Main Page Meet Jon & Jona Introduction Bootie Call Drop Bag Delivery Day Vet Check Jr. Iditarod
3/7 Iditarod Restart 3/8 Trail Notes 3/9 Rohn to Takotna 3/10 Takotna a.m. 3/10 Takotna p.m.
3/11 Takotna 3/14 Unalakleet 3/15-16 Unalakleet 3/16 Unalakleet
3/17 Unalakleet to Nome 3/19 Nome 3/20 Nome Finish Line Group Photo
Jona's Reflections

Sunday, 3/7/2004 - Iditarod restart in Willow

Iditarod restart in Willow, at the Community Center at mile 69.8 on the Parks Highway, about 25 miles north of the usual restart area in Wasilla near Iditarod Headquarters. It’s been moved again because of the dangers of open water with the warming weather conditions.

The sun dawned on another beautiful, picture perfect day. It was a bit of a squeeze to fit the 87 dog trucks into the confined parking areas that were available. True to form, the mushers moved barricades, shoveled and modified the area to make it work. The actual starting line was down Willow Lake and a musher’s nightmare to reach it. With a big team of wildly, excited dogs, you want the most direct route to follow. The staging area had big dog trucks crammed in at odd angles so when the approximately 80 feet of gangline was laid out for teams leaving ahead and behind and beside they crisscrossed like an ugly plaid fabric. Very few mushers had a straight shot to the starting line. Most mushers faced either a sharp right or left turn, crowds of spectators, unaware as to what was happening around them a steep hill and tight turn to the actual chute.

Cheryl Cheadle Metiva of Mackinaw, Michigan thankfully stepped in to reorganize the obstacle course. Many of you know Cheryl, formally of Tundra Outfitters, or from the Michigan racing scene. She’s been a longtime Iditarod supporter and this year she brought along her wonderful, new, soul-mate husband Marty. Those are two people who really belong in Alaska…we’ll see what we can do about that.

Poor Rick Swenson was on his way to the start wearing bib #5 when someone realized that his team hadn’t been scanned to verify the microchip numbers of the dogs running. We listened to the announcer introduce Rick, start his countdown, give the start and still not see his team. With Rick’s team stopped at the top of the hill, he halted the progress of the following teams and the announcer was left reading bios and counting with no one in sight. They finally got things back on track, but as a former racer, I still identify with the stomach clinching agony of making it to the line in a timely fashion. At this point most mushers are anxious to be away from the stress, the crowds and the confusion and to be out to the quiet of the actual trail. I’m not sure how far they’ll have to run to get away from the herd of spectators on snowmachines along the trail or the flock of ultra-lights and small planes swarming overhead. With the smell of fresh popcorn in the air, it definitely has the feeling of a three ring circus.

As Ellie’s starting time draws near, I helped her elderly Colorado Grandfather, Bob DeNier, make his cautious way down to the starting line. This is all new for Bob and I knew he’d get trampled back at the truck, so we found a nice front row spot to watch the action unfold. Ellie and team had an uneventful trip to the starting line. Again, my emotions surged. Some women cry at weddings, I lose it at the start of sled dog races. Knowing the effort it takes to reach a starting line, be it Iditarod or a 3 mile sprint race and to watch the beauty and excitement of the dogs makes my heart swell with pride and joy. It’s also a humbling experience to think that this musher and dog team have spent years to get to this point and will face 8-14 long hard days of unique adventures in this Great Land.

As Ellie heads across the lake toward her great adventure I spot other great adventurers. Watching the start from the comfort of their vehicles are 99 year old Iditarod and mountaineering veteran Col. Norman Vaughan and Siberian husky icon Natalie Norris.

The Col. Is busy planning another trip to Antarctica in 2005 to celebrate his 100th birthday with another ascent of the mountain Admiral Byrd named after him, Mt. Vaughan. I’m ashamed to say my knees were screaming just making the climb up the steep river bank from the steep river bank from the Yukon River up to the hillside village of Ruby!

Legendary Siberian Kennel owner Natalie Norris still likes to keep up with the race too. The Norris Kennel has helped many Iditarod mushers get their start, most noteworthy, Martin Buser. Natalie has again hosted Canadian Karen Ramstead and her Siberian team for this year’s race. Natalie still has a kennel of dogs, a home full of memories and a room full of racing trophies from her racing days in the Women’s World Championships and Fur Rondy Races which her late husband Earl started back in the 40’s. There have certainly been a lot of changes over the past 65 years, but it is still all about a musher and team facing over 1,000 miles of adventures. That’s the premise that keeps us all drawn to the Last Great Race.


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For more information about Ellie and her home at Ultima Thule Lodge you can visit their web site at www.ultimathulelodge.com

More information about Ellie Claus can be found on the Iditarod web site www.iditarod.com

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2004 Jon & Jona Van Zyle
All material in the Iditarod Sketch Pad remain the property of Jon & Jona Van Zyle and may not be reproduced in any manner.