At this point, Jan Steves, 55, is with her four-footed team mushing somewhere through the Alaska snowfields on a 1,000-mile journey between Anchorage and Nome, attempting to become, her brother says, the oldest woman from Washington state to ever finish the Iditarod dog-sled race. And here Rick Steves thought he was the one who always went the distance.
It was only a couple of years ago when the family discovered that Jan - a property management specialist with three grown kids - was quietly planning a trip comparatively few have taken. As Steves writes on his blog, "Over the last several winters, she's spent countless long Arctic nights mushing through the Alaskan wilds in subzero weather, running her beloved dog team down trails lit only by the moon and her headlamp. And now, the race of Jan's life is upon her."
She departed with 65 other mushers Sunday in the "Last Great Race," the 40th annual Iditarod, sledding off in 20-degree weather from Willow near Anchorage on an eight-day trip to the former gold rush town of Nome.
Jan during training
Ray Redington Jr., 36, grandson of the race's founder, led the pack opening day, according to the regularly updated standings at iditarod.com. though he'd dropped to 12th this morning. He's competing in his 11th race and finished in seventh place last year. Six former champs are racing with their dog teams of 12 to 16 animals. Among the mushers is last year's winner, John Baker, 49, the first Inupiat Eskimo to win and first Alaska native champ since Jerry Riley in 1976.
Jan Steves, with help from friends, plans to update her progress on her race blog called "Living My Dream." She also describes preparation for the grueling, physical challenge of racing through deep snow and a wilderness full of surprises. As she earlier told the Edmonds Beacon, during training sessions she and training partner Bob Chlupach experienced three attacks by moose attempting to stomp their dog teams.
The purse of $550,000 is divided among the first 30 finishers, with the winner receiving $50,400 and a new truck. As of this morning, Jan was running out of the money - 63rd in a 66-musher race, with partner and fellow competitor Bob Chlupach 64th. But, says Rick Steves, "For Jan, just finishing this epic and grueling - not to mention dangerous - race will be a personal victory."