BIG LAKE, Alaska – When 14-year-old Morgan Martens gave up his sled at the junior Iditrod finish line after a hard 16 hours 40 minutes 20 seconds, his grin was barely visible beneath his warm layers.
Timing his victory aside, he accomplished a feat that few 14-year-olds did: leading a team of 10 sled dogs in a nearly 150-mile two-day race through the wilderness of Alaska.
Junior Iditrode, the longest race in Alaska for contestants under 18, is a chance to demonstrate an unusual set of skills for young mushrooms. They need to know how to drive a sled, use survival equipment, soothe icy winds, and avoid hypothermia.
They need to know how to navigate the course, and what to do if they get stuck in a snowdrift or if the trail disappears. They need to know their dogs well, too: Which people like fish more than beef? Do their feet need booties, or is the weather too hot?
The Junior Makers began at Nick Lake, an hour’s drive north of Anchorage, and wound their way to a remote lodge more than 75 miles away, where they encamped overnight in the midst of the frigid winds, which single digits. Was as low as. After a 10-hour mandatory halt, he drove about 65 miles to the finish line at Big Lake.
Anna Kok, a 17-year-old mouser, has been musking for years.
She said that she was inspired by seeing Iditarod as a child. “When I was 10 years old, I was like, ‘I was going to pray every night that I would become a masar,” he said.
Two years later, she befriended a veteran Idritrode Mushar with Jessica Kleka, and has been training with her ever since. Coke takes daily trips from his home in Cluka’s Kneel in nearby Wasilla and is practically there in February, spending all his time caring for dogs and going on training runs.
She has run Kleka’s dogs in the junior race for the past three years.
“Said Coke,” Nothing in the whole world can be alone with your dogs. “It gives you a lot of peace. And they inspire you to become a better person through that. They are trusting you and you are trusting them. This is a very beautiful picture of teamwork and endurance and hard work. “
Many juniors train for the mushroom year to make race days, and friends and family leave to support them at the start line before going on their two-day trip. “There’s a lot of work behind Coke,” Coke said. “As high school students, everyone is playing in juniors, it’s a very, very big commitment.”
For some participants, the event will be the first time they have stayed one night away from their parents.
Most of the contestants in the junior race were virtually born into sports. 14-year-old Ava Moore Smith of Willow is a third-generation mushroom: her parents have both driven the Iditarod, her grandfather had run the first eiditarode, and her grandmother was one of the first female mushrooms to complete the race.
Ellen Redington, 14, from Naik, is a fourth generation masher. His great grandfather Joe Redington Sr. Iditarod was known as the founding father, and his parents met in 1991 on Junior Iditarod.
Martens, this year’s winner, was not the only entrant from Alaska. But the game runs in his family. His mother, Janet Martens, Bruce, participates in a 20- to 40-mile run near Wiz’s family farm.
Morgan Martens is also supportive of her classmates going back home. “The principal sent an email, so my entire school is watching,” he said.
Junior Iditarod has been run since 1978, five years after the first Iditarod. The race is supported by sponsors, who help award the prize: the winner receives a new dog sled, a beaver fur hat, and Musher Mittens. There is also a $ 6,000 scholarship.
Before going on a two-day trip, each mouser loaded emergency gear and each dog was evaluated by a vet. Although there are adults on the course including a race marshal on a snowmobile, young athletes also have satellite trackers for their safety.
The GPS tracker provided a measure of assurance for Janet Martens. Although her older child, Tallia, faced Junior Iditrod in 2018, she was still worried about what Morgan would experience overnight.
“Will he get hypothermia by walking all day, you know, 75 miles? Will he get all sweaty and cool?” He said. “Will he eat the food sent with me or will he eat all the candy He is going?”
When Morgan Martens crossed the finish line, his fears were allayed. “I think she took more of an adult perspective as far as thinking about what she had to do and what responsibilities she had,” she said. “There are 10 dogs that depend on him, and he has taken it very seriously. As far as he goes, he has learned a lot of adult skills that most adults do not have. “
All mushrooms were safely depleted, with some remaining for more than 20 hours on the trail. They faced icy winds, snowdrifts, fading trails and occasional deaths.
Julia Redington, a junior iditrod board member and mother of Ellen Redington, said, “It has the ability to take and teach things you’re not doing and not just for yourself, but you have a team of dogs. “
“They are all competitive, but it’s also about the journey and just what they learn.”