Pages

Anchorage and the Iditarod


Alan in the dog sled we didn't get to ride
As Alan drove into Anchorage, snow was falling lightly along the Seward Hwy.  Even though we had had a full day, we didn’t want to miss out on the evening’s activities.  First up on the agenda was a presentation by Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore at the Clarion Suites where we were staying.  The hotel chain is one of Aily Zirkle’s sponsors.

Aily Zirkle with her husband, Allen Moore, to the far left
The husband and wife team are among the world's top mushers.  Allen secured first place in the Yukon Quest in February, a 1000 mile International Sled Dog Race from Whitehouse, Yukon to Fairbanks, AK.  He won by 1 hour and 16 minutes.  Last year, he had placed second, losing by 26 seconds.  Aily placed second in the Iditarod for 2012, 1 hour behind the leader, Dallas Seavey.  At 25, he was the youngest musher to ever win the Itidarod. 

Aily's sled (the stuffed husky comes w/ her)
Aily and Allen discussed past races and their strategy for the race starting the following day.  Allen described Aily as the “alpha dog” and predicted a win for her this year.  Since they have both competed at a top level in the races, there is little room for improvement.  Aily has committed to reducing her caffeine intake.  They will both be consuming a special recipe oat and peanut butter, sugar free energy bar, they concocted after Allen lost 25 pounds in last year’s Yukon Quest and Aily’s sugar high, and subsequent drop in blood sugar, had affected her energy level in her last race.  The love and care the couple displayed for the dogs and the sport was very evident in their presentation.  Alan purchased 4 raffle tickets, and, yippee, we won “Aily Zirkle’s Journal of the 2012 Race”.  This day-by-day account of the grueling trip is a wonderful insight to what the mushers experience.  We will be rooting for Aily.  You can follow her at: http://spkenneldoglog.blogspot.com/

Crystal Gallery in downtown Anchorage
Planning to head into downtown, we were sidetracked by a dead battery.  Neither of us had noticed the headlights had been left on.  After calling AAA for a charge, the rest of our evening was consumed by this incident and some dinner.  The elusive Northern Lights did not figure into the schedule.  The forecast for the night was a lowly 1 (out of 10). 

Heavy fog did not dampen the spirit of the crowd
The Ceremonial Start for the Iditarod scheduled for the following morning draws a huge crowd to the downtown Anchorage venue.  Arriving an hour before race start time, the crowd was already several people deep back from the fencing strung along the roadside.  The excitement was palpable.  Vendors hustling their wares, sled dogs barking and yelping in eagerness and hundreds of volunteers trying to help mushers control their dogs as they prepared for the start and providing assistance to the city’s police in regulating the crowds.
A singing of the National Anthem and the Alaskan State Song was the prequel to the countdown for the 41st annual Iditarod.  The untimed 11-mile Ceremonial Start for the race ends in a wooded area east of town.  The  ReStart for the race begins the following day at Willow Lake.

Alan racing on to Nome!
Making our way back to the car, we drove to Chester Creek Greenbelt Park and arrived just in time to see the last few mushers move past this vantage point.  Only a handful of people were at this site, so we were able to get right next to the trail.  Alan was invited to hop onto the sled of Musher #64, Matt Giblin, to apply the brakes as Matt sped off the sled to untangle two of his dogs.

Driving back into the city there were still a number of activities planned for the afternoon, with Alan’s run in the Reindeer Race at the top of the list.  We had still not visited the Carnival, so headed over that way.  While Ferris wheels and super slides are not favorite ideas of my fun even in warm weather, the 30-degree temperature made it less inviting from our perspective, but the carnival grounds and the rides were full.  Missing out on the Blanket Toss, we did watch the Fur Auction, which was part of the historical beginning of Fur Rondy.
And they're off

Close in pursuit
Between the Antique Snowmobile Parade and the Reindeer Race, we squeezed in lunch at Sack’s, another one of the city’s top rated restaurants.  In spite of the crowd, the fixed menu and efficient staff put out a great lunch and provided Alan the needed calories for the upcoming race.  The Rondy Running of the Reindeer was an idea dreamed up by a couple of local radio celebrities.  It is a fundraiser for Toys for Tots, with a $25 signup fee required from each participant.  This 6th annual year, there were 4000 runners, so it’s a great cause and a lot of fun for runners and watchers.  Contestants are encouraged to dress in costumes and all types of dress, and even undress, are seen.  With such a large turnout, they actually run the race 5 times, under different categories.  Alan ran in the “From Outside Alaska” class.  Keeping well ahead of the antlers, he made it to the finish line with no injuries (as did all the participants.)

Drive to Wasilla
Working our way through the crowd, we left Anchorage and drove up to Wasilla for the next 2 days.  Having heard about the bumper-to-bumper traffic before and after the race, we decided to get a little closer for the Official or Restart of the Iditarod.  The accommodations we had secured provided a second story view of the mountains looking north, so despite the, once again, poor Northern Light forecast, we both monitored the view throughout the night.  No luck.

Looking back to the start up at Willow Lake
Learning of a shuttle departing from a nearby high school, we decided this would be our mode of transportation to Willow Lake.  And we were glad we did; the 25-30 mile trip took almost 2 hours.  For a $2 per person fee (round-trip) this was the best deal in Alaska.  Arriving 2-hours before race time, we were able to secure a front row seat.  Seating is not provided, but a suggestion by a hostess at the Visitors Center had prompted us to purchase inexpensive beach (or in this case, ice) chairs and a cheap mat to prevent the cold of the ice from working it’s way through our boots as we waited for the race.  Race morning temperatures had started at minus 7, but it was sunny and delightful 30 by the time the race began at 2 P.M.  Talking with locals, we were told multiple times that this weather was not typical.  Howling winds, gray skies and temperatures under zero are more the norm. 

Separated by two-minute intervals, the musher’s positions are decided at a ceremony 2 days before the opening of the race.  The enthusiasm at the frozen lake was tangible.  The flags for the countries represented in the race waved slightly in the light wind.  The crowd counted down with the announcer, the race had begun.  Every 2 minutes a surge of excitement swept through the throng.  It was everything we had hoped for and more.

The evening failed to provide the Northern Lights yet again. Having checked the forecast, I knew that even a drive to Fairbanks (another 300 miles north) would not produce the lights.  Mother Nature had provided incredible weather for our visit but now a reason to return for another Alaskan winter visit.
To follow the Iditarod, go to: http://iditarod.com/race/checkpoints/ for the race standings.  As of this posting Aily is in second place, behind Martin Buser, but they still have a long way to go.  Go Aily!!

FYI- Any of the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.
In Anchorage, a few people waiting for the start

In Anchorage

At Chester Creek Greenbelt

Antique snowmobile

Antique snowmobile-family style
At Willow Lake
Alan with his antlers, ready to run

And here they're after him!

No wonder the reindeer are mad.



In Anchorage

In Anchorage

In Anchorage

At Chester Creek Greenbelt


Kiwana's Keystone Kops


Getting into the lineup








Willow Lake

Willow Lake

Willow Lake

Willow Lake



No comments:

Post a Comment