I awoke to a thrilling site on my phone:
In reality though, it was warm and raining.
I have no idea why my phone thought it was different…. it certainly wasn’t.
I got soaked heading out to roam the streets for the Ceremonial Start. Soaked. From rain. At the Iditarod. In Alaska. In winter.
Luckily, by the time things were really getting ready to roll, the rain had stopped. And eventually in the afternoon the sun tried to peek out a bit. There are a few positive things about a warm Ceremonial Start. For one, as the Social Media team, I didn’t have to worry about my phone freezing. As a handler, I didn’t have to wear my super big parka, so I could move around well.
But it just seemed wrong to watch the snow melt away. To see the teams standing on bare pavement on the side streets. To hear the sleds scratch the road in the starting chute.
But we made it through the day. The teams all made it to Campbell Airstrip, although by many accounts there were some mishaps. Several sleds tipped and more than one tag sled rider bit the dust. There are amazing photos of teams running through open water and splashing in puddles. But there was nothing serious and reports coming out of Fairbanks are looking much more winter like and Iditarod friendly.
In the morning I did my typical checking in with everyone to see how they were doing. Dweezil was with Monica and seemed to be a bit nervous with all the fanfare. He’ll be running the Ceremonial Start, but will not be going to Nome this year. He needs a bit more maturing before he is ready. Philip got misty when I stopped by. I think it’s really hitting him what he is about to accomplish. He’s going to be amazing. Nathan is all business. But, his crew is embracing the day with joy… and fish tacos! His truck is parked across from DeeDee’s so there is a ton of foot traffic near him, and lots of people stopping by. Erin, the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail, is ready to head off in her uber bright ski pants… she may give Monica run for her money in the brightness department. There is actually an 80th sled… Dean Osmar is taking a sled carrying a Google Earth tracker who is carrying a forty pound camera on his back. It’s been tough trying to figure out what exactly that is all about… but trust me, I’m giving it my best! Kevin Harper, as the Junior Iditarod Champion, joyfully led the racers out. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going through his head… his win, his trip, his brother’s rookie run, heading to Nome… all that and so much more I’m sure!
I had two main jobs at the Ceremonial Start… updating the Iditarod Facebook page and handling for Curt Perano. My good friends Stacey and Jansen Cardy asked me earlier in the week if I was available to handle for Curt as he was short on handlers, and my immediate response was “Yes! Of course!”
After wandering around for awhile taking and posting pictures, I put Facebook on pause and reported to Curt’s truck. Curt is running his fourth Iditarod and placed 23rd last year. He is from New Zealand and splits his time between his Under Dog New Zealand sled tour business and his training ground in Willow, Alaska. I met him, his wife Fleur, and their son Wyatt in Nome last year. Wyatt charmed the socks off of everyone by climbing up on various stages of various musicians in Nome… even earning himself a special song from Hobo Jim at the Finishers’ Banquet! I got a chance to love on some of the dogs…. it’s always makes me giggle how much these “big, tough sled dogs” love to be loved on! I had the opportunity to harness a couple of the dogs and then help him get the team to the starting line. He provided lines for the handlers to hold that attached to the gangline. Our job was to pull back on the gangline to minimize some of the dogs’ pull. Holding a team of sled dogs back isn’t as easy as it sounds… but with fewer dogs than normal, two sleds, a musher, a handler and an IditaRider, and a heap of handlers, we managed to keep them from taking off too early! It wasn’t all smooth sailing… one of the wheel dogs bit right through his neckline as we approached the starting line. Curt solved the problem by taking a part of my leash and quickly creating a new neck line. With a stern “Watch him!” to me, he was back on the runners and ready to go in just a minute or so!
Once Curt was safely off, I returned to my other task and shot and posted photo after photo of mushers heading off down Fourth Avenue. There is such an energy and enthusiasm that surrounds this day. It’s like everyone senses that the possibilities are limitless. On this day everyone can be a hero and everyone can be a champion…. it’s just a joy to behold.
Later in the afternoon, after some canoodling of some of Nathan’s team, I took part in another Anchorage tradition, the Running of the Reindeer, which is a part of the Fur Rondy Festival that is also happening in Anchorage this week. Essentially, people get dressed up in crazy costumes and let themselves be chased down the street by a herd of reindeer – think the running of the bulls in Spain. But in our case there are only a few reindeer, and the don’t actively try to hurt anyone…. and they usually pass the runners pretty quickly anyway! Nathan’s crew, headed by Linda and Kerry had created special costumes… we were dressed as Nathan’s Iditarod drop bags! They added my return address of Baltimore, Maryland to the back of mine and we were ready to go! What a hoot! Thanks for encouraging me to join it and making a space for me in the crew!
Tomorrow, early – very early – I’m jumping on a plane to Fairbanks. I’m excited to get back to winter and leave this spring like stuff behind!