On Sunday afternoon, Kelly, Mary Lynn, and I loaded up the car and headed to downtown Anchorage. We were ready to experience Alaska and take in some of the traditions of the amazing 49th state.
As I walked the streets of Fourth Avenue, I was living in the moment, taking in all the sights and sounds. The crisp air kissed my cheeks. The snow crunched under my boots as I walked down the street. The sidewalks were filled with people, young, old, and in between. There was a sea of warm, winter coats and parkas in every color and pattern imaginable. The aroma of reindeer sausages and mini-donuts filled the air, inviting spectators to give in to the temptation and savor the delicious treats.
There was a buzz of excitement in the air: people chattering, kids laughing, dogs barking, and the announcer occasionally coming over the loudspeaker. The streets were lined with dog trucks and dogs, along with mushers taking care of last-minute preparations before the final day of the Fur Rondy races began.
Many of the locals were wearing all different furs: beaver, coyote, arctic fox, red fox, and many others. I was most intrigued by a gentleman on the street wearing the full fur of a big cat. After talking with him, asking to take his picture, and a little research, I learned that the fur was that of a lynx.
The event that drew us downtown was the final day of the Open World Championship Sled Dog Races. This event attracts sprint mushers from across the globe and takes place over a three-day period. Sprint mushing teams take the same 25 mile route all three days, for a total distance of 75 miles.
As race time drew near, there was an excitement in the air that was unimaginable and contagious. Spectators began taking their seats on the bleachers, while others lined the sidewalks to watch dog teams take off out of the chute. We took our seat on the bleachers in the front row, anxiously awaiting for the events to begin. One of the volunteers, an older gentleman, got the crowd revved up when “Who Let the Dogs Out” came over the loud speaker. He moved to each set of bleachers, dancing and singing, and encouraged the crowd to ‘bark’ at the appropriate time during the song. He was good at his job because the entire crowd was energetic and excited for the race to begin.
When the clock finally struck noon, mushing teams began taking off from the start line every two minutes. Dog handlers did their best to calm the anxious spirits of the dogs, who were begging and crying to start running. Each musher walked down the gangline, greeting each and every dog on the team, and getting them pepped up and ready to go. When it was close to go-time, the announcer would count down from ten, the musher would jump on the sled, and at zero the teams were off.
My hope is to bottle up this energy, and every sight, sound, and smell, and take it back to my students in Illinois. Wouldn’t it be nice to load them up and head out on a field trip to see a sled dog race first hand?