Over fifty years ago, Dorothy Page and Joe Redington, Sr. had a dream and a vision. Their hope was to create and host a dog sled race on the historic Iditarod Trail. Redington’s desire was to bring back the sport of dog mushing to preserve an important part of Alaskan culture and to preserve the dog sled trails, along with their historic value. In 1973, this vision became a reality. The first Iditarod ended in Nome, crowning Dick Walmarth the first Iditarod Champion.
Fast forward forty seven years later, and the Iditarod Race has become a cherished tradition to the people in Alaska and around the world. Today, Joe Redington Sr.’s spirit was very much alive as the start of Iditarod 47 kicked off in Anchorage.
Walking around downtown Anchorage, there was a buzz and excitement that is indescribable. For a brief moment in time, we as a people were together as one. One family. One team. One dream. The streets were filled with a wide variety of different heartbeats: dogs, mushers, volunteers, spectators, royalty, politicians, and many others.
Mushers were busy at work from the moment they arrived downtown. The amount of preparation and organization that must happen to make it 1,000 miles across bush Alaska is unfathomable. One mistake, and a musher may not make it. They were unloading dogs. Feeding dogs. Scooping poop. Stretching out ganglines. Putting booties on dogs. Harnessing dogs. Hooking dogs to the gangline. Assisting their Iditariders. This list really could go on and on until the end of time. Who was the one person they weren’t focusing on? Themselves. The dogs were their number one priority, and the people there to support them were close behind. Ask any musher out there who the athletes are in this race and they will tell you hands down, it’s the dogs.
The dogs were just simply mesmerizing. At first, they were calm and chill. There was a stillness about them that was soothing. They were visiting with spectators and relaxing before their big journey. Trust me, this calmness didn’t last for long. As soon as they started getting bootied up and harnesses on, they knew it was almost go-time. When one dog started barking, it was like a wave down the streets. Every single dog was barking and howling, getting themselves pumped up for their race. They would leap in the air and jump to the sky. They were ready to start running well before the “mean” people around them finally let them out of the chute. Dogs that got left behind were crying, “Please, take me! Why can’t I go, too?” Imagine being down there and hearing 53 dog teams barking and howling at the same time. I will forever remember this sound.
(Trivia-If there are 53 teams (counting Bib 1) downtown at the Start Line, and each team has 14 dogs, how many total dogs are there barking and howling?)
The volunteers were busy running around in the very organized chaos to assure this race can even get started. Coordinators were busy assigning jobs to other volunteers. Dog handlers were meeting the mushers they would be working with and getting to know the dogs. Later, they would be dragged down Fourth Avenue to the start line so their assigned mushers could take off at their two minute interval. Many of them would then run back to their coordinators to get another assignment. The security team was busy keeping other volunteers out of the chute so they didn’t get taken out by a dog team. The amount of other volunteers working behind the scenes, doing things I couldn’t even see, can’t go unrecognized either.
Spectators made their way up and down the streets prior to the race starting, scoping out their favorite mushers. They would visit with the dogs, take a few photos, and then make their way on down the street to see other teams. At some point in the day, the majority of the people made their way to have a photo taken under the Start Line. Once it got closer to race time, spectators started making their way to find the best spot to witness this amazing event. They lined the streets, cheering for each musher as they made their way down the chute. Many made their way down to Fourth and Cordova to witness mushers as they went around this infamous corner, waiting to see if anyone would spill over.
As the last musher crossed the start line, the massive crowd began to spill into the side streets. Some were heading to get food. Some were heading back to their hotel rooms to take a nap and relax. Others headed on a shuttle out to Campbell Airstrip to catch the last few mushers come in and connect back with their handlers. Others likely had to head to the airport to catch a flight back home, feeling fortunate they got to witness this great tradition.
At one point in the day, I paused to just take in the moment. I listened to the dogs. I watched the people. I took in the energetic vibe the dogs and mushers were sending off. I wish there was a way to bottle it up and take it home with me. It was completely energizing. Sadly, I’ll have to keep it stored in my mind and my heart. But, only until next year because I will be back for Iditarod 48 and likely every Iditarod until the end of time.