Have you ever entertained the thought about going to see the Iditarod first hand? If you have or have not I would encourage everyone to make the trip to Anchorage or Fairbanks, Alaska. If you love those special athletes in fur coats, and those fearless men and women who battle across 1000 miles of wilderness by dog sled. This is the place for you!
The 2020 race began in Anchorage this year. My wife and I arrived at around 3AM and were relieved that its only a 6-mile drive to downtown and our hotel. If you get reservations at least a month or two in advance you can find a great place to stay and within walking distance of the ceremonial start.
You’ll find all kinds of restaurants and places to visit in Anchorage. The week prior to race day has a celebration going on called the “Fur Rondy.” The town is bustling with activities and has a sort of carnival atmosphere. This is like an added bonus to the normal sights in Anchorage. There are things like the Alaska State Snow Sculpture Championship, Music events, art contest, Frostbite foot race, run with the reindeer, and the Open World Championship Sprint dog races. That just names of few of the things to do before the actual Iditarod kicks off. You certainly won’t get bored before the race starts.
If you do your planning you can find some private fundraising events that you can obtain for the cost of a ticket. We attended a private dinner put on for Lance Mackey. It was held at Club Paris and includes dinner, and a chance to spend some time talking one on one with them. The food was amazing and so was getting to meet Lance. I also came away with an autographed menu from 4 time Iditarod champ Lance.
Another must-see place is the Iditarod Race Head Quarters. Which is, The Lakefront Lodge in Anchorage. Not only is it a great place to buy memorabilia. You can find lots of displays, not to mention the food and drink available. It’s also the place to buy a shuttle bus ride to and from the real start in Wasilla. The wife and I enjoyed our time at the lodge.
Two more must-do events are the Musher’s Meet and Greet, and the Mushers Banquet. It’s well worth the ticket price as you get to meet all the great men and ladies who will be running the race. The cost also supports the operation and continuous of this amazing race.
The two events are held one after the other. First is the Meet & Greet. This is the place to be to meet all the mushers up close and personal. You can get photos with them, autographs, and spend a few minutes asking whatever it is you want. I really enjoyed the experience and so did the multitude of fans who swarmed the event. You might have to wait in line for a bit, but it’s a great experience to meet these racers. Here are a couple other favorites of mine I met. Mr. Martin Buser and Brent Sass. Martin has completed 37 races. That’s 37,000 miles by dog sled. Brent is the next generation of great mushers.
The banquet follows the meet and greet. It also includes dinner and everyone sits at large round tables that hold about 10 people. The food is excellent and you eat while listening to presentations, drawings, and some stories. Next is the actual bib drawing that determines each racers starting position in both the ceremonial start, and the actual start. It was another great event to attend.
The first chance you get to actually see the dogs and mushers is the ceremonial start. The streets are lined with vendors and for this race multitudes of people packing the avenue. You thread your way to the starting gate through the crowds. On the way, you begin to see teams being hooked up, and being staged according to their bib numbers. Next to the sidewalks and only a few feet away are the teams. You can lean over the fence and take photos and listen to the din of 58 dog teams crying out to run. You can sense the excitement in them and the impatience to wait their turn to run.
This year I think the course was ten miles long, winding its way through and round the city proper. You can find lots of places to watch or take photos. Getting cold or hungry is not a problem as there are places open right on the street to get warm, and get food and drink.
The teams leave one by one and head down the avenue lined with folks cheering their favorites. If you want to bid on a chance to ride in the sled with one of these mushers there are auctions on line prior to race day for your chance. I have to warn you the bidding is furious and not for the faint of heart. But the winners get a once in a lifetime ride.
Of course, the main event is the official start in Wasilla. The best way to get to and from that is by shuttle busses. The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) coordinates a system of school busses that pick up and return all-around Anchorage. Not the most comfortable way to travel but it’s less than an hour to be dropped off and not have to worry about the limited parking or weather. It was snowing big time when the mushing royalty Seaveys pulled in.
It’s another exciting time. The holding area is full of the teams getting ready. Again, the cacophony of hundreds of dogs sensing it’s almost time to begin the great race. Don’t worry about facilities the ITC things of the spectators needs. There is a place to get warm, eat, and although sometimes there are lines, bathrooms do exist when you need one.
This is it! Tension is in the air as the teams are staged and the countdown to Nome begins for each one. Here is what the musher see’s in that first mile of a thousand. And of course, listen to the crowd cheering them on to Nome! Here is what the musher sees’s in the first mile of a frozen lake.
That was my first trip to the Iditarod and probably not my last. I’m left with nothing but fond memories and my wife and I had nothing but a positive experience. The ITC puts on an outstanding event. They seem to think of everything they can so that people can enjoy it. If you’re more adventurous you can become a volunteer. There are jobs from call centers to Pilots and everything in between. I may just take them up on that next time.
If you’ve been toying with the idea about going. Take it from me, if you love dogs and mushing you won’t regret it.
The Iditarod: Long May You Run!
Embrace the Fur:
Huskies have so many fine qualities. Like escaping through fences that Houdini would say were escape-proof and impossible, digging holes in the yard that would make a Marine jealous, eating holes through your walls just to prove they can’t be contained if they set their mind to it. They truly have their own way about them. It takes a few years to get in tune with how they think, and what they need to be good citizens.
Pulling comes naturally, thousands of years of DNA encoded memories make that child’s play. Hook a husky to something and they will pull it over, down, and doing it at warp speed. It’s the nature of them. The only thing I find a bit hard to deal with is the fur. Huskies shed or “blow their coats” at least once a year, sometimes twice. Now, this explosion of fur not only makes birds looking for nesting material happy but coats you with it.
If your dogs live in the house you live with fur. It becomes almost second nature as dust on your favorite knick-knacks. Only it comes in amounts huge enough to build new dogs just from the fur.Fur that can make them comfortable at -30 degrees F will all of a sudden decide to fall out. I often wonder why? It’s good fur, why did you fall out now? Save yourself for winter! But the fur has a mind of its own. It will come out and you will ruin many vacuum cleaners searching for the one that can take the load.
The only good part of this is if you are a good pack leader you groom them. Yes, it is a pain but I found it both soothing for me and my dogs. It’s a bonding thing about grooming your dogs. Mine love it, like getting to go to the spa and beauty salon. I find I like it too because it brings us closer together. With no words spoken the strokes of the comb work magic. It’s the act of showing them how much you love them. They return that love with their eyes and body language. It is one of the ways to become one with your pack.
The dogs of winter are ancient beings compared to us. They were pulling sleds when the great pyramids were being built. The Siberian is one of the oldest breeds, and for all the time that has past, they remain true to what they are. Nothing has changed the spirit inside each and every one of these dogs. From the great serum run of 1925 to now, they are willing to serve mankind.
It was a bond made long ago so that both man and dogs could survive. The bones of their ancestors lay on trails unknown from Siberia to Alaska. They opened that great land of Alaska and thrived where others would perish. The frozen North is where they came from. Harsh, unforgiving lands that only the strongest would survive. The love for snow and ice is in their DNA. It’s what they thrive on, and if you live with them they will show you the way. It’s not easy to live with them, until you understand and accept them for what they are. They accept us, but won’t take any crap either. Much like being married, it takes time to become a team. A team that can survive all the hardships life can throw at you. It’s synergy at its best. Where the sum of the parts exceeds the individual.
So why do I paint sled dogs? To celebrate what they are and what I wish I could be. I may never achieve what they do naturally, but I learn from them, and pay homage to their magnificence. I’m so proud that they are willing to spend their short lives with me. Teaching me how to be a better being on this earth. That’s why I paint them. I give my dogs the best life I can. And they don’t mind if its not perfect, for they are used to hardships when they happen. It’s a team, and we get through life together. That is the mind of the Siberian Husky as I have come to know them. Its a life well lived, and should be a model for all to aspire to.
Night Moves: Read at your own risk…it’s a bit long.
This is a little story about last night. I was sound asleep, enjoying my fuzzy tiger blanket when I suddenly woke up to hear the huskies throwing a fit. Now, for most people with dogs, that would probably be incessant barking, etc. With the husky, this amounts to whining, running at warp speed, and panting like they are down to the last dog biscuit.
I looked at the clock, and it was 1:49 AM. I drug myself out of bed because I knew it wasn’t going to end unless I went outside to see what the commotion was. The dogs kept coming through the pet door, jumping on the bed as if to say, “Look what we found!”
We live in the woods, and it’s not unusual to have deer herds passing by. The scent of deer makes my male perk up his ears and sniff the air like there is a female dog in heat nearby. Cooper caves into his primal instincts and wants to chase them even if he will never catch them. It’s a dog thing, and I got up to see what was going on.
I peered out the back sliding door and saw…well darkness! Cooper and Nikki had their ears pricked forwards across the driveway into the woods. I got a flashlight and still saw nothing. I got back in bed after a few $%*&#$^& words with them.
I drag two dogs in and force them to stay in the basement with me. Lock the pet door and try to go back to bed. It’s now 1:30 AM, and I wanted to get some sleep, but that wasn’t going to happen. The dogs go into ADHD mode. Whining, and pacing around, and driving me nuts. They will bark if a person is skulking around, and we’ve had some of those. So, I start worrying about who the hell is out on my property?
The mind does funny things, especially at O’ dark thirty in the morning. I realize this isn’t going away until I solve the game of “Clue” my dogs are giving me. So, in PJ bottoms, tennis shoes with no socks, and a black shirt, I gear up. I go back outside, armed with a pistol and a flashlight.
I was thinking it might be some desperate folks trying to break into the house and steal our toilet paper, or the stack of 10-year-old fruitcakes packed in tins I kept for emergency rations for just such a pandemic. I creep up to the fence where the dogs are peering into the dark with their night vision quality eyes. I still don’t see anything and let loose with some more choice words.
They run to the front yard, and I creep out in full soldier of fortune mode. My left-hand holding the flashlight away from my body. That’s in case someone shoots at the light it won’t hit me. I clutch my Berretta in my right hand, with the flee or fight feeling coming on strong. It’s now 2:01 AM, and I’m determined to end this one way or the other.
If someone wants my toilet paper that bad, they are going to have to fight for it! They can have the fruitcakes grandma sent, but I draw the line at our toilet paper supplies!
I find nothing but wet grass and fortunately didn’t disturb any Copperheads that prey at night. I was about to call it a night, but the dogs are still peering through the fence at…something. I shine my light against the basement foundations and see something curled up in a ball.
I keep looking through my foggy eyes, and it seems like one of my cats, or maybe a neighbors cat. I go back inside and look through the house to find my cat “Omar” sleeping on the sofa. He is a twin to whatever is outside. Safe that it’s not my cat who got out. I head back downstairs and out the door without the pistol. It’s now a varmint issue, and a 4′ long 1×1 pine board is the only weapon I need to get some sleep.
I creep up on the furball causing all the ruckus, and I can’t tell what it is yet. It’s now 2:25 AM, and I want this over. I tap the ball of fur on the side gently with my board, and it jumps up hissing with open mouth. Sharp white fangs were very noticeable in my flashlight. It hunches up to make itself look bigger than my fat housecat, and I take a step back, wondering if it’s rabid and I should have brought the gun?
It didn’t charge me, and I’m grateful for that. But then again it wasn’t moving either. I had to give it another push with the board to get it going. It hissed a fit but finally slunk off, and headed for the woods. The dogs wanted to chase it down and were crying like a baby with diaper rash, but once it was gone, things started to settle down.
It was a Fox kit, maybe 6 or 8 weeks old. Beautiful with golden fur and black legs. I guess it lost its mamma or froze when the dogs found out about it by the fence. Nobody was harmed except my sleep, and after the adrenaline in the dogs wound down, I got back to sleep around 3:00 AM.
And that concludes my 2-hour long night moves extravaganza. Don’t ignore your dogs, and they don’t act up without reason. I probably would have figured that out sooner if I hadn’t been so tired. It was just another day in Husky school for me.
I haven’t been around much lately. Too much going on with the virus and stuff like that. I guess we all are learning new things now that the world has changed so much. Some things don’t change and that is the dogs. They remain faithful and true to what they are. I find strength in that. I find comfort in knowing that this too shall pass. I hope things are well with you. And if not take a lesson from the Huskies. The end of the trail will come if you just keep going. Keep the faith, and drive on down the road of life.
I’ve managed to paint a couple of more dogs during this mess.
Just a few photos of the actual start in Willow AK. It was snowing hard but I had a great spot on the starting line with a poor camera.
Now that I’m back from Alaska and the great race I want to post some things about this experience. I’m not going to cross every “T” and dot every “I.” Just some uncut thoughts for you to ponder.
So, after a grueling trip from the East coast to Anchorage we arrived to temperatures of an average of “0” Fahrenheit. That’s a far cry from 65F short sleeve weather. Along the way was delays due to storms, lost luggage, and missed connections. It didn’t matter because the goal had been set. We would do whatever to make it to this event.
The four hour time change was the first challenge I faced. It may not seem that big of a deal but I was always thinking about my huskies I left behind. They are my children and of course I worried about them. I wished they could have come with me to the lands that bred them. One of these days I’ll take them home to a place they have never been before. The place of their birth for thousands of years. The lands that made them what they are.
The first night was a private dinner with 4 time Iditarod champ Lance Mackey. $120 dollars a plate dinner and it was worth every penny! I met a legend of a man who beat 4th stage throat cancer and came back to win 4 Iditarods in a row. That is something that has never been done before and may not ever again. His kennel name is, “The Comeback Kennel.” Well played Lance!
He is an animated man. Full of fun and living wild and free. He is a survivor of many things. I suggest you check out his movie, “The Great Alone.” It’s a great movie about his life challenges and how he was saved by the dogs.
I had a surprise for him. I did a painting of his famous lead dog named “Larry.” Larry was his lead dog who finished 8 Iditarods, and two Yukon Quest. He won two Iditarods and two Yukon Quest back to back.
I presented Lance with the painting I did of Larry. He was blown away and said I almost made him cry. That is the best compliment I could have hoped for! I told him to take the painting on his race this year packed in his sled bag for good luck. He told me that wasn’t a bad idea. I’m not sure if he did it or not but he’s currently running in the top 10. Maybe my painting of Larry is on the Iditarod trail? I guess I’ll know in a few more days.
The intimate dinner at Club Paris had great food, and Lance spent time with everyone signing autographs and just being him. It was grand for a dog freak like me. I was in the presence of mushing royalty and I loved it. The people I met in Alaska all share one trait, and that is they are real. They don’t hide anything. They love you or hate you and you always know where you stand. An honesty that I can live with from a people who know about hard work, surviving, and rolling with the punches life gives you.
So, in this first part I’ll show you some photos of my first encounter with Lance Mackey.
Lot’s more to tell, but this was the first day.
March 3rd, I’m traveling to Anchorage for my first trip to Alaska, and the Irod. My press pass is in work, and whether it happens or not is really not why I’m going. I’m going to see some of the greatest dogs/mushers and witness the super bowl for the dogs of winter.
I’ll be attending a private dinner with Lance Mackey. Also the Mushers Meet & Greet and the bib draw. I could use your help if you are willing. What questions would you ask these mushers? Who and what musher would you ask?
I really want to ask Lance what color of socks he prefers. But seriously, if you have a favorite musher and one question for him/her let me know. I’ll ask them.I’ll be posting the spectacle from my perspective, a lover of the sled dogs/mushers and what they do.
57 Teams will hit the trails on March 7th. Check out the bio links and see who is who.