Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rondy '11 Part 4: The Running of the Reindeer Videos

As promised, here are the videos of the Fourth Annual Running of the Reindeer. I highly recommend that you click through to watch them on YouTube, where you might be able to see them better.

This is the video of my run with the reindeer. In all the Military, Mens and Groups herds, the reindeer are released at the same time as the runners. In the Women's herd, the runners are given a 10-second head start. You hear the emcee counting down the ten seconds at the beginning of the video. Two deer ran past me within arm's reach on my right, and another one brushed against my arm on my left. That was totally cool!

This is Jim's video of his run with the reindeer, which he filmed by holding the camera over his head as he ran. You can easily see how close he was to the reindeer!

This is the Groups herd. This is where the best costumes are. Enjoy!
(In spite of the emcee suggesting there might have been an injury, there wasn't. There hasn't been an injury in all four years of RotR.)

Rondy '11 Part 3: The Running of the Reindeer

I suppose The Running of the Reindeer needs some explaining.

Probably, it needs a lot of explaining.

Think of The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.  Now remove the bulls and substitute reindeer. Remove the certainty of injury by goring and replace it with a faint chance of injury by falling in the snow and being stepped on by another runner. Remove every shred of seriousness and replace it with the-sillier-the-better. Remove Pamplona altogether and replace it with the downtown Anchorage business district. In fact, remove all similarities except that people run in a street with hoofed animals.

Got it? Okay. Now we can begin.

Runners race down two blocks of Fourth Avenue with about a dozen male reindeer released behind them. At the other end of Fourth Avenue is a trailer containing a doe in heat, which keeps the males not only running, but running in a predictable, relatively straight line towards her. There are no prizes for winning or anything like that, it's just fun and wacky, which is honestly a point unto itself.

Last year, Jim and I were spectators. This year, we were runners.

Anyone can participate in The Running, and there are people who come for Rondy from all over the world, and some of them join in the race right along with the crazy fun-loving locals. The reindeer, by the way, are local, too. (I forgot where the ranch is located, though.) It costs $25 per person with proceeds benefiting Toys For Tots. There are four "herds" - the Military, the Men, the Women, and Groups. Here, the male reindeer are walked to the starting line after the first group of runners are already in place:

The race organizers decided to try something new this year - Antlercam! It did not go as planned......
He scraped the Antlercam off in the street.

This is my favorite photo of the reindeer this year. A young buck posing for my camera, wearing his purple RotR cowbell. Um, deerbell. Sorry. 

The Military herd wasn't too exciting, because they were all dressed in fatigues and probably all sober. So I don't have any interesting photos of that. But up next, the Men's herd! The emcee asked all the men who were mostly bare to come to the front, where they proceeded to dance about in Rondy-spirit abandon, and were only too happy to oblige when the emcee told them to give him some pushups in the street. While they were doing their pushups, the crowd threw snow at them. Ah, good times. I should probably mention that although costumes are not required, they ARE encouraged, and you can (I highly suggest it, in fact) click on these photos to enlarge them and see some of the costumes better.

 The men's herd runs past shortly before the reindeer catch up to them:

Yes, that's a banana. And a tooth with a giant toothbrush. The big plywood carrot (probably to lure in the reindeer? I dunno) is coming, and in front of him is the hairyman from my previous post.

When you watch the videos in my next post, you'll see Jim's point of view as he runs. You'll see the easy landmark of the plywood carrot go by, and that's about when this photo of Jim was taken. He's wearing his beaver trapper hat, khaki pants and a dark jacket and is holding the camera over his head, right in front of the guy wearing bib number 121.

The snow was very loose and slippery from having been spread out after the Iditarod ceremonial start, which was only a few hours before this. Lots of people fell in the snow, but other runners good-naturedly helped them up and retrieved lost bits of costumes, and the race continued with no harm done. This is the closest I saw to an actual mishap - when a reindeer ran between me (on the sidelines) and a cameraman, and the cameraman jumped back to avoid the deer and fell on his bohunkus. He got back up when the deer passed, though, and kept filming.

We don't have any still photos of me running with the Women's herd, because I was busy running and Jim was operating the video camera. We also managed not to get any stills of the Groups herd. I can't believe we did that. You'll just have to wait for the video. 

As we were leaving the downtown area that evening, we passed a group of Rondy pin collectors, and asked to take their photo outside of the official Rondy store. Rondy pins are quite collectible if you're into that sort of thing, as these people evidently were!

In my next post, I'll have the videos of the races for you to see, and you'll especially want to see the Groups herd. That's where the best costumes are. See you then!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rondy '11 Part 2: The Ceremonial Start Video

Thank you, Jim, for this awesome video montage from the Iditarod Ceremonial Start!

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!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Six Sillies

James the Storyteller performs "The Six Sillies" at Winterfeast 2011 at Grove City College.

The first few seconds of the story were cut off by the camera, and go as follows:

"Once upon a time, there was a young girl who reached the age of thirty-seven without getting married, for she was so foolish that no man would take her. 

But one day, a traveler arrived to court her, and her mother sent her down to the cellar to fetch him a jug of beer. So the traveler and the girl's parents sat down upstairs and began planning and preparing...  "

Turn up the volume and enjoy!

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Rondy boots!

I did it! I finished my boots for Rondy last night! 

These are by far the most elaborate fur item I've ever made. I already know what I'd change to make them better the next time I make a pair, but overall, though, I'm pretty tickled.
The furs, starting at the knee and working downwards, are: natural dark beaver, tanuki, bleached beaver, red fox, and natural red beaver. The pompoms are natural dark beaver and the toes are otter.

Rather than make a multi-layer leather sole, like the pair I was copying, I took apart a pair of Dearfoams slippers that had a sewn-on rubber sole. I hope the rubber sole will provide more traction than a leather one. When I took the slippers apart, two layers of foam remained with the soles, so I left that in place. I made linings of polar fleece around the calf, with foot uppers made of thick felted wool. The insoles are multi-layered, with heavy New Zealand sheepskin under my feet, two layers of polar fleece/felt laminate, and a layer of headliner foam on the very bottom. Added to the foam I left in when I took the Dearfoams apart, they make for a very cushy platform that's warm and comfortable.

The pair of boots I was copying had a beaded rosette on each shin, where the band of plain suede is, but I couldn't find any I liked. I bought two cross-sections of walrus rib bone to use there, but right before sewing them on I decided I didn't really like them for that purpose and left them off. I'll look for some nice beadwork while we're at Rondy this weekend.

Now, I've got to go finish packing! Woohoooooooooo!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ice Around Town

Ice Around Town, as some of you might remember, is part of the festivities surrounding The Peninsula Winter Games. The PWG is a whole day of kid-friendly games, tournaments, outdoor activities, even an ice cream social. The Native Youth Olympics are also held that day in case anyone might like to go see traditional games being played. Last year's PWG is where I first saw, and coveted, a kicksled of my own.

Businesses in Soldotna and Kenai can commission ice sculptures that are carved by local sculptors from local ice, harvested from River Bend Lake near Beaver Loop Road. We look forward to seeing them every winter, and are sorry that the day of the PWG the weather was overcast and dreary, and subsequently our photos didn't turn out very well and do not show off the sculptures to their best advantage.

The main events are held at the sports center in Soldotna. The Monopoly tournament, hockey games, ice bowling, snowmachine sled rides, and kicksled rides are there. But perhaps the biggest draw are the huge ice slides. I can't believe we managed to avoid getting a single photo of the entire ice slide setup. AARGH. Trust me, it was awesome. There were two, one small one for tiny tots (which shot the kids out into the parking lot a respectable distance for only being about three feet tall), and the main slide complex. Ice stairs to one side led up to the slide on the other, with saddled sculptures around the base, to keep the kids entertained while they waited their turns.

Approaching the slides from the parking lot, a sculpture of a bear mushing a dog represents the Tustumena 200 race.

A closer shot of the mushing bear:

Nearer the slides was this bear:

Okay, I didn't bring the puppy home. But I was tempted. Oh, so tempted.

One of the saddled sculptures for the kids to climb on near the base of the slide:

I have no idea who this little girl is, but ain't she adorable? Get an idea of the scale of the sculpture from the adults standing behind its head.

 Some of the sculptures just didn't show up in the photos very well at all, such as this saddled bear:

But by tweaking the colors a bit, even though it's not like in real life, you can see them better. The woman in the background is looking up towards the top of the slide, which you can see on the left. It was a long, tall slide.

The sledding bear at the entrance to the recreation center was one that needed some unnatural tweaking in order to show up much.

Leaving the rec center, we headed to town to check out the sculptures at the local businesses. The Soldotna Visitor's Center never fails to entertain with their interactive sculptures. This year, you could pretend to be frozen in a block of ice like a caveman. 

The Duck Inn has a martini and two ducks wishing they could drink it:

KSRM radio's surfing moose:

 Arby's curly fries:

 Blazy Construction's howling wolf:

Alaska Open Imaging's teddy-bear-style moose:

 An eagle at Soldotna Mini Storage:

A twice-vandalized walrus at the pharmacy was my favorite, even though we never saw it in its undamaged condition:

This photo of the walrus' missing tusks is from the Redoubt Reporter. The tusks were broken off, replaced, and broken off again. What a shame. Apparently it's quite rare that anyone bothers the sculptures.

Surfing puffin at the dentist's office (sorry you can't see it better):

The puffin's face:

 The Cheshire Cat at another dentist up the street:

A polar bear texting on a mobile phone in front of Alaska Communications:

Dairy Queen's banana split:

The Kenai Watershed Forum's slots-playing bear:

Sweeney's leprechaun is showing his penguin friend a shamrock and a gold coin:

The sculpture at the airport wasn't finished yet, so here it is in progress:

And here's the finished moose flying an open-cockpit plane:

I think this catches you up on what we've been doing around here for the past month or so. See you next time!

The Tustumena 200

I haven't done any blogging since, well, since my last post.  Which was a sad one. But it's time to put some smiles back on faces again, and I don't know of a better way to do that than with lots of dogs showing off some serious joie de vivre.

The Tustumena 200 sled dog race, as long-time readers might remember, is a qualifier for the Iditarod. The two-hundred-mile round-trip race begins and ends in Kasilof. This year's race took place on January 29 - 30, 2011, and we were there to see it start!

I know there are some people who don't believe a sled dog enjoys his or her work. Surely a musher is a cruel person who forces the poor creatures to labor for miles pulling heavy weights, right? Um, no. Not at all. And if you have any doubt, check out this video of a team being held back:

Or this video of the same team being walked to position at the starting line. Notice the handlers with the dogs, and the snow machine behind the sled, weighing the dogs down so that they don't start running early:

Click on this pic to enlarge it. You've got to see the expression on this dog's face.

And, if you're still unsure whether or not a dog with pulling in its DNA really enjoys the job, come over to our house. We'll harness Moya up, hand you the lead, and wave goodbye to your rapidly disappearing form as she tows you out of sight in mere seconds.

Y'know, looking through the photos and comparing what I see here to the official start order list, I notice that nine of the fourteen mushers were men. But what has my dear husband decided to photograph?

Kristy Berington:

Her twin sister, Anna Berington:

Zoya DeNure:

And DeeDee Jonrowe, this year's winner:

And [singing "One of these things is not like the others..."] a lone photo of Gary Van Loo.

I admit, I never thought seeing the dog races start off would be much fun. "Yeah. Dogs. Running. Wooo." But I really enjoy it. And I don't think I would as much if I didn't have Moya at home. Seeing hundreds of Moya-alikes all in one place makes me feel fortunate that I only have one.

Having seen the racers off, we took our traditional arms-length self portrait:

But before we leave the race, here's something else for me to show you... A guy in a truly epic fox trapper hat, standing about 15 feet away from the race chute, with a large cardboard box. Of kittens.

The box says "FREE Kittens  You Need to have good intentions or you can't have Them!"

As far as we know, he left with as many as he brought. He wasn't exactly playing to the correct market. But it was worth a try.

After leaving the race, Jim and I stopped at Rocky's Cafe for lunch. I love that the sign is modeled after the Roslyn Cafe sign from the tv show Northern Exposure.

Once we were full of lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the Ice Around Town ice sculptures, but I'll save those pictures for the next post!