Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

The Iditarod’s Official Restart

on March 3, 2013

As mentioned in the previous blog (Alaska in Summer), we impulsively decided to return to Alaska in winter – Yes, WINTER!!!Happy Dogs

But for good reason! To experience The Iditarod… as a spectator only, of course.  I canNOT even imagine actually participating!

This is a race, by dogsled, deemed “the toughest race on earth”, is over 1150 miles (1851 kms) over extreme terrain, across mountain ranges, over frozen rivers, through dense forests, across desolate tundra, and along windswept coastline.  (The official distance is 1049 miles (1688 km)

Southern Route, as per Iditarod.comThere are two trails – the North Trail (which has 26 checkpoints) and the South Trail (which has 27 checkpoints). (In my previous blog, I said there were 22 checkpoints, but, I’m sorry, I guess I miscounted…although, they count Anchorage AND Nome as 2, so I wasn’t out as much as it sounds….)

Once upon a time, both sections were used for winter travel, but when the Iditarod race first started, the mushers only used the Northern Route, and the Iditarod website explains that “the smaller villages were being heavily impacted by the race coming through their village year after year”, so theyAt The Double Musky started alternating the routes.

Along with protecting the little villages from an annual onslaught of outsiders, one interesting benefit to changing the route to include the southern route is that the southern route includes the ghost town, Iditarod! (That seems like an important detail ~ a “roadside” attraction.)  (This year, the teams will be taking the Southern Route, but both of the years we went, they were taking the Northern Route.)

We arrived on Friday, the day before the Ceremonial start (which I talked about in my February 27th blog), and were whisked off to The Double Musky Inn, in Girdwood, about 40 miles (64 kms) southeast of the Anchorage airport.

The Double Musky is Pepper Steakabout 2.5 miles from the Alyeska Ski Resort, and was opened in 1962 as an after-ski bar.  At that time, “cooked their own steaks over a fire in the front dining room”.    That was then – now, they are a world-famous restaurant (featured on the FoodNetwork, and reviewed by Bon Appetit, Fodors Travel Guide, the Chicago Tribune and New York Times and a bunch of other periodicals), and are especially famous for their pepper steak.

I always order Alaskan King Crab (if available) and Peter always orders prime rib (if available), but since The Double Musky is famous for their pepper steak, Peter ordered it and LOVED IT!!! (And, by the way, this was the first pepper steak he’s liked…it’s ruined him for all future pepper steaks…)
AlyeskaAlyeska roundabout

On the way to the restaurant, we drove along the Turnagain Arm, Beluga Bay.  FIRST of all, and I know how ridiculous thisTides sounds, based on the Arctic… but, I was SHOCKED to see the Ocean FROZEN! so shocked!  And, it’s so interesting to see where the tide was in, froze, tide went out, and then back in later, and froze again, so it builds ice walls.

I’m ALSO shocked to find out that there is a Tidal Bore there.  Now I want to go back, just to watch the Tidal Bore. After my last blog, Shannan suggested we go back for another Iditarod, and that does stir up a bit of my adventurous Broken Frozen Oceanspirit (if you count “spectating” as “adventurous”, but I do! and you might too, if you go to Alaska in the winter, for the Iditarod!) BUT, this desire to go is further enhanced by this promise of the Tidal Bore.

Wikipedia describes a Tidal Bore as “A tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) of water that travels up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay’s current.”

If you haven’t seen one in person, that might sound…boring (?), but we watched the Tidal Bore comTruro Tidal Boree in, in Truro, Nova Scotia (definitely an upcoming blog), and that tide came in so fast and furious, I was a little breathless and just a little bit freaked out!

The Truro Tidal Bore (one of the fastest in the world) can travel up to 30 miles (48 kms) an hour and can reach up to 20 foot (6 meter) waves! The Turnagain Arm, Alaska Tidal Bore travels about 10 miles (16 kms) per hour and up to almost 10 feet (3 meters).   (The speed and height difference is because the Truro bore is coming into a much more narrow riverbed, and Turnagain Arm is coming into a Bay.)

Truro Tidal Bore Truro Tidal Bore 2

You have to YouTube Turnagain Arm Tidal Bore. This is one of the sites. (Surfing on the wave.)

We stayed at the Millennium Hotel, the Iditarod Race Headquarters, in downtown Anchorage…a pretty good location – we were one block away from the Ceremonial Start.  (I told all about the Ceremonial Start in my February 27 blog.)

After Saturday’s festivities, we went for dinner at Garcia’s Cantina, and then on to Willow, to prepare for the Official Restart on Sunday.

We had a house that Richard and Shannan rented (or were house sitting…I don’t remember) right on a beautiful (frozen) lake – so we could watch families of moose strolling along – and after the Restart, people going home on their snowmobiles.

But, to enjoy the Restart, we went to Shannan’s parents (Dale & Ruby) and her sister, Stacey & her husband, Terry’s house, to organize and to gather up tThe Highwayhe snow machines for the journey to the Restart… which, I don’t know how far away it is – maybe 3 miles?

Getting there is kind of an adventure on its own – driving (riding?) the snow-machines down the highway (well, beside – and Itypical transportation rode with Peter because 1) I wanted to take pictures, and 2) I was afraid to drive my own) and arriving like an armada – everyone else is arriving on snowmobiles, little two-seater planes with skis for landing, some sort of vehicle with a giant …fan propeller sort of thing that pushed the vehicle across the ice… and a very few arrived by car or truck.  They even have little trees in pots on the ice (we are on a lake) to make a runway for incoming planes.

Since this was my first time there, and I’d only very recently found out that the Iditarod existed, I didn’t have my fan-favorite picked out yet. However, Stacey told me this heroic story about one of the mushers, Lance Mackey, a recent cancer survivor, who was racing, who also had just won his first Iditarod the year before, so I thought that was a good starting point, and decided to cheer for him, too!

(This being said, if you read the biography on the mushers, you will find many heroes and survivors in the group, and, now that I’ve been watching for the past 4 years – well, this is my 5th year (today marks the FIFTH Iditarod Official Restart that I’ve watched), I have collected a top 5 favorites.

My absolute favorite is Lance Mackey –  because he’s an amazing athlete, fierce, loves his family (of humans and dogs), and polite and friendly to fans ~ listed as #2 in Sports Illustrated’s List of Top 25 Toughest Athletes in 2008 (#1 doesn’t make sense to me so I can’t even mention it – but if you meet Lance and take a look at what any one of these Iditarod athletes can do, any one of them could beat the person ranked #1….)

Newton MarshallAnother favorite is Newton Marshall, who is the Jamaican Dog Sled team. (He wasn’t participating in the first Iditarod we attended, but he was at the second).  The Jamaican Bob-Sled team qualified to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, depicted in the movie, Cool Runnings (1993).  I am waiting for Newton’s sequel, “Cold Runnings”, to come out.   (He trained for the 2010 Iditarod with Lance Mackey.)DeeDee Jonrowe

Then, there’s DeeDee Jonrowe – she has the fastest finish time for women, and 14 Top-1o finishes. In 2002, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and (obviously a survivor), she started one of her Iditarod races only 4 weeks after her last chemotherapy treatment.  And, you can always find her in a crowd – she always races in pink.

And, there’s a few I pick just because they are characters – like…Sebastian SchSabastien Schnuellenuelle, who you can tell is a character, just by looking!!  or Sam Deltour, who almost fell off the back of his sled, when he started dancing to our “Go Sa-am, Go Sa-am” as his team went by… Trent Herbst, who is a school teacher and his students made the booties for his team… (too bad – none of these people previously mentioned are competing this year..)  Ramey Smyth (who IS competing this year) who has the BEST EVER picture of him coming in to Nome, with one of his dogs in the sled, because she was tired… Jeff King, who retired and then un-retired, but helped fund the Iditarod from his own winnings when there wasn’t enough money, plus he’s an actual icon in the Iditarod history… Kristy and Anna Berington, twins who compete together, sort of… and I get that this isn’t an image thing – but somehow, after 2 weeks of grueling hardship and freezing cold, manage to be just as pretty when they arrive in Nome as when they left Willow (I’m SORRY! I know that’s not the point, but it still is amazing!!)

Sam DeltourTrent HerbstKristy BeringtonJeff King

I canHank Debruin see that I could go on and on (AND that I have more than 5 favorites), and would eventually name every single musher as “amazing”, “heroic”, and “the one to watch.”  And, even though I picked “favorites”, you can’t help but hope for the best for each of these athletes, and cheer enthusiastically for each team as they pass!  Not everyone has a goal of “winning”. MOST jHugh Neffust have the goal of finishing… THAT  IS an impressive goal! There’s a reason there’s only 66 teams this year! IT IS TOUGH! The Toughest Race on Earth!!

I meant to talk more about the great time we had, but I (surprise, surprise!) got sidetracked with the mushers and teams…so, I’ll talk more about the Iditarod on Wednesday.

By the way, you can track your favorite dog teams on GPS.  (Although, when they started using GPS, one of the mushers had attached his GPS to a plane, and confused everyone when, instead of travelling at the average 8 miles per hour towards Nome, he was going really fast towards Anchorage.)

 

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