Entering Alaska-- from our trip in 2009
Wanting to witness the splendor of the Northern Lights and the excitement of the Iditarod has been on our “bucket list” for a while. Stopping at the Anchorage Log Cabin Visitor Center a few years ago, our enthusiasm must have been evident.  During our conversation with one of the city’s host, we were urged to return to the area for the city’s annual winter festival, the Fur Rendezvous.   Told that the festival overlapped with the opening schedule for the Iditarod, and the time of year when we might be able to view the Northern Lights, we knew that at some point we would return to Anchorage for this winter experience.  A few weeks ago, we decided this was the year. 

The Fur Rendezvous, also known as Fur Rondy or Rondy, was started seventy-seven years ago.  The name is based on the meetings at which fur trappers historically sold their furs, and in the 1930’s this was combined with the first Winter Sport’s Carnival.  The event now attracts visitors from around the world to participate in a wide-ranging schedule of events.  World Championship Sled Dog Racing (a 3 day, 75-mile long race), Blanket Toss, Snow Sculpting Contest, Outhouse Races, Running with the Reindeers and dozens of other activities take place between Feb. 22 and March 3 for 2013.

Sled dogs teams and their mushers line up in downtown Anchorage for the ceremonial beginning of the Iditarod, which starts the first weekend of March each year.  The restart or “official” beginning of the Iditarod or “Last Great Race,” as it is also called, starts the following afternoon about 40 miles north at Willow Lake.   The race commemorates the importance of dog teams in the settling of Alaska, and the 1925 run, by a relay of dogs and mushers, of a serum from Anchorage to Nome when a diphtheria outbreak threatened the children of the town.

Strict guidelines are in place to protect the dogs.  The 1049-mile plus race includes 2 mandatory 8-hour breaks and one mandatory 24-hour layover.  Veterinarians exam the dogs for signs of injury or exhaustion at each checkpoint.  Mushers must have at least 8 booties per dog onboard their sled or in use.  With 16 dogs per team, that’s a lot of booties.  In addition, they must carry emergency dog food, a dog food cooker (to melt snow for water), fuel, and a vet notebook, to log any observations of interest for the vets at the next checkpoint.  The actual distance and timing of the race changes based on weather factors, but also they run a Southern Route in odd years and a Northern Route in even years, in order to divide the economic plus of the race between the villages along the two routes.  The distance to Nome is covered in somewhere between 9 to 15 days or more.  We will not be traveling to Nome for the finish this year, maybe another time?

Having always been intrigued by the eerie beauty of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, I’m hoping that Mother Nature will provide a display during our visit.  Simply stated the auroras are caused by geomagnetic storms that begin on the sun.  Understanding too much of the science behind the storms, perhaps, takes away from the magic. 

In spite of that, I have been visiting the website for the Geophysical Institute of Alaska on a regular basis, checking the aurora forecast.  The best time for viewing, unfortunately, falls between 10:00 P.M. and 2:00 A.M., travel away from the city lights is necessary, and there are no guarantees, even with a good forecast.  

We are flying out to Anchorage today, and hopefully, I’ll be writing soon with some great stories and pictures from our winter adventure.

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