Waking up early, and going out into the minus 20ºF cold, dark morning of a late January Alaska winter is not everybody’s idea of fun…But mushers, especially junior mushers, have a totally different concept of fun than the average “text me while I’m 3 in line behind you at the Ben & Jerry’s at the mall” teenager. The inaugural Don Bowers Memorial Junior 100 race in 2008 was colder than brick hard New York Super Fudge Chunk.The race is the brainchild of local Willow mushing family matriarch, Chris Stitt. It was initially planned to be run in conjunction with the DBMR 200 & 300 adult races but because of perceived liability issues, the Don Bowers race organization pulled their suport at the last minute. (Ironically all the junior mushers entered in the race finished, and in the senior races, over half the mushers failed to complete the designated course. GS)Undeterred, and not to disappoint the junior mushers already signed up, Chris went to work securing replacement help for the race. Having worked all summer and fall to attract sponsors, and organize trail crew, timers, photographers, trophies, vets, race officials and the like, she didn’t want that all to vaporize. With an altered race route, so as not to get in the way of the adult classes, the race started in Willow, and wound through the Willow Swamp. It then followed the Hunter trail in a southerly direction and met up with the Big lake trail. From there, the racers got on the Susitna river and proceeded north to Scary Tree, where they proceeded North West on the Yentna up to the designated layover spot. The halfway point and mandatory 4 hour layover spot was Jewel’s Landing strip and cabin. Robert Jewel, an Anchorage businesman, graciously loaned out the cabin for this event. All the junior mushers diligently fed, watered, looked over, and bedded down their dogs with the provided straw. The mushers, officials and trail help were treated to beverages, complimentary hot dogs and chili and a rest if needed. After the layover and the starting time differences were counted down, the junior mushers donned headlamps and left the warm cozy confines of the Jewel Landing Strip cabin. The temperature was quickly dropping. They proceeded south on the Yentna, river, then north on the Susitna. They then followed the local trails back to the Willow Community center. During the trip back and especially close to the end of the race the temperatures dropped to about 35-40˚F below zero. Being the race marshall for this event, I was on a snowmachine with race coordinator and trail boss Mike Stitt. During both the outbound and inbound legs, we shuttled between the first and last mushers making sure there were no problems. Even though they were all in masterful control of their teams, we knew the terrain could be tricky, and of unforgiving nature. Special thanks should be given to Mike’s excellent trail crew who marked the trail with hundreds of signs and markers donated by Alaska Industrial Hardware (who also sent out two employees on snowmachines for the race). AIH was a big part in making this a fun, succesful, and most importantly, a safe weekend for the junior mushers and their dogs. About half way home on the second leg, Carol Keller’s Alaskan husky team slowed a bit due to loading a dog, and Skeeter Stitt was able to make time and eventually overtake Carol. Skeeter held on to his lead to finish in second place overall. A commendable finish with a team of almost all purebred Siberians. The first team to the halfway layover and also the first home, was Mackenzie Davis. Mackenzie’s team showed no signs of slowing down and trotted home happily. Carole Keller maintained 3rd position, followed by Miranda Stitt, and Skipper Stitt. All racers had a great time, and want to return for the next year’s race. According to race organizer Chris Stitt, the race will be called the Junior Willow 100 in 2009, and will expand. “We are trying to reroute the trail a bit to make it closer to an actual 100 miles. We want to make it as good preparation for the Junior Iditarod as we can.” she explains. “Our first priority is for the safety of the mushers and their dogs so we are limiting the possible entries to 10 teams for now.” Chris adds. With the race organization’s passion for putting on a great event, and the expertise and attention to detail of the trail crew, the Junior Willow 100 is sure to become an annual classic and not to be missed!


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