Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rondy '11 Part 1: The ceremonial start of the Iditarod

I love Fur Rendezvous weekend. I truly do. I start looking forward to next year's Rondy on the ride home from the Rondy that just finished. Is it February again yet?

At last year's Rondy, we were fortunate that the two events we wanted most to see - the Outhouse Races and The Running of the Reindeer - were on the same weekend. This year, we weren't so lucky. Forced to choose between the two events, we opted to go on the last weekend of Rondy to see the Reindeer and the ceremonial start of the Iditarod dog sled race, and then go to Willow, Alaska to see the official restart of the race. Turns out to have been a very good choice.

We got to Anchorage on Friday night so we could be up early Saturday morning and have a good spot staked out along Fourth Avenue to watch the Iditarod teams line up for the ceremonial start. The weather was pretty good, bright and warm in the upper 20's. Exxon and Wells Fargo had a hospitality tent set up, serving free hot cider, coffee and cookies, and handing out blinkie pins and posters. The reindeer sausage vendors were doing a brisk business selling hot dogs for breakfast. Speaking of reindeer dogs, I have to stop and show you this:

Aren't they precious??? Elaborate fur costumes are the norm at Rondy (well, except for when elaborate costumes of any other sort are called for, but we'll get to that when we talk about The Running of  the Reindeer). Seeing small children decked out in extremely wonderful furs, however, is unusual. I asked these little girls' grandmother if I could take their picture, and she stepped aside. As soon as she did, they moved their dogs away from their faces and posed, probably having been asked repeatedly for their photos over the weekend. My only regret is that I didn't get a picture of  the backs of their parkas as well.

But, I digress.

The weather had been so warm and nice that there wasn't enough snow in the area to provide a snowy chute for the sleds to run on, so truckloads of snow were brought in the day before to make a chute from. The first sled to leave the start line was a ceremonial vintage freight sled. See how the sled driver is on a small ski platform in front of the sled? 

Months before Iditarod, there is an auction whereby you can purchase the privilege of being an IditaRider. IditaRiders can bid on seats in their favorite musher's sled for the first 10 miles of the run, before the dogs are loaded up into trucks and driven to the official start in Willow. I can't find anywhere how much the auctions ended up at, but I found out that being in a *rookie* musher's sled can run into the thousands of dollars. I can't imagine what someone would have paid to ride with favorites like Lance Mackey or Martin Buser. Here you can see an IditaRider in the basket of Jamaican musher (nope, not kidding) Newton Marshall's sled.

We took a gazillion photos of the dogs and mushers. We took a gazillion more photos of more dogs. And then more of the mushers. We photographed the interpreter for the hearing impaired, the handlers that helped hold back every single dog in the entire lineup, and interesting people on the sidelines. But I won't make you sit through all of those pics... just a couple more. There will be others to look through when I take you with us to the official start. In the meantime, however, here's a dog that seems to sum up the feelings of every dog in the race:

Slobbering, jumping, barking, crazy for racing and ready to GO!

We heart Lance Mackey. He won four Iditarods *in a row*, people. In. A. Row. While dealing with the after-effects of throat cancer and the special problems that brings him, both on the trail and off. Want an interesting read? Check out his book and read a little more about him here.

We watched the first 17 teams go through the chute, including other favorites DeeDee Jonrowe and Martin Buser. Rather than wait three hours for all 62 teams to go through (they leave every two to three minutes), we left after seeing Lance start off. Although we were a bit sorry we left early when someone told us musher Wattie McDonald (bib #38) of Scotland wore his kilt, his dogs wore tartan coats, and bagpipers played as he entered the chute. Someone posted a video of his start here.

Here's Jim outside the official Fur Rondy store:

Me, with the statue of Balto:

Much of the fun of Rondy is seeing the costumes and furs, and I love it bunches. This guy was dressed as a "hairy man" or "bushman", the Alaskan version of Sasquatch, and for a donation to Alaska's Healing Hearts, you could have your photo taken with him.  Without making a spectacle of myself by inspecting the costume, I think it was bear and wolverine fur.

After we left the race, we had only a few hours before we had to be back for The Running of the Reindeer. We needed to take a shipment of slippers to Alaska Fur Exchange and pick up materials for the rest of the spring orders. Then we ate at a new place, Harley's Old Thyme Cafe, which is awesome, and shopped at Black Elk for suede and beads. 

Check back next time to see how the rest of our day unfolded!

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