Anchorage Start

It is called 'The Last Great Race' and it spans 1150 miles over some of the most inhospitable and beautiful landscape this earth has to offer. For the daring at heart, 25 checkpoints and the whims of mother nature are all that separate you from the first prize of $69,000 and a new Dodge pickup truck. And that can be a big gap! Of the 67 teams that entered in 2009, 52 finished the race in Nome with 15 scratches along the way.

I was on a business trip that just happened to coincide with the start of the 37th running of this remarkable race. I met up with a gang of friends organized by a co-worker early on Saturday morning to experience the ceremonial start thru the streets and park trails of Anchorage. There was fanfare, people bundled up, snow trucked in to pave the roads with that white stuff and a lot of people and a whole lot of dogs.

Iditarod Trail

The Iditarod Trail is a National Historic Trail which started as a mail and supply route from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the interior mining camps at Flat, Ophir, Ruby and beyond to the west coast communities of Unalakleet, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain and Nome. Mail and supplies were swapped for gold and dog sled teams were the backbone of travel in this wide open frozen country. In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life saving highway for epidemic-stricken Nome. Diphtheria threatened and serum had to be brought in again by intrepid dog mushers and their faithful hard-driving dogs.

On the first day the Iditarod competitors travel thru an elaborate inter-city trail network and we set up at about the halfway point to watch the teams and mushers as they passed by. There were several large parties going on with the requisite barbeque, lots of food, beer and friends.

The Mushers & Teams

Sixty seven teams started out with just as many stories. From the best in the world, to 15 rookies out to prove themselves, to a nuclear physicist with a team of pure Siberians, they represent that rugged individualism that it takes to survive the journey and a love for their dogs who make that possible.

As Lance Mackey rounded the bend where we were waiting, one of his dogs got tangled in the hitch line and he came to a halt right in front of us. After a short struggle he set the team straight and continued on his way. Lance eventually won the race for his third in a row, tying Susan Butcher and Doug Swinley for a prestigious honor. He also announced that after over 12,000 miles, finishing eight Iditarod's and four Yukon Quests, his lead dog, 9 year old Larry, will be retiring to " lounging around and soaking up rays" as Lance put it. I believe that Larry is the up front left dog in the first picture on the panel above.

The Motley Crew

An event of this magnitude is best spent with friends and needs to have a feast attached to it, with age appropriate drinks. We were in luck. The host and toast of Anchorage was our ring leader and he opened his house and adult beverage cabinet to friend and stranger alike. Red crab legs, baked salmon and it just went on and on. Thanks Jim for a memorable time.

May our paths and errands meet...