This weekend was a fun one up here in Alaska. The Iditarod, the 975 mile dogsled race from Willow to Nome, is called “The Last Great Race”. It’s got lots of historical significance that you might remember from learning about Balto in elementary school (when dogsleds ran a diphtheria serum from Seward to Nome in 1925), but the race itself wasn’t officially a thing until 1973. Now it’s a huge dogsled race that’s held in the beginning of March every year. The ceremonial start is always here in Anchorage on Saturday and the “Restart” aka the official race start is up in Willow the next day, so on Saturday morning we headed downtown to watch the teams start their race.
It was in the 20s and lightly snowing, which made the ceremonial sendoff a bit more special. People walked around wearing their finest fur coats and hats (seriously, we saw a man walk down the street with a full sized bear as a hat), a culmination of the week-long historic Fur Rendezvous festival that happens every March and ends on the first day of the Iditarod. I wore no fur but did manage to get a bit jealous of a woman next to me who was wearing a fox hat who looked way warmer than I was.
My husband and I like to start by viewing a few teams from up in the parking garage where we can see the best views of the starting line. The ceremonial start is at 10:00 am and they release one team every 2 minutes. Even though they’re not really racing yet, it’s exciting to wave each team off as they head north to Willow for the real start on Sunday!
I always like to do some extra cheering for the woman mushers, especially DeeDee Jonrowe. I can’t imagine being alone on the frozen tundra for 8 or more days, battling cold so frigid that you can barely breathe, with only dogs to keep you company. I’d love to seriously try it someday (read about my super touristy experience dog sledding here), but not like this. DeeDee in particular is an incredibly strong woman who has been in 36 Iditarod races and is retiring this year. She also battled breast cancer and won. The cheer that went up when she started was louder than it had been for anyone else!
After watching the start for a few hours, we walked around downtown in search of lunch and a place to warm up. Our plan was to stay to watch the Running of the Reindeer (an event that’s like the running of the bulls but with reindeer) but I got a headache and ended up going home to take a nap. But as always, the Iditarod was a fun and very Alaskan way to spend the day and I’m excited to follow their progress as the dog teams speed towards Nome!
Did you learn about Balto and the Iditarod in school? Would you ever come to Alaska to watch the Iditarod start?