Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Iditarod Ceremonial Start - March 1, 2008

We attended the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Anchorage. Mushers start in the downtown area and the teams go through town for about 11 miles. The downtown streets are blocked off so that they can haul snow in and get it spread in the streets. The mushers are allowed inside the fences, as are their sponsors, helpers, volunteers and lots of VIPs. It is a time to showcase the teams, the mushers and the process. This is the start that you will usually see on TV.
You will see riders on most of the sleds. There is an auction days before the race and people from all over the world bid to be an "Iditarider". There were also six veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan who were severely wounded in combat who were Iditariders this year. The riders get to ride the whole 11 miles on the sled. So this is not the official start for the actual race. That happens the next day at Willow.

As a spectator, even though you are outside the fence, you do get to be "up close and personal" with the dogs, mushers and handlers. There were 97 teams starting this year. We got to see a majority of them throughout the day.

If you would like to follow the race or learn more about "The Last Great Race", go to www.iditarod.com

Sleds packed and ready to go. The sled on the left is tied to the bumper of the truck so that when the dogs are in harness they do not run off. While they are getting ready to go, that line will be pulled taut, as the dogs will be straining to go.

A team waiting patiently to be put into harness. The patience wears off and they get noisy in a hurry when then know that other teams are being hitched up and are running to the start line. These dogs want to run! Note the dog all curled up. that is how they sleep on the trail and keep themselves warm.
In several of the pictures you can see the different types of dogs and different types of trucks and kennels that the mushers have.

Unloading dogs from the inside of the kennel.

Waiting patiently.....

Taking the sled down from the top of the truck.

Getting the ropes and the harness ready.

Putting a team in harness. This team is also featured on my blog entry with the race videos. This team had a dog who, once he was in harness, jumped for over 20 minutes because he was so anxious to go. This team belongs to rookie musher, Laura Daugereau (#29) from Port Gamble Washington.

Laura is visiting with her Iditarider prior to her start.

Some teams are color coordinated. Note the kerchiefs, booties and harness. The entire team matched.

Doug & Colleen with the race's only five-time winner, Rick Swenson.

Four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King.

This is Dee Dee Jonrowe's 26th race. Dee Dee had to scratch in the 2007 race when she broke her finger. The well-being of the dogs is always the foremost concern of the mushers. Dee Dee felt she could not control her sled and her team and that would put her team at risk. So she chose to scratch. Dee Dee has a lot of determination and strength. She is a breast cancer survivor and ran one race only three weeks after finishing chemotherapy. You can tell which team is hers. They all wear pink harnesses.

Four-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser. He and his team hold the record for the fastest time. He ran the 2002 race in 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and 2 seconds. Martin's son, Rohn is running as a rookie in this year's race.

Volunteers at each intersection shovel snow back onto the center of the street so the teams have snow to run on. After each team goes by, traffic is allowed to cross the intersection for a minute. Then traffic is stopped again and the workers replenish the snow in the center so the teams can run safely and efficiently. This is done at intersections all the way along the 11-mile route through the city. This is only one place that proves that it takes thousands of volunteers to make this race successful.

Rookie musher Melissa Owens from Nome. We met Melissa and her family when we worked a the food drop preparation. Her brother Michael ran in the Jr. Iditarod this year. Melissa won the Jr. Iditarod in 2006.

Once the dogs get started, they are on a dead run. Right after I took this picture, this sled tipped over because they were going around the corner so fast. Note that the Iditarider on this sled is a frog!

We saw several teams wipe out on this corner and a few who almost did. Check out my blog entry with the race videos and you will see a dog team who did not make the turn. Dogs have to be told to turn right or left, or they will continue to run straight ahead.

This musher is dragging his foot and leaning so they did not tip over as they rounded the corner.

As you can see in most of the pictures, the only snow was what had been hauled in and spread in the middle of the streets. But there was PLENTY of ice everywhere. It had been warm enough to melt and re-freeze. Walking along the sidewalks was very treacherous in a lot of places.