Weird weather adds new twist for Iditarod racers

Matias Saari
Yvonne Dabakk of Oslo, Norway, descends Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Siberian huskies Fritz, left, and Ruby lead the rookie team of Lisbet Norris across a bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Scott Janssen keeps control of his sled rounding the corner near Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42. It was warm and sunny for mushers, dogs and spectators on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Allen Moore of Two Rivers, AK crosses over Northern Lights Boulevard during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, AK takes a couple of hotdogs as he approaches the Tudor Road bridge. The ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 was warm and sunny on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Karen Hendrickson, of Wasilla, AK reaches out for a hotdog during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42.It was warm and sunny on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Jim Lanier passes through the party near the Native hospital during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42. It was a warm and sunny day Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News The second sled with JoarLeifseth Ulsom, of Norway, cruises by festive pink flamingos on the trail just east of University Lake. The ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 was warm and sunny on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Ramey Smith of Willow, AK approaches the muffin checkpoint near Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42. The day was warm and sunny Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Karen Ramstead drives her team past the muffin checkpoint and under the many flags. The ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 was warm and sunny on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Stuffed dogs sit in a chair alongside the trail during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42.The day was warm and sunny Saturday, March 1, 2014 for humans and dogs alike.
Anne Raup
The dogs of Peter Kaiser of Bethel cross a bridge on the Chester Creek Trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Richie Diehl of Aniak descends Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Rookie Nathan Schroeder of Chisholm, Minnesota, greets fans after descending Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Fans greet four-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake on the Chester Creek Trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Cindy Gallea of Wykoff, Minnesota, is greeted along the Chester Creek Trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
John Dixon of Fairbanks is chased along the Chester Creek trail by Cindy Abbott of Irvine, Ca., during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway waves to fans along the Chester Creek trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Travis Beals of Seward cheers for a trailside videographer along Chester Creek during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of Marcelle Fressineau of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, trot down the Chester Creek trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
A dog in the team of Anna Berington of Kasilof is sprayed by slush kicked up by another dog during warm temperatures along Chester Creek during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Two-time and defending Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey, right, and his wife Janine prepare to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014. Idita-Rider John Radtke is in the sled.
Bill Roth
Volunteer Russ Wilmot directs a dog team towards the starting line during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran Jessie Royer of Darby, MT, tends to one of her dogs as mushers prepared to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Jason Mackey of Wasilla eats a hot dog while crossing a bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod rookie Charlie Bejna drives his team towards the starting line for the first time during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sled dogs in the team of Iditarod veteran John Dixon near the bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey interacts with fans gather at Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran Newton Marshall of St. Anne, Jamaica, has his picture taken with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Aliy Zirkle who finished second in the past two Iditarod's jogs up to the starting line for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran Kelly Maixner of Big Lake holds his 8-month-old son Vendelin during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Veteran musher Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska, gets his gangline ready prior to the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Christian Turner of Australia prepares to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Christian Turner of Australia drives his dog team down 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Two-time Iditarod champion Robert Sorlie of Norway hits the trail during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
2013 Iditarod Rookie of the Year Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway prepares to cross Tudor Road during the Ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod rookie Tommy Jordbrudal of Norway prepares to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Veteran DeeDee Jonrowe prepares to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Veteran Iditarod musher Hugh Neff at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran DeeDee Jonrowe at Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran Scott Janssen crosses Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Jeff King greets visiting fan Amanda White of Dexter, Maine during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Musher Gus Guenther of Clam Gulch responds to fans as he crosses East 15th Avenue at the top of Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
An old freight sled is pulled down the trail prior to the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Gus Guenther of Clam Gulch heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Lev Shvarts of Willow emerges from the Chester Creek Trail tunnel beneath the Seward Highway during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof emerges from the Chester Creek Trail tunnel beneath the Seward Highway during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Jake Berkowitz of Big Lake cruises the Chester Creek Trail tunnel beneath the Seward Highway during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Danny Seavey of Seward negotiates a turn at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Katherine Keith of Kotzebue makes the turn at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Crowds watch mushers on 4th Avenue. Sixty-nine mushers and their dog teams celebrated the start of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race by greeting fans and taking a ceremonial ride across Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Marc Lester
The dog team of Dan Kaduce of Chatanika heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Two-time champion Mitch Seavey of Seward heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Michael Williams, Jr. descends the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of musher Yvonne Dabakk of Oslo, Norway peek over the lip of the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Newton Marshall of St. Anne, Jamaica acknowledges fans while descending the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Fans greet Jamaican musher Newton Marshall at the bottom of the Cordova Street hill near East 16th Avenue during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers greets fans at the top of Cordova Street Hill at East 15th Avenue during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
DeeDee Jonrowe drives her team down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Four-time winner Jeff King greets fans as he descends Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Scott Janssen of Anchorage, top, catches up to Allen Moore of Two Rivers on the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Chris and Sabra Sturgis of Palmer prepare a sign for sons Samuel 9, and Sawyer, 5, as they watch the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, next to Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Rookie musher Christian Turner of Karratha, Western Australia, greets fans near Mulcahy Stadium during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Two-time champion Robert Sorlie of Hurdal, Norway greets fans near Mulcahy Stadium during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Matt Failor of Willow crosses the bridge to Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Hugh Neff of Tok crosses the bridge to Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The brightly-shod dogs of Alex Buetow of Fairbanks cross the bridge to Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of Canadian musher Karen Ramstead are decked out in appropriate colors as they cross the bridge to Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage. Ramstead hails from Perryvale, Alberta.
Erik Hill
The lead dogs of Ken Anderson of Fairbanks round a corner at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of Mike Ellis of Two Rivers trot the trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Wade Marrs of Wasilla winds up with a handful of snow while greeting fans at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Tongues lolling, the dogs of Abbie West of Two Rivers belie the effects of warm weather during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Abbie West of Two Rivers leans over to greet fans at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of Sonny Lindner of Two Rivers enter the stretch of trail along Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Fans greet the end of the show as final musher Sonny Lindner of Two Rivers passes through Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen

Martin Buser mushed a familiar trail to the Little Susitna River only to find an unfamiliar scene: impassable open water.

That was in late January, not during break-up, which typically occurs three months later.

"I forgot my fishing pole," Buser joked on Facebook. "The silvers, the grayling and the trout were safe."

So was the trail from further use until the temperatures dropped and the river froze up again.

Welcome to 2014's winter of extremes, which featured bitter cold then freezing rain and temperatures into the 50s just about everywhere from the mushing hotbed of Willow to the Kenai Peninsula and beyond. With bare ground and exposed fields of hay, state forestry officials even issued a wildfire advisory for parts of the Mat-Su borough -- on Jan. 30.

"Challenging is probably a good summary," Buser, of Big Lake, said of training conditions as he prepared for his 31st Iditarod. "We've encountered a lot of water and a lot of ice. ... And rain."

Not much surprises Buser given his more than three decades of experience, but he expressed continued amazement at how sled dogs handle adversity with aplomb.

"(It's crazy) how well the dogs cope with all those challenges, how incredibly gifted they are with covering ground," Buser said by cellphone from his Happy Trails Kennel after finishing a run in late January.

Case in point: Willow musher Matt Failor titled a Facebook video "Should of made the team pull a surfboard" showing his huskies pulling his sled without hesitation through several inches of slushy water.

"We got our Xtratufs on. The dogs are swimming. It's the middle of January," Failor says in the video.

ADAPTABLE TRAINING

The adverse conditions wreaked havoc upon the mushing calendar as several races were canceled while others were contested amid slush and standing water, interminable glare ice and a "boilerplate" hard track.

While mushers prefer to train near their kennels, many were forced to truck hundreds of miles north to find suitable conditions on the unmaintained Denali Highway near Cantwell or the groomed Eureka Lodge system off the Glenn Highway.

Buser rode out the rough patches mostly on his home trails. At times he pulled a drag to scratch up the trails when they became so hard that injuring dogs was a concern. He also got creative in other ways.

"We have other tools in our arsenal," Buser said, referring to a treadmill previously used for elephants that can accommodate six canines simultaneously.

Because of a high training volume early this season, Buser said his mileage won't be compromised come Iditarod time.

'RIBBONS OF ICE'

Not so for fellow Iditarod legend DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow, who conceded in late-January that she's down on training miles.

"It's been more trying than normal," Jonrowe said of the 2013-14 training season.

Jonrowe, finisher of 29 Iditarods, has dealt with trails that were too soft, too hard and full of so much debris that twice she was knocked off her sled and temporarily lost her team.

"Night runs were especially bad. You'd come around a corner and there'd be whole big systems of big trees down," Jonrowe said. "Then it stayed warm too long. Now (in late January) most of the trails are ribbons of ice that we are beating up with drags."

Despite a training trip to the Denali Highway, Jonrowe still has not logged the necessary mileage -- particularly long runs ranging from 50-100 miles.

She also was hurt by cancellations to the Northern Lights 300 and Tustumena 200 races. The numerous cancellations will also make it tougher for rookies -- who need to accumulate 750 racing miles -- to qualify for the Iditarod in 2015.

Jonrowe anticipates the training struggles in Southcentral will impact some mushers' strategy during the Iditarod and said adaptability will be imperative.

"Anybody that can read their dogs and can adjust strategy (will do well)," she said. "If you stick to a schedule -- now those guys are going to be in trouble."

INTERIOR ADVANTAGE?

Mushers from the Interior -- which includes Fairbanks, Two Rivers and Tok -- may have an advantage this year. Their training season, despite a warm spell in January, has been much more consistent, Jonrowe said.

Defending champion Mitch Seavey of Sterling said a key for adequate Iditarod training is flexibility.

Seavey said he's been fortunate that planned heavy training periods coincided with good conditions and planned breaks fell during poor conditions.

"I'm not at all down on miles," said Seavey, who traveled twice from the Kenai Peninsula to Willow and once to Cantwell to train. "Training gets compromised if you do not adjust."

That said, snow is obviously a necessary component for training and in late January there was a dearth of it near Sterling.

"There's minimal snow in some places and the pussy willows are budding," Seavey said.

RAMIFICATIONS UNCERTAIN

Anchorage distance mushers, meanwhile, have little choice but to travel given the lack of suitable trails there, not to mention the paucity of snow through most of January.

Scott Janssen lives in Bear Valley and works in Anchorage but heads regularly to his new kennel in Knik. When the trails became marginal in Knik he traveled twice to the Eureka trails for runs ranging from 50 to 80 miles. Joining him there were the likes of Paul Gebhardt, Anna and Kristy Berington, Jake Berkowitz, Nicolas Petit and Ray Redington, among others.

"Actually I'm a little bit up on miles this year and it's a good feeling," Janssen said. "Most of that is because I now train on the Iditarod trail."

Training on less-than-ideal trails inspired Janssen to sometimes follow his team on a snowmachine instead of a sled. That gives him reliable brakes and allows him to hook up as many as 20 dogs at a time, four more than the maximum allowed to start the Iditarod.

Trucking dogs to places such as Cantwell comes with a downside for mushers, many of whom are perpetually strapped for cash.

"Whenever we have to start traveling, the expense goes up substantially," said Janssen, who is among the Iditarod minority with a year-round, traditional job.

The extra cost won't keep Janssen or the others off the Iditarod start line on March 1. What ramifications the tough training have on their journeys to Nome remain to be seen.

Complete Coverage: Iditarod 42
By MATIAS SAARI
Anchorage Daily News