I recently came across a brand new blog by a teacher named Kurt who has dreams of coming to Alaska to take part in the Iditarod. He doesn’t have his “donate” button up and running yet, but visit his blog at http://eagle4008.wordpress.com/ and be infected by his enthusiasm for learning about the Iditarod and using it in his classroom!
In honor of Kurt’s dreams I thought I would tell about our trip to Nome several years ago and the great treat of seeing the last of the racers come in across the Bering Sea.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a friend, C., who is a musher. Back then, she was a dreamer with a single husky and a lot of ideas, one of which was to volunteer during Iditarod to get a foot into the mushing world. 2005 was her second or third Iditarod volunteer experience and her first time working at the finish in Nome. That same year, another friend’s husband was working in Nome for a big construction company and offered us a place to stay if we wanted to come to see the end of the race. It was serendipitous. We went.
Nome during Iditarod is an amazing and bustling little metropolis. An official watcher is posted somewhere south of town and calls to signal the air raid siren to blow each time a musher is spotted on the final approach across the ice. This gives spectators and officials time to gear up and get down to the finish line to welcome the teams in.
Standing on the brakes as they approach the Burled Arch on Front Street
The apartment we were borrowing was one block from the sea, so each time the siren went off we jumped into our boots and trotted over to cheer and take pictures.
When the siren sounded, we had about five minutes to get to this spot to see the mushers crossing the last bit of ice before heading up onto Front Street.
One of the local residents stepped out on their deck for each musher and rang a big cowbell to urge them on. Understand that mushers don’t sit around waiting for daylight! That siren and cowbell were apt to go at any hour of the day OR night! It was a bit of a thrill to lie in bed and hear that another one was coming in, but I didn’t always opt to go out and try to see them in the dark.
Between mushers we wandered the town on foot. The weather that year was fantastic, with sunshine and temps in the low 30’s(F) almost every day.
Each dog got lots of love and personal attention from the musher, who had to be exhausted himself.
A well deserved rest!
D. checked in at race headquarters and decided to actually volunteer. If you should be in Nome during Iditarod I recommend looking into the many volunteer opportunities. They asked her to come in at 6am to help with some of the record keeping on the big boards that track the mushers. By then most of them were either in Nome or had scratched, so there wasn’t much for her to do, but she really enjoyed being a part of the activity.
The Bering Sea sometimes becomes an airstrip for the many small planes that are called into service during Iditarod
After her volunteer shift we took advantage of a special pancake breakfast ($10) where spectators like us got to sit alongside mushers and their handlers and families. We got a chance to meet young Rachel Scdoris, the legally blind musher, who unfortunately had had to scratch due to sick dogs that year. (She has completed the race twice since then!)
The famous Burled Arch is actually stored in an alley the rest of the year
Each dog is carefully checked by officials while the musher waits under the Arch before they can go off to the dog yards for a rest.
As if we needed any icing on the cake, we then went to the mushers’ banquet that night. (I think the tickets were about $20.) Predictably there were more than enough speeches and awards, but being a crowd of mushers and handlers and race volunteers, there wasn’t a great deal of formality! We met DeeDee Jonrowe, a perennial favorite among the women mushers, and saw many more notables.
The next summer, as an official Iditarod volunteer, D. was invited to the big picnic in Wasilla.
Our friend C. is going to Nome again next year…behind a team of dogs this time. She officially qualified this spring (YAY!) and is taking time off work to train like crazy over the next four months. I would love to go see her cross the finish line, but there is a serious lack of accommodations to be had in Nome so we’ll probably have to cheer her on from Anchorage.
C.’s team, with Spazzy who was apparently full of jumping beans!
I hope to be posting pictures or at least news of her crossing under the Burled Arch next spring!