Posted by Jane DeVries on Saturday, March 3, 2018
NOME, AK (March 22, 2018) – Thanks to her friends and family, Covenanter Jane Devries was able to experience a view that few people in the Lower 48 states ever experience—Alaska from the sled of an Iditarod musher.
She rode the sled driven by rookie musher Meredith Christine Mapes during the March 3 ceremonial start of what Alaskans call “The Last Great Race on Earth,” which covers nearly 1,200 miles. The official start is the following day.
“It was incredible,” Devries said, still expressing awe. “The first several miles you go through Anchorage, but then you’re out in the woods and open spaces. I can see why the mushers love it. It was peaceful, wonderful, and quiet. Of course, the dogs were super excited that they were on the trail. They love it.”
Devries added, “I loved it for those 11 miles, but I wouldn’t want to do the race and be out there where the storms can come up. It can be scary.”
Devries said the thing she loves the most about the race is that it’s a whole team effort. “The dogs, the mushers, and the other support team members back home. For me it also has to do with my childhood.”
Devries grew up in Nome, where her dad was director of KICY, the Covenant’s radio ministry. Her family moved when she was 16, and she had not been back since.
Last year her family and friends, including several from Anchor Covenant Church in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, surprised her on her birthday when they told her they would pay her way to Alaska so she could again see the race and visit old friends.
“I was speechless,” Devries said. “It was just a blessing to have the opportunity.”
The finish line is directly in front of the Covenant church, and when she was growing up, Devries used to talk with the mushers after the race. She got to do it again this year as she helped the town welcome the racers.
Iditarod mushers have a long special relationship with the villages that serve as checkpoints along the way: Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, White Mountain, and Nome. For years, until the race changed the practice, mushers often stayed in the homes of Covenanters and other villagers when they needed to rest along the route.
In Unalakleet this year, the entire town threw a party for DeeDee Jonrowe, the 64-year-old iconic musher, who retired after participating in her thirty-sixth race. A health issue forced her to drop out after 150 miles, but she still was ebullient.
“I love those people,” she said earlier this week. “They are family. They have been with me through so much and we have shared some special times together.”
Jonrowe, a devout Christian, also preached at a service in the Nome Covenant Church after the race. And Devries got to be there.