Sunday morning, we three finalists met up in the lobby of the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel. After a little time getting to know each other, Kelly Villar, Lisa Lange, and I bundled into our rental car and headed downtown. Our plan: catch some of the excitement of the last day for the Fur Rondy, an annual celebration of sprint mushing. On the way there, we found ourselves following a dog truck. It was the first one I’d seen since arriving. Emblazoned on all sides was the message: Streeper. Champions. I’d heard enough about sprint racing to know that “Buddy Streeper” was the defending champion. This year, he repeated the feat. But that’s putting the sled before the dog.
When we arrived downtown, we found many mushers “dropping dogs”, lifting them down from their nooks. We averted our eyes and waited until after the dogs did what dogs do after they’ve been cooped up a while, then we began to snap pictures. Many dog trucks still held dogs in their cozy cubbies. My favorite sight was the single nose sticking out of one of the dog trucks.
After contributing a bit to the local economy (aka shopping), we headed to the chute area to see the start. There were just enough spots left on the bleachers for us to grab front row seats. The atmosphere was festive and fun, with race officials pitting the two sides of the chute against each other to see who could do the loudest refrain of “woof woof woof” to “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
The dogs may have been even leaner than distance sled dogs, but they had the same drive and determination to go go go. Sled handlers kneeled at the sled to hold it back against the force of pull while dog handlers tried to help contain some of the energy. A few stoic dogs waited with focus and attention for the start, but most were jumping straight up, jumping onto their neighbors, or banging forward. With a “5… 4…. 3…. 2… 1…. GO!” The dogs were off!
We weren’t able to stay and see the winners come back in, but the Streeper team took home the championship. Again. As volunteers rolled up the fencing to end another year of the Rondy, I could feel the shift. Farewell Rondy. Hello Iditarod. The teachers’ conference is ready to begin, and…. “5… 4… 3…. 2… 1… Go!” The Iditarod Educators are off!