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!