Today was the Ceremonial Start of the 47th Iditarod Sled Dog Race!
The Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod is held on the first Saturday in March in downtown Anchorage. The musher’s start at 4th and D and run for 11 miles to Campbell Airstrip. During this run, mushers’ also carry an Iditarider in their sleds. Fans can bid to be an Iditarider each year. This exciting event draws thousands to downtown Anchorage each year!
I arrived in downtown several hours before the start and was able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the musher’s preparing. Trucks, equipment, and dogs lined 4th Avenue and many of the side streets. I walked along listening to the sounds of the dogs excitedly barking and howling. As the lines, harnesses, and booties came out, you could feel the excitement in each dog. And when the time came for them to be harnessed up and clipped in, it was like an explosion. The dogs were pulling and jumping as if to say, “Can we go now excitedly! Now! Please! Please!” When the time came for them to run, they were ready!
I was lucky enough to be a volunteer dog handler for today. I had the honor of handling for Shaynee Traska and Michi Konno, both competing in their second Iditarod. A handler’s job is to assist the mushers in safely guiding their sled dog teams to the starting line. Before today I didn’t realize how challenging this job was. A handler runs alongside the dogs holding a leash that is attached to the gangline. This can be challenging as some mushers are farther away from the start line than others, and we are running long distances on very soft, sand-like snow. During our training, we practiced running with the dogs, taught commands to assist in stopping the dogs, as well as what to do if you fall. I will admit, I did fall today, twice. However, I dropped and rolled and was able to rejoin the team quickly. I admire the musher’s and their dog handlers for all their hard work!
As the last musher rolled down 4th Avenue, I boarded a bus to Campbell Airstrip to watch the mushers finish their 11-mile journey. I have never been to Campbell Airstrip, and it was beautiful! Trees surrounded the field, and as you looked out, you could see a fantastic view of the mountains. It was a picturesque backdrop to the musher’s coming in.
I wish this day could have lasted forever. The excitement of both the fans and the dogs was energizing. I am looking forward to the restart tomorrow in Willow!
Many math connections can be made during the Ceremonial Start. Think about how many dogs there were all together if there are 52 teams and 14 dogs on each team. Think about how many booties that must be and challenge yourself to include a change in booties in each checkpoint. The math possibilities are endless!