Mukluks on the Ground in Anchorage

There is a saying that tells us, “Getting there is half the fun.” I’m not sure that applies to traveling from Baltimore to Alaska. By the time it was all said and done, I think I was awake for 26 hours straight and then had a headache for the entire first day I was here! The day started at six am, with TJ and I waking up and heading to school. School was an exciting day as we did our musher draw and the third grade boys completed their fantasy teams. I headed to the airport at lunch time and then after a delayed flight, touched down in Alaska at about 1:30 am, finally getting to bed at 3:00am (so 7:00 am at home).

Friday then was my first full day in Alaska, and so of course, it had to be an only in Alaska type of day… I spent the morning painting dogs at the Fur Rondy Races. Rondy is short for Fur Rendezvous and is a winter festival held in Anchorage. The festival started 82 years ago! At that time, it was created to coincide with when the miners and trappers returned into town with their goods, and as way to help brighten up the dark days of winter. Today, the Rondy is  ten day event with world famous events both serious and wacky in style. Some of the highlights include the Cornhole Championships, The Miners and Trappers Ball, Running with the Reindeer, the Snowshoe Softball Tournament and the Outhouse Races.

One of the premiere events is the Fur Rondy World Championship Sled Dog Race that has been run since 1946.  This is a three day sprint race. So each day the teams run the same route and the fastest combined time over those three days wins. Each year the mileage is different, depending on where the trail can be put in. The race starts on Fourth Avenue, just like the Iditarod, then loops out to Tozier Track and heads back into town, finishing at the start line. It takes about 90 minutes for a team to complete the twenty-five mile circuit.

img_8270Our job this morning was to go to each team and find out how many dogs each musher was racing with. In this race there isn’t a limit, so our smallest team was ten and our biggest team was eighteen. Each dog who is going to run is painted (literally, with oil based paint) in a specific color on a specific spot. So yesterday, we had an emerald green paint. Some teams were all painted on the front left leg, some on the back right leg. This is done to ensure that the mushers do not swap out dogs. At the start line then, we counted each dog that went out and checked for the paint marks.Today, on the first day, they left the start line in two minute intervals based on the bib draw number. And then again as the teams came in we checked how many dogs they brought in and then checked for the paint again.

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In the couple of years that I’ve been watching and helping with Rondy, I’ve gotten familiar with some of the names, but this year there are three names running that will probably stand out to most dog racing fans – George Attla III, J.P. Norris,  and Roxy Wright. George Attla III is the son of the famous Huslia Hustler, who dominated sprint dog racing. J.P. Norris is the son of Natalie Norris who homesteaded in Alaska and was the first woman to run the Rondy World Championship. She also started the Anadyr Kennel which is one the leading Siberian Kennels. Roxy Wright is the first and only woman to win the Rondy Races and she is back this year to reclaim her title!  She won the race in 1989, 1992, and 1993 and today got off to a great start on her goal by finishing with the fastest time by nearly five minutes! From the women taking the Copper Basin to this – it definitely seems like the women are on a roll this year!

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