Jan Steves about to successfully finish the Iditarod

Jan Steves at the start of the 2012 Iditarod.

By Rick Steves

Two weeks ago I set off in a comfortable GMC Yukon SUV for an epic Seattle-to-Florida road trip. Far north of the Yukon, on that same day, my little sister, Jan, set off on a journey that makes my adventure look like a trip to the mailbox. Behind 14 happy dogs, she left Anchorage for Nome, on the 1,050-mile-long Iditarod race.

Of course, even qualifying for the Iditarod is a huge accomplishment. Just finishing this dangerous and grueling race is a personal victory. And Jan is about to do that. So far, 50 teams have finished, 13 have dropped out or scratched, and three are still on the trail.

While bruised and battered and sleep-deprived, Jan’s spirits are soaring as she sets off on the last 70-mile leg of her journey. Like a nervous mother, I’ve been checking in, via the excellent Iditarod.com website to see how she’s doing.

Just reading about the stations — wind-blown communities of corrugated tin igloos with a couple hundred bundled up residents who wait with warm bowls of soup for each musher — and about the terrain between each station is fun. Talk about a travel adventure. I’m dreaming of interviewing Jan once she’s back home in Seattle on my radio program. I’ve got so many questions.

Today, Sunday, Jan embarks from White Mountain to a station called Safety across perhaps the most treacherous stretch of the entire race. When gale-force winds routinely whip off the Bering Sea here, this can be treacherous — even deadly. When the weather turns bad, mushers are advised to grab a shelter and wait it out. This morning the weather is calm and sunny, even though 16 degrees below zero. I’m so relieved, as I imagine my sister is.

If you are interested, check out Jan’s blog and dig around in the Iditarod website for details. (Click on 2012 Race, then click standings and stations. Under stations, go down to White Mountain and click “terrain between checkpoint”.)

Finishing last place earns you the Iditarod Red Lantern – something I’ll gaze at on my sister’s mantle for the rest of my life with admiration. Go Jan!!!

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