April 9, 2017

Iditarod- "The Last Great Race on Earth"

The Iditarod. Twenty-five checkpoints, 1,000 miles, 900+ dogs, and over a week in sub-zero temperatures make up the Last Great Race on Earth. Since the first race in 1973, the Iditarod (held every year in early March) has continued to bring mushers from all over the world, to try their hand at this seemingly impossible feat. In fact, more people have reached the summit of  Mt. Everest, than have finished the Iditarod! 

The Iditarod trail varies from year to year due to conditions, so this year, after the ceremonial start in Anchorage, the mushers headed up to Fairbanks for the official timed start, then it's a race to the finish in Nome, Alaska. The trail winds through vast, rugged and dangerous terrain! What other sport has details for how to handle the need to kill(self defense only), and gut, a moose in the rule book?!

Can I just say that it was a cold morning? Very, very cold. I'm learning that you just layer up and go out anyway.

The news' trucks were set up and ready to go. This is a big event around here!

We arrived very early, to wander around and get more up-close-and-personal with the mushers and their dogs.

These dogs were two year's old, and Iditarod rookies. My girls were in love.

The sleds must be large enough to carry injured or fatigued dogs, as well as all of their supplies, which include; food and dog food, water, sleeping gear, first aid items, an ax, etc. On the trail, mushers have only three mandatory breaks, one for 24 hours and two for eight hours. So, sleep deprivation prevails!

Since it would be too heavy to carry all of their supplies for the entire race, extra sleds/supplies may be sent ahead to future check points. 

We saw many methods for transporting the dogs; crates inside a trailer,

 crates mounted to the back of a pick-up, (Matt liked the cost effectiveness of this option),

and everything in between! But, this was my favorite method. Aren't they cute?

The young lady pictured below was a rookie Iditarod musher, who first fell in love with the race back in 2006 while doing research for a homeschool project. Now, eleven years later, at the age of 20, she was running her first race. A dream come true! (There are a series of qualifying races and times, in order to participate. In fact, it usually takes a minimum of two years to prepare for the experience.)

One trailer was decorated with motivational posters for the dogs. How can you get more motivational than Rocky? I can hear the theme song now. That even makes ME want to run!

Seventy-two mushers, from eight different countries, were represented this year.

There was definitely an international flavor to our wandering.

Watch out for yellow snow!

We enjoyed watching the TV interviews, live. 

And, we even got to meet Jeff King! Who is Jeff King, you ask? A four-time Iditarod winner, and somewhat of a celebrity in this circle. I loved the fact that Jeff is 61 years old and still racing.

Most of the dogs we saw were frisky and running around, but not Jeff's dogs.

 The handler told us that this is how 'seasoned professionals' act before a race. They were calm, cool, confident and not rattled by the spectators.

Speaking of dogs, only northern dog breeds such as Siberian and Alaskan Huskies are permitted to run the race. This rule was instituted in the early 1990's, when someone raced standard poodles. Sadly, the poodles did not fare well in the conditions, and had to be left behind at various check points, with matted fur and frozen paws. Northern dog breeds have thick double fur coats for protection, and are bred for the conditions.

Each musher can bring a team of twelve to sixteen dogs. That's a lot of responsibility! 

 Most of the mushers had a team of handlers to help.

What does a sled dog eat, anyway? They were served a bowl of warm kibble, bacon, salmon, and tripe (cow stomach). I don't know about the tripe, but the rest of it doesn't sound too bad. Also, each dog eats up to 10,000 calories per day while racing. Move over Michael Phelps!

Care and ethical treatment of the dogs is the number one priority of the race. As with any high profile athletic competition, random drug testing is also enforced at the Iditarod. Urine samples from the dogs, are collected at the start, finish and throughout the race. Not sure how it's accomplished, but apparently they have their ways!

About an hour before start time, the spectators were asked to leave the holding area so the mushers could prepare for the race.

Anytime is a great time for hot chocolate in Alaska!

The dogs bark like crazy waiting for their turn. Patience is tough!

We found a spot near the start, and I enjoyed being able to hear the commentary about each musher and their team. There was a staggered start, so a team was sent every two minutes, for about two hours. A few days prior to the race, there is a draw for start order. 

And they're off! You can tell the dogs love it and are totally in their element.

In the extreme weather conditions of this region, dogs have always been the preferred type of pack animal, even over horses. They are faster than horses with the ability to run 12 MPH for hundreds of miles, and pound for pound, can pull twice as much weight as horses.

All of the dogs were wearing little booties, not for warmth,  but to protect their pads from snow, ice and rocky terrain. The musher is required to carry eight extra sets, per dog.

Each dog is chosen for a specific position. Team positions are; lead dogs (the 'brains' of the team that lead and set the pace), swing dogs (help steer the pack during turns), team dogs (the 'brawn' of the team that maintain the speed), wheel dogs (usually the largest and able to withstand the brunt of the sled weight). 

The musher is free to rotate positions, and just like children, the dogs can be separated when they are fighting.

We enjoyed the festive party-like atmosphere along the streets. 

Team Canada was having a tailgating party of some sort. Thank you USA for giving the world tailgating!

We walked about a mile down the course to the first turn.

This is one of the tightest curves in the race, and it easy for the sled to tip over if not handled precisely.

We watched a few take a spill, but this team handled it to perfection. The musher leaned back and to the right. I realized that there is quite a bit of skill involved with the musher, as well.

After each team, the snow was groomed for the next competitor.

What do you take home if you win it all? A new Dodge Ram truck and $75,000. Not bad for a weeks work, I suppose. Three-time winner, Mitch Seavey was the champion this year with a record breaking 8 days, 3 hours and 40 minutes. At 57, he was also the oldest winner on record. 

 Everyone up to 31st place gets a monetary prize, and the last finisher gets the red lantern award, which signifies perseverance and pride in the accomplishment.

So there you have it. One thousand miles of untamed, extreme, and dangerous wilderness. The Last Great Race on Earth. And now, I can see why it's been given that name. 

March 25, 2017

The faces of Fur Rondy

The Fur Rendezvous, or Fur Rondy as it is known by the locals,  is an annual festival in Anchorage during the last week of February. Founded in the 1930's, Rondy was initially a three day celebration which coincided with the return of the trappers and miners, who had goods to sell. 

Now, Rondy is a ten day party that includes parades, a carnival (yes even in the snow), and a fur auction that has been a feature since the beginning. Oh, yes, there are also outhouse races. Apparently you strap a porta potty to skis and race it through town. Look people, we're going on five months of winter! We are desperate for entertainment! I'll have to feature that one next year.

The morning of the parade was cold and somehow the weather didn't exactly say "celebrate" to me. But, since we were walking in the parade with the Anchorage Figure Skating Club, we were committed.

We actually really enjoyed searching for our group because we passed all of the parade entries. There were classic cars,

our local motorcycle gang,

tricked out Jeeps (I guess that is parade worthy?),

and dogs, there are always dogs.

Finally, we found the Anchorage Figure Skating Club, and the girls were excited to get started! They also skated at an event later in the week, on an outdoor pond, more on that later.

We walked the parade route handing out free skate lesson coupons to the crowd. (I am teaching figure skating lessons again, and after three years off the ice, it's been great to be involved again.) Ella said that being in a parade had always been a bucket list item for her. I hope it lived up to all her expectations.  

At least we followed a jazz band, so we had music on the route. It was fun! We all enjoyed being out, even on a cold morning.

After the parade, we popped into the mall to warm up and grab a bite to eat. Then it was time for the World Championship Sled Dog races. This race began in 1946 and brings mushers from all over the world. The dogs absolutely love the race.

Speaking of dogs, reindeer dogs are always on the menu around here. I haven't tried these yet, but I'll let you know when I do.

And in honor of our time in Japan, a picture with a face cut-out sign. The Japanese LOVE these things!

Next, we wandered over to the main event, the fur auction. It looked like they had some pretty good customers in the audience. Check out the moose antlers that the man in front is carrying! Totally normal around these parts.

We really enjoyed watching the fur auction, and I finally asked the man next to us why someone would purchase this stuff. He said that it depends on the piece and if it is tanned or not. A tanned item can be made into clothing, untanned items are probably strictly for decoration. The foxes were tanned and went for close to $500 a piece.

Beaver for sale? Anyone? Slightly creepy, but they sold. I guess I'm not ready to embrace local decorating trends, yet.

With all of the fur, I halfway expected a protest of some sort. Not even one. Maybe because you'd have to deal with him? Just a guess.

This was a first. A winter carnival. Literally. 

On our way out, Ella chose a lucky rabbit's foot. I hope she wished for an early spring. Wishful thinking?

Later in the week, the girls performed with the Anchorage Figure Skating Club, on a frozen pond. All of the Fur Rondy royalty were there, too. 

I even got to meet Lord Trapper! I asked how he won this title. He said that he found out someone nominated him, then he found out a few weeks later that he was picked. The grand prize? Making 100+ appearances in 10 days! Lucky! (But, he said he was having fun with it.)

 It was an absolutely frigid day, at 13 degrees, but the girls were tough and did a great job. 

Appropriately, they skated to Let it Go, from Frozen. I think they were all a little frozen by the end, as well. I know I was!

We had a great week at Fur Rondy, but the thing the struck me the most were the people. Here is a little glimpse of the faces of Rondy.

(He said this was his wife and child. Not sure how to take that...)

Typical transportation around the streets of Anchorage, and easier than a stroller!

Shrek and Fiona made the trip up.

This cute lady was thrilled that I asked for her picture.

Say cheese!

So many interesting characters. As you can tell, we were severely underdressed.

And the lovely Miss Cama-i. Her coat was incredible!

I am really glad we braved the cold, and attended Fur Rendezvous. It was a fun week and we learned more about this unique place we call home. Next year, outhouse races!