There’s a buzz all around Alaska this time of year. Bags of dog food and other necessary supplies are finding their way onto small planes, Huskies and Malamutes are running their last practice routes, trail breakers are preparing their snow machines, and volunteers and competitors are beginning to pack their bags for the trip north to Alaska. It’s Iditarod time! Well, almost – just a few weeks away. But, don’t worry, because there is still time to book a night at the Westmark Anchorage Hotel, conveniently located just a block away from the ceremonial start of what is referred to as the Last Great Race®.
The events surrounding the Iditarod start early in the morning with mushers and their dogs pulling up to allotted parking spots along downtown Anchorage’s streets near 4th Avenue. The scene is like no other, and it’s one that will get people of all ages and from all walks of life excited for what’s to come. The dogs are bursting with anticipation; the mushers are pumped and ready to chat it up with fans and make sure their dogs are fastened and ready to go at the call of their bib number. The crowds are taking in the sights, sounds and thrills of being able to witness such great athletes – mushers and sled dogs alike – just before they embark on their long, challenging journey across Alaska’s frozen tundra.
For those new to the concept, the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is a grueling, long-distance dog mushing race traversing more than 1,000 miles along the Iditarod National Historical Trail, which was originally used as a mail route and to deliver everything from groceries to gold and physicians to fur in and out of Nome. In recent history, an average of 60 teams participate each year in this highly competitive race, initially founded in the late 1960s. The Iditarod at its inception was a way to promote the sport of dog mushing and increase its popularity, diminished by the arrival of and easier access to snowmobiles and small planes. The 2013 race will host its ceremonious start on Saturday, March 2, in Anchorage, but the official start takes place the following day out of Willow, about an hour’s drive north. (An hour by car, not by dogsled!)
Following the Iditarod and reading about its complete history is a great way to learn about Alaska and how this majestic region has changed over the past century. Several of the competing teams hail from some of the state’s most remote Alaska Native villages, making this a true Alaska event, steeped in incomparable, fascinating tradition.
It takes hundreds of committed individuals to get the Iditarod show on the road. Eager volunteers travel from all stretches of the country and are spread out along trail checkpoints as well as the Nome headquarters from day one of the race until the last team makes its way across the finish line. But, mushers and their dogs are on their own for the most part, except when stopping at checkpoints for rest and restocking of food supplies. In addition, several veterinarians and doctors are on staff and the wellbeing of the dogs and mushers is always top priority. It’s not uncommon, however, for a couple of days to pass when a musher has only their dogs for company.
You don’t have to be an avid dog mushing fan to appreciate the immense effort, dedication, endurance and courage that goes into running the Iditarod; or to fantasize about what it must be like to cross that finish line to the sound of cheering fans who know all about the white-out conditions, gale-force winds, blizzards and long stretches of nothing but snow and ice you just conquered. Check out the race’s official page, and visit Westmark Hotels to book your stay in March.