Two years ago on the same course, Martin Buser of Big Lake blazed the first 60-mile stretch out of Fairbanks at an eye-popping average speed of 12.04 mph, arriving in Nenana 27 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. But Jason Mackey was even faster. He averaged 14.4 mph.
On Monday, nobody matched those speeds, although Buser came close, averaging 11.96 mph, the best of the first half of the field. Buser, often a front-runner at the beginning of the Iditarod, was the second musher out of Nenana late Monday afternoon, headed for the Manley Hot Springs checkpoint, with two-time champion Mitch Seavey not far behind him.
But, as they say, speed kills — at least the dreams of early front-runners. In the 2015 race, Buser had slipped to fourth by the time he reached Manley Hot Springs, and the four-time champion finished the race 22nd. Mackey, who traveled much of the way to Nome with his brother Lance was 42nd.
What cold? It’s Fairbanks
Fairbanks residents can handle the cold, so the minus-25 temps that greeted Susan Carothers and her husband, Mark, when they arrived at the Iditarod starting line around 10 a.m. were no big deal.
"The only thing I want to complain about is being too warm," said Susan, 61, of Fairbanks, who wore a fur hat, fur mittens and a fur jacket. "You just want to dress for the weather so you don't have to go inside."
Good for dogs, ‘murder’ on mushers
Musher Trent Herbst, a fourth-grade teacher from Idaho, compared Monday's start to 2015, the last time the Iditarod start was moved to Fairbanks. "That year was a lot colder," he said.
Herbst said he had the gear for temperatures that dove far below zero. To keep himself warm on the trail, he said, he would run-kick his foot off the ground and swing a ski pole to help move his team forward. For the dogs, the temperatures were good, he said.
"The dogs, it's going to be good weather for them, but it's going to be murder on us," he said. "It's hard to get motivated to get out of your sleeping bag when it's 20 below."
Leading the way
Decked out in fashionable red leggings, Junior and Kodiak were leading 14 canine teammates out of the Fairbanks starting chute Monday morning when Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirle hit the trail just after noon.
Husband Allen Moore, who typically guides the Skunk's Place Kennel's B team on the trail to Nome, had Chemo and Waylon up front.
Fairbanks home team
Fairbanks-area mushers got the home-team treatment at the chilly start from fans. All together, there are four mushers listing their hometown as Fairbanks — Ken Anderson, Jessie Royer, Jodi Bailey and Cody Strathe. Two others are from nearby Two Rivers. Two years ago, the last time the Iditarod started in Fairbanks, Royer recorded a career-best, fourth-place finish and Anderson was ninth, one of his six top-10 finishes.
— Tegan Hanlon and Mike Campbell