It was 3 degrees and cloudy Tuesday in Skwentna, Alaska, a checkpoint along the Iditarod trail. For Jan Steves, those rugged conditions are part of a dream come true.
The Edmonds woman was one of 66 mushers who left Willow, Alaska, Sunday to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
A first-timer in the legendary competition, the 55-year-old Steves talked about her dream a year ago while preparing for the Norman Vaughan ‘25 Serum Run. That 768-mile Alaska expedition was a qualifying event and a warm-up for the Iditarod. It’s a goal Steves has held in her heart since trying dog racing about five years ago near Wenatchee.
Now, she runs with the big dogs.
Wearing No. 40, Steves and her team of 14 dogs were in 63rd place out of 66 racers Tuesday afternoon. Just being on the trail is her own victory. She has spent months in Alaska over the past two winters preparing to race with veteran Iditarod mushers.
When I talked with her in January 2011, she did her best to explain why: “The first time I drove a dog team, it was almost spiritual,” Steves said. “To look at the movement of the dogs, they were just fluid. And the silence of it — I was hooked.”
There’s no chance this week to interview Steves, whose adventures are being chronicled in a blog. A link to that blog can be found at the website of Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door, an Edmonds-based travel business operated by her brother.
The blog shows pictures of Jan Steves guiding her dogsled through Anchorage streets Saturday during the Iditarod’s ceremonial start. Photographer Trish Feaster was “guest blogging” for Steves as the race began, but isn’t able to follow along. The roughly 1,000-mile Iditarod trail, from Willow to Nome, follows an old gold rush and mail route.
“We’re doing our best to share her story through our website,” Rick Steves said Tuesday. “I’ve encouraged her to just telephone in and report on her progress.”
He, too, is traveling, although in the comfort of an SUV. He was in Utah on Tuesday on a 20-city road trip and speaking tour that will end in Florida. His travels prevented him from being in Alaska to see his younger sister off.
“It’s going to take her 10 or 12 days to do this race. It’s kind of like she’s on the dark side of the moon,” he said.
Steves said his sister has always loved adventure, the outdoors and animals. He recalled that as a teenage driver, she crashed their mother’s car into a telephone pole in Edmonds rather than hit a dog that had run into the street. “What a big heart she had for dogs,” he said.
She has also been involved with the Everett Mountaineers and taught skiing with Fiorini Ski School at Snoqualmie Summit.
Karen Fry of Edmonds has been a friend of Jan Steves since they went to junior high school together. Fry said Monday that her friend was in Edmonds over the summer and had shoulder surgery, but has been in Alaska training since September. Jan Steves’ training partner, Bob Chlupach, was listed just one place behind her on the Iditarod website Tuesday.
“It’s such an immense undertaking,” said Fry, who is closely following the race.
In a piece he wrote for the Huffington Post, Rick Steves recalled that he was the first to travel to Europe as a boy with his parents. When Jan’s turn came to make that trip, she chose music camp instead and he again got to go to Europe.
“I never realized just how adventurous Jan is until a couple of years ago, when we discovered that she was, on the sly (thinking no one would take her seriously), setting her sights on actually competing in one of the world’s ultimate races,” he wrote in the article published Feb. 29.
“She has always loved the mountains and the snow,” Steves said Tuesday. “When I hear my sister talk about the magic of being out on the trail, the rhythm of the dogs and the sounds of frosted trees, for me that’s an inspiration,” he said.
Running a dog team through the wilds of Alaska, often at night, his sister will face dangers.
“They go over ice bridges. You can get lost animals up there. All sorts of things can go wrong,” Steves said. “She’s strong and talented and focused. Still, she’s a relative rookie compared to a lot of those lifelong mushers.
“She’s really doing what she wants to do. I just admire it,” Steves said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, email@example.com.
Follow progress of Jan Steves and other mushers at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race site: http://iditarod.com/
Read about Jan Steves: http://livingmydream2.blogspot.com/