Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ceremonial Race Start

Two minutes. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and GO! Two and a half hours after the start of the Ceremonial Race, Bib 68 crossed the starting line. As a volunteer dog handler, I got access to be right in the street where the mushers and dogs were preparing for the Iditarod. Today, the crowd favorites were more than happy to give autographs and take pictures and as they crossed the starting line, received extra loud cheers.
Jeff King, 4 time Iditarod winner, autographs a map

Lance Mackey, two time Iditarod winner

The morning began bright and early as mushers started arriving in their trucks with dogs in tow. After we had a brief handler meeting, we were free to wander. Dogs barking in excitement, crazy fur hats covered cold heads, and the sun was shining to make for a perfect 2009 Iditarod start. Today the mushers and their teams raced around Anchorage in preparation for Sunday’s Official Restart. The teams have over 1100 miles to travel to Nome and Anchorage is just the first step.

The dogs were extremely energetic and anxious to get running. They were there to do a job. While some were calm, others were jumping all around trying to pull the sled all the way to Nome themselves. Dog watching was unreal. They were beautiful and it’s amazing how small some of the dogs are, yet how strong they must be to pull their musher all the way to Nome in the strenuous Alaskan conditions. The whole time I was thinking how unique of an experience the day was to be able to stand right next to mushers and their dogs on their way to racing along the Iditarod Trail.

Alaska and Its Wildlife

Carnival with the Chugach Mountains in the background

Scene from Anchorage at sunset

The Excitement Begins

Musher Excitement
The Mushers’ Banquet on Thursday night kicked off the Iditarod festivities. Silent and live auctions, mushers, and bib numbers entertained the 2500 people at the convention center. Each musher draws for their bib number, which is their team’s starting position for the race. In past years, this event has lasted all night, but the 67 mushers this year kept the bib number picking running very quickly. The great thing about this event is the accessibility of the mushers. They are seated at tables throughout the room and welcome autographs and photos. I got pictures of all the previous big winners and crowd favorites: Lance Mackey, Mark Buser, Rick Swenson, Mitch Seavey, Martin Buser, and DeeDee Jonrowe.

The Volunteer Excitement
After checking in at the Iditarod Race Headquarters, I went through dog handler training in preparation for the Race Start and Restart. There were many new volunteers along with some veterans but everyone was looking forward to helping out and having a part in the Iditarod. We ran with a team of 7 dogs around a parking lot to get an idea of where to hold the ropes and a feel for handling the dogs. I'm an official dog handler now!

Me at dog handling training

Anchorage Excitement
As I walked down the snow covered sidewalks and through slush covered intersections on 4th street in downtown Anchorage, crews were setting up for the Iditarod Ceremonial Race start on Saturday morning. The street was shut down and fences put up to get ready for the race. Trucks were rumbling all night as snow was brought in (yes, brought in) to cover the streets to make it easier on the dogs. The excitement and anticipation of the big event blanketed the city as fans streamed in throughout week.

I've been told Tia's Gourmet Hot Dogs and Reindeer Sausage is one of the best stands around and Channel 2 thinks so too!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Firsts in Snow Sports

Day 2 in Alaska: Awesome, serene, natural beauty and lots of fun can only begin to describe my day. I decided (along with the help and guidance of some friends and coworkers) that there was no way I could come to Alaska and not go dog sledding, especially since I was coming for the Iditarod Race. So, that's exactly what I did. There were a few other things I did first though. It was the perfect day to enjoy the Alaskan outdoors. I experienced many firsts including snowshoeing to mine for gold. Now, you may ask did I actually find anything? Thanks to my guide who made sure we went to a 'guaranteed' spot, little specks began to appear as I went through the two step process: shake and swirl. We snowshoed through more snow than I've ever seen accumulated and the scene was complemented by falling soft snow.

My next first was something I wasn't so sure about. I'm not a skier but it involved getting back onto skis and testing my balance. Fortunately cross-country skiing isn't as bad as I thought! Once I hit my stride, I was glad I didn't let my inability to downhill ski prevent me from trying this. We pulled into a clearing after trekking through the forest and the quiet snow made me so aware of nature and my surroundings. With no one around it appeared so untouched even as we crossed over other ski and dog sled tracks.

My final snow sport first was dog sledding! It was quite an experience and totally worth it. After being introduced to the dogs, Wisk and Tide were in the lead (yes, named after laundry detergents), we rode to the kennel. The dogs are amazing. They each have a very distinct personality and play around from time to time, but Sarge, the wheel dog, kept to the track and her job of pulling the sled. The gentle sound of whooshing was the only noise as we followed the trail. As we pulled out of the kennel, the dogs getting ready to run started showing off to the dogs staying behind who responded with jealous chatter. The whole day was a highlight. It was a perfect opportunity to get out and see Alaskan nature at its winter finest.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Outside Anchorage

One of the best things about Alaska is its natural beauty. It truly deserves the nickname "The Last Great Frontier." Although cities have sprung up throughout the state, there are still many people living in the wilderness as they have for centuries.

Chugach Mountain Range

The Chugach Mountain Range welcomed me as I walked off the plane in Anchorage and because of its position along the Gulf of Alaska, there is more snow in Chugach than any other place in the world. Unfortunately when I landed it was cloudy, so I could make out the mountains but I couldn't see much of them. On the way back from Resurrection Bay, we encountered beautiful snowfall driving through the Chugach Mountains.

Resurrection Bay

Located on the Kenai Peninsula, Resurrection Bay is probably most famous for being featured in the opening of The Hunt for Red October is home to a large amount of wildlife. Today the captain of Chugach, our cruise ship, did not disappoint us. We saw a Pacific North Humpback Whale which he thought was the first one of the season. We also saw sea otters playing around and a whole pod of Orca or Killer Whales. A mother and baby came right up to our boat and had everyone aboard running to and from the deck (it was really cold outside) to try to get the best photos.

Pacific North Humpback Whale

Sea Otters

So Far...

Things seen/Experienced:

Moose crossing right by actual moose crossing sign
Crazy amounts of built up ice
Downtown Anchorage
Very cold weather
Alaskan Amber
Mt. McKinley
Sunken houses from the 1964 Earthquake
North Pacific Humpback Whale
Crab stuffed Halibut
Resurrection Bay
Large fish decorations and a huge polar bear standing next to a huge brown bear in the lobby of the Anchorage Hilton
Even more snow on our drive to Alyeska today

And this is before the Iditarod Race even begins!


My welcome to Alaska!