This post, like so many of my other posts, begins with an apology. I suppose I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger last time - “the Iditarod starts tomorrow” being pretty much the last thing I wrote. So, why did I wait so long to actually follow up and write about the Iditarod, the climax of my time here, the reason I’m here, the thing that’s been looming in my future since October?
For one, I’m a procrastinator. Sorry. For two, I’m a perfectionist procrastinator, which means that once I did start writing about the Iditarod, trying to do it justice was such a daunting task that I became disheartened and overwhelmed and turned to washing dishes or something instead. Then, finally, I became satisfied with the piece I had written about the start of the race. It’s tone was right, it wasn’t too long and rambling, not obnoxiously self-referential. And then Firefox decided to quit and I lost all but the fist sentence or so. So then I became disheartened all over again.
And now the Iditarod is over. Today, at 10:45 am, Alaskan time, the last finisher reached Nome, two weeks after the start of the race.
Two weeks ago, this is where I was.
On March 5th, 2011 the 39th Iditarod began. The Last Great Race on Earth. The longest sled dog race in the world. An epic test of grit and strength and warm clothing. Rather, on March 5th, 2011, everyone who would run in the 39th Iditarod took their dog teams to downtown Anchorage to go for a little practice run at the ceremonial start.
Even though Jerry wouldn’t be crossing the ceremonial start line until around noon, we had to arrive in Anchorage to check in by 8:30 am. Which meant we had to leave Talkeetna at 5:30 am. Which meant we had to feed dogs at 4:30 am. Which was excellent.
The whole day was sort of blurry. Blurry and thrilling. I felt sort of like an expert, like an insider, very legit. But also sort of like a total newbie, lost and in awe. I had a fancy armband identifying me as a “Musher Handler.” I’m in the pictures of a lot of people I don’t know. People were lining the fences along 4th Avenue trying to pet the dogs, or get pictures of the dogs, or ask questions about the dogs. I guess I never really thought about what celebrities these dogs actually are until we brought them to Anchorage and they were fawned over like the children of movie stars.
This is Charger at the Ceremonial Start. She got plenty of attention from the fans.
Anyway, Saturday went quickly. We woke up early. Fed dogs early. Left early. Got to Anchorage early. Quickly found coffee. Took dogs out of the dog truck to decompress from their long ride to Anchorage. Pet dogs. Fed them some salmon water. Watched as other teams began to make their way to the start line. Watched them leave. Put dogs back in the dog truck as there was no sense in leaving them out to get riled up as 50-something other teams went by. Retreated to the free stuff tent for more coffee and cookies. Acted like we knew what we were doing. Watched 50-something other teams go by on their way to the start line. Acted knowledgeable when asked questions about the dogs. Schmoozed. Got dogs out of the truck again. Harnessed and bootied dogs. Pet dogs. Posed with dogs for what seemed like a lot of pictures taken by strangers. Put dogs on the line. Lined up along the dogs to keep them in check while walking to the start line. Walked them to the start line. Sensory overload at the start line. Let go and watch Jerry and the team speed off down 4th Ave. Went back to the dog truck. Drove to the airstrip where the run ended. Located Jerry and the team. Snacked, watered, unharnessed, and unbootied the dogs. Pet the dogs. Put dogs back in truck. Fell asleep on drive back to Talkeetna. Finished the afternoon/evening like it was any other day.
Dogs next to the dog truck. Adoring fans lining the fence. Maverick howling.
It seems really obvious to say that I had no idea what to expect from my first Iditarod. The most resounding feeling coming out of the day was something I hadn’t really anticipated though. I was really proud of the dogs. Like, not only that they didn’t fight each other or bite their fans or pee on anyone. They did exactly what they were supposed to. But I think it was a bigger feeling of pride. One that extended back to October. I can’t really say what it is in them that I was so proud of, I imagine it was a similar feeling to one that a proud coach or parent or teacher might have. Maybe it was just so pronounced because I hadn’t expected it. Either way, here are some pictures from the ceremonial start (I can’t decide if “ceremonial start” should be capitalized or not, sorry):
Goose, shaking her head.
The chairs I never got to sit in.
Hugh Neff is sponsored by the Cat in the Hat. (Actually, he’s doing something to promote literacy, so props.) It’s been a while since I’ve read Cat in the Hat, but I don’t remember that lady being in it.
Hugh Neff’s dogs, wearing tie-dye art smocks.
Some random team making their way to the start.
Our team making our way to the start.
My official looking jacket. And armband.
And, last but not least, the strangest dog I saw all day, huddled next to the fireplace in the Anchorage visitor’s center.
Next up: the real start.