Juneau woman lands ride in Iditarod

Race fan looks forward to the dog days of winter

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2003

For most Alaskans at this time of year, a $1,300 trip might be a week in Puerto Vallerta.

For Juneau resident Nancy Woizeschke, it means snow flying in her face, bouncing over trail ruts and a jostled view of Anchorage over the tails of 16 sled dogs Saturday as she participates in the Idita-Rider program.

In January, Woizeschke submitted the winning bid of $1,300 to ride in the basket of rookie musher Todd Capistrant's sled for a few miles at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. While the restart has been moved from Wasilla to Fairbanks due to lack of snow, the ceremonial start and opening ceremonies will be held, as planned, in Anchorage - though Woizeschke's ride may be shorter than the typical dozen-or-so miles.

Regardless of the logistical wrangling, Woizeschke said the experience is a dream come true.

"I thought it was so amazing that I got to live in Alaska," said Woizeschke, who moved here five years ago. "Now this - I feel really lucky. Everything has fallen into place."

Woizeschke lives in Juneau with her husband, Brian Prellwitz, and two Samoyeds; she works at Salomon Smith Barney. The seeds of her sled dog dream were planted far from Alaska, in the wide-open spaces of her childhood home on the edge of the Great Plains.

"Southwest Minnesota is the anti-Alaska, with the open prairie land," she said. But while growing up there, she "read a lot of Alaska-based adventures, and a lot of those contained mushing."

Prior to moving to Alaska, Woizeschke and her husband got a taste of mushing at a tourist operation at Alyeska, near Anchorage, while on a vacation. After moving here, she watched the Iditarod and became interested in the Idita-Rider program when she heard about a musher based near her Minnesota hometown.

She started to make plans to be an Idita-Rider with him last year, but he opted against running the Iditarod again. So she put her dream on hold and waited until bidding for this year's race opened. She chose to focus on Capistrant because he was born in Minnesota and trains in the northern part of the state; he lives with his family and works as a physician in Wisconsin.

"I picked Todd out really early," she said. "Bids opened in November, and I bid right away."

Bidding for Idita-Rider slots - rides with nearly all of this year's 65 mushers were up for grabs - culminated with a conference call Jan. 24. At that time, frantic final bidding took place, and Woizeschke had to wait - and wonder - if her bid would hold up.

"It was taking forever and I saw how high these people were going," she said. "When it was over with, I was exhausted."

But $1,300 was enough to secure her spot in the sled - though it was a little over budget.

"The auction ended up being a lot more competitive than I thought and it ended up costing a lot more ... but it will be worth it."

Final bids ranged from $1,050 for a rookie musher from Montana up to $7,500 for three-time winner Jeff King; the vast majority ranged between $1,100 and $2,000. This year's auction raised $103,557 for the race.

Woizeschke said she is unsure if she'll try for an Idita-Rider slot again. If not, she's considering volunteering during the race.

Capistrant, reached by e-mail earlier this month, said the Idita-Riders - and all the fans and volunteers - are what make the Iditarod special.

"I am flattered that someone would pay to ride in our basket," he said. "I think this is a wonderful way for the public to become part of the race and show support."

And Capistrant's thoughts on the amount of money put out to spend time on trail with him and his dogs?

"As far as the cost, it is probably a pretty good deal seeing that the entry fee for the race is $1,800," he said.

"(And) the rider gets to go from the start line with a team of trained huskies and sleep in a warm bed later that night," he joked, while the racers have to haul their team and gear up to Fairbanks for the restart.

As a rookie, Capistrant said finishing with a happy, healthy team is his goal, and "anything above that is purely a bonus." He's looking forward to reaching the finish line in Nome and experiencing the camaraderie of the mushing community.

And while she will not be out on the trail with Capistrant, Woizeschke will be following his progress the entire distance as, in some respects, her dream is extended for a few weeks while the race is underway.

"I'm kind of overwhelmed," she said. "I'm so hyped about it already, I can't imagine what it's going to be like ..."

Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com.

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