If anyone asks what brought you to Alaska, and your answer involves the word “dog”, there’s a pretty fair chance their next question is going to be “so, do you run the Iditarod then?”
Let it be said here and now, and the many previous times that I’ve said it, nope, nope and nope, I haven’t, I’m not and I don’t intend doing so.
With all that being said, we do follow the race quite closely, and before our move to Alaska, we “knew” many of the people who do race. Some of those names are now our neighbours and we regularly see and get passed by them on the trail system round here. I still get a buzz from seeing them training close up or having the chance to have a chat in the Post Office with a big name – but that’s uncool to brag about, so just pretend I didn’t say that.
After making the trip down to Anchorage the previous week to see some of the Fur Rondy, we decided not to make a similar effort for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod. Besides, the “real” start to the race takes place on the Sunday, just 4 miles from our house.
I think Iditarod weekend must be the busiest that Willow ever is, I’ve never seen so many cars and people milling around. We had to pay for parking ! We made our way down onto the lake beside the Community Centre, and took a wander around, checking out the 71 teams that were due to start. Of particular interest to us, were the 3 Siberian teams of Blake Freking, Karen Ramstead and Hank DeBruin and the 2 Scots that had entered, Wattie MacDonald and John Stewart.
We also had a look at the trade stands that were set up – the fur guy had some amazing pelts for sale, there were really long queues at a couple of the hot dog stands and a really short one at the other guy…………….. so we joined one of the ones with a long queue, because public opinion has to count for something, right?
Our local dog mushers’ association had a stand inside the Community Centre, selling baked goods, dog booties, harnesses and sweatshirts. I bought several cookies and brownies – only because it was for a worthy cause, of course.
And then finally, it was getting close to race time, we meandered back down to the lake and decided not to fight our way through the throng at the start line but to walk further down and try to get closer to the edge. This plan was successful, but entailed us walking about half a mile through deep, soft snow on top of the frozen lake. Glad I’d had that cookie. It was quite an experience, standing there watching these long 16 dog strings pass by, some mushers looking pretty relaxed, slapping hands with well wishers and others, looking more than a little tense.
It’s a long way to Nome and a lot of work for all of those involved. Especially the dogs.
Blake finished with 10 dogs in 42nd place, setting a new record for a purebred team of 11 days, 20 hours and 39 minutes.
Karen had to scratch at McGrath, primarily due to a serious hand injury she sustained a couple of weeks before the race.
Hank made it as far as Nulato before scratching. Although whether he made the decision or it was one forced upon him, remains open to debate. This makes interesting reading.
And yes, I know I’m wearing two hats. One was to keep my ears warm, the other to keep the sun out of my eyes. See, there’s method in my madness.