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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Iditarod 2017

Iiiiiiiit's Iditarod time!  My favorite snow day of the year!  Despite some looming pressure at work I took the day off for one of my favorite things -- watching the ceremonial start of the Iditarod in Anchorage-- touted as the Last Great Race on Earth.  I don't know who was more excited to be there, me, or this dog.  I think it was a close call.

Clearly delighted to be running for Sebastian Verngaard of France

For anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of listening to me explain the story of Balto; sled dog teams were the Pony Express of their day up here in Alaska.  The Iditarod trail is a historic game trail in Alaska.  And Balto is a cartoon my niece used to love about a historic and heroic sled dog relay run in 1925 from Nenana to Nome, where teams of dogs ran 674 miles (1085 km) in 5 days in the deep artic winter night to deliver life saving diptheria anti-toxin to in epidemic stricken Nome (which one might call the end of the earth here).  The first Iditarod was in 1973, an event dreamed up by a historical society looking at centennial events.  It has grown beyond that humble beginning, but to me, it's still all about Balto.

The Ceremonial Start in Anchorage is one of my favorite days of the year.  The actual race will start Monday in Fairbanks this year, due to climate change, but regardless of where the snow allows the race to begin, the ceremonial start in Anchorage is a tradition on its own.  Helicopters hover above shooting the scene for big networks, but the best seat is standing along the trail, cheering on the dogs as they go by.  It was -21C on a Saturday afternoon, and I was delighted to be a camera yielding popsicle.

The dogs are a particular type of dog -- not quite what you might expect.  They are wiry, fiesty, and they seem to love to run.  Many run in little jackets, and all of them wear little booties to protect their feet on the many miles of icy terrain.  It can be a bit of a puppy fashion show.

This well dressed team is mushed by Laura Neece of Michigan.


DeeDee Jonrowe and her signature team of neon pink paws need are basically a trademark around here.  They are truly "Pretty in Pink".


These handsome little fellas with the Hawaiian flare have picked up a little swagger from their owner, Girdwood Local Nicholas Petit.  I got to meet him and pet a couple of his dogs last summer at Girdwood's Forest Fair, so I will be cheering them on for sure.


In black tie formals, the lead dogs are in tuxedo black and white for Alaska's own Ketil Reitan.  Fine looking dogs indeed.


And representing McGrath, Alaska, we have Joe Carson's team lighting up the trails in bold colors and a little red white and blue flare.  I loved that each of his dogs names were clearly on display, as Amy in the lead shows.


And I suppose I should show a musher or two -- this is Ketil Reitan.


 And in matching red booties, we have Ray Reddington of Wasilla's team.  They were particularly bouncy going down the trail.


And the award for most enthusiastic/slightly crazy lead dog goes to Martin Buser's lead dog.  That is one determined looking little ball of fur.


 Believe it or not, sometimes the mushers don't make the turns, as evidenced here.  There was more than one tumble around the 90 degree turn.  The dogs are very gracious about stopping for us poor, less coordinated humans.


Here's another team that lost a musher around the bend. I think the lead dog might actually be chuckling.


 If these two fine looking dogs are looking confident, it's because they run for Mitch Seavy, who has won the Iditarod twice, has 14 top 10 finishes, and are expected to be amongst the fastest teams again this year.


Also on team Mitch Seavy, this beautiful looking dog.


More of Mitch Seavy's team...I swear they were posing as they slowed to a trot for my lens.


This happy, fun loving team is running for another Alaska favorite, Kristin Bacon.  They are eager to make their best time!


And running for Richie Deal in Anaik are these gorgeous little dogs.


Also running for Richie Deal, these two look like they have a plan!


These dogs are enthusiastic about running for DeeDee Jonrowe on Willow.


More happy dogs on Nicholas Petit's team, proud in their Hawaiian lays.


This dog of DeeDee's is literally walking on air.  They do say the dogs love to run, and it certainly seems to be so.


 In all black booties, Mark Selland's team looks toned and ready to roll.


Check out the expression on one of Rick Casillo's dogs face.  I suspect he's the class clown.


This is Jodi Bailey's team -- they came around the corner like lightning and were just loving the excitement of the day.


Jeff King and his team come down the stretch..his lead dogs might be arguing about who just stepped on whose bootie!


Another team to watch -- this is Dallas Seavy of Willow Alaska.  He and his team have won 4 of the last 5 Iditarods.  It's an amazing, challenging, incredible journey.  Anything can happen.  I'll be cheering for them all -- it's truly amazing, and I can only imagine the beauty of 10 days and nights in the open arctic.  Best of luck to all who take part in the Last Great Race on Earth!!


Oh, and P.S.  Alaskans bring their own dogs to the races, because they love it just as much as the people.  Even the littlest amongst us dreams of being a champion :)