Cameras flash and crowds cheer as the divas strut the runway clad in mini-jackets and hot-pink booties. Yet this is no walk on the red carpet. These are working sled dogs parading down Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska, for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
The jackets are for show, but the booties are functional, protecting the paws of dog teams in this grueling 1,049-mile race, which begins March 5 this year and continues for the next two weeks across the snowy Alaskan wilderness to Nome.
Though heading for a vacation in Alaska at this frosty time of year seems counterintuitive, the Iditarod is an awesome spectacle as a modern-day re-creation of the ancient alliance between human and dog against fierce elements.
Highlighting our Amazing Journeys Winter Wonderland tour of Alaska (a vacation for Jewish singles 30s-50s), we will be in Anchorage for the ceremonial start and a lineup of festivities including The Musher’s Ball and the outdoor festival known as The Fur Rondy. Our days leading up to this true extravaganza will be chock full of outdoor adventure including snowmobiling, hiking, Aurora Borealis (AKA The Northern Lights) gazing, and dogsledding ourselves. We’ll be in Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs in the days leading up to the festivals in Anchorage (did I mention the hot springs? Imagine…an oasis of natural hot mineral pools amongst the frozen tundra in the wilderness. Yup – that’ll be us!). Once in Anchorage beginning March 3rd, we’ll partake in all the glamour and pomp surrounding this remarkable event. Its like Super Bowl week…only its in Alaska, and its to celebrate the sport of mushing, not football.
But I digress.
The official restart of the Iditarod is on March 6th in Willow; just a stone’s throw away from Sarah Palin’s house in Wasilla (AJ’s been there!). Spectators can get close to the chute on frozen Willow Lake, or for those wanting an authentic checkpoint experience, one can hire an air taxi day flight or stay at a lodge along the race route.
For those with deep pockets and advance planners, the Idita-Rider program offers the best seat possible for the first 11 miles of Iditarod. Minimum bids start at $500, while $7,500 guarantees a ride in the basket in the sled of your choice.
Though it’s vital transportation for some, visitors will find the sled-dog experience sheer joy. Our Amazing Journeys tour includes several authentic mushing experiences including a visit with Mary Shields–the first woman ever to have finished the Iditarod—and her team of mushing dogs. We’ll also hop aboard a sled and “Hike up!” the call for the dogs as we launched into the winter wonderland (using the word “mush” to a dogsled team is a misnomer. There are actual cadences used for each command of “go”, “stop”, “left” etc)
To those who think dog mushing is cruel, it is not. Not by any stretch of the imagination. These dogs live to run. They are happiest and healthiest when they run. They are born..to run. You just have to meet a mushing dog to see for yourself, but trust me because I have an affinity of love for dogs and I would be the first to share feelings otherwise. These are special dogs, well cared for and some of the happiest breeds in all the planet.
Four time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey of Fairbanks will be searching for his unprecedented fifth consecutive first place finish.
Not just the Iditarod: The Iditarod is the granddaddy, but you can catch a race just about any weekend through winter in Anchorage or Fairbanks.
It’s what Alaskans do.
Its what Amazing Journeys is about to do!