Friday, November 2, 2018

Coming to Iditarod and want to Volunteer?

Volunteering can be one of the most fun and rewarding ways of watching and participating in the Last Great Race. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Iditarod. Sure, a race doesn't happen without the dog teams and mushers, but to be truly successful the race must have bodies supporting the teams and logistics. Since the earliest days of the race, volunteers have played a pivotal role in insuring the safety and smooth sailing of the Iditarod.

Signing up to volunteer is relatively simple. It's deciding what to sign up for that can be a challenge. Many times volunteers are eager to try anything and everything without thinking of the time and energy each one may or may not take. In this blog we'll look at each option and explain how one becomes a member of that team and if one should apply.

Volunteering is something I have done with the Iditarod since 2004. My grandparents volunteered every year from the time they moved to Anchorage in the mid to late seventies. My grandmother helped check teams into the checkpoint of McGrath one year and was hooked. For well over 30 Iditarods my Grandma and Grandpa over saw a large section of the Anchorage trail for the Ceremonial Start. In the early days this meant they were crowd control, traffic control, and trail upkeep. In 2008 I took over for them and currently head up the crew in the same area my grandparents always have. I've also worked at the Anchorage HQ during the race when they allowed volunteers to man the merchandise tables.

It's hard for me to believe that anyone can be a one and done volunteer. The friendships made are priceless and I love a lot of fellow Idita-Volunteers dearly. Memories made while supporting the Iditarod Sled Dog Race are well worth the price of admission!

All volunteers must be 18 years or older, good with communication, and have a positive attitude. Some volunteer opportunities require physical fitness in order to lift, run, walk, control dogs, etc. Some require computer skills. Still others require lots of work with very little sleep. And of course most of them require standing out in the cold for long periods of time.


There are several places once can volunteer. Anchorage is the easiest location to get to and get around. Most volunteers who are new start in Anchorage and "work their way up" to the harder to reach areas. Anchorage Volunteers are needed several weeks before race start through to the end of Iditarod and a little beyond. Volunteers for Willow are needed on race day only with shifts starting very early in the morning and going through early evening. The most remote locations are, of course, in the checkpoints along the trail. This is also one of the most demanding/challenging of all of the volunteer positions and there are quite a few hoops to jump through to snag one of these coveted positions. Nome is the last major spot one can volunteer during the race. Nome works much like Anchorage in that it has several areas that need people, but the main ones focus on the finish chute.

Anchorage Opportunities

Volunteer opportunities begin in late January with helping with packing and shipping the hundreds of supplies needed to pull a race of this magnitude off. It begins with filling bottles with ointment. This is used by mushers, vets, etc to take care of the dogs' feet. It keeps the pads from cracking in the dry air, as well as deals with any blisters that might form (just like when we hike or run, foot care for dogs are essential). Through out February there are several opportunities in the warehouses to pack up drop bags, straw, and other essentials needing to be shipped out ahead of the race to the checkpoints along the trail.

Everything moves into the Lakefront Hotel around Feb 21 and continues through mid-March.

Volunteer Registration begins Feb 21, and runs through March 8. This is where Volunteers will pick up their credentials. Volunteers are given a hat, badge, and any other identifying paraphernalia for the task they've been assigned. Depending on the day and time this can be a very hectic job. It's located in a small room that is bustling with activity, so much talking, sometimes it can be overwhelming even for those just coming to sign in. This is not a physically taxing job, but it can be exhausting. Keeping a cool head, and a positive attitude is key.

Call Center Volunteers are what the old Comms volunteers were. They answer calls from all over the world to help with all sorts of questions from issues with Insider and the Iditarod website, to questions about the race, the mushers, the sport, etc. If you grew up following the race, these are the people we used to have to call to get updates about our favorite musher back before the lovely invention of the Internet and the GPS trackers. Some of my FAVORITE volunteers work in this area. This is another job that does not require physicality, and shifts run about 4 hours long (though I believe you can extend for longer should you choose). Some days can be fairly slow (especially after the champion comes into Nome), but the week leading up to and the week of the race is sure to be exciting. Most of the race runs in the evening/late night hours so if you're wanting to watch the action unfold in real time via comms, take the late shifts. Training takes place well before the official start of this campaign so that volunteers are confident in their abilities.

Race Communications is the magic behind those lovely musher stat boards we constantly refresh waiting for official check in and check out times throughout the race. Volunteers must have a good grasp of computer programs such as Microsoft Office, especially outlook and word. Race communications are needed both in Anchorage and out on the trail. Anchorage volunteers communicate with the checkpoints to get information in a timely manner to prepare for press releases and other official publications. Training happens a week before the race as well as setting up computers and other equipment. While not a physically demanding job, shifts are 6 hours long and run 24 hours a day and can be stressful when bad connections out on the trail make for getting information difficult. Must be motivated and a team player. Action on the trail typically happens late at night and early morning so keep that in mind if you want to be busy.

Musher's Banquet there are limited volunteer opportunities available, but this might be a good way to attend the banquet without the price tag. Registration shows "hostesses" as the position, and I honestly am unsure of what that job entails, though my assumption is getting guests to their seats and explaining how the silent auction and outcry auction will go. In years past they had volunteers work a merchandise table, but I do not believe that is an option these days. These volunteer positions are most likely one long shift where you will be mostly on your feet, so keep that in mind.

Musher Parking is an early morning gig where you help get teams set up and ready in the staging area in downtown Anchorage. Teams start showing up at 5:00am (no, thank you). You will help check teams in and direct them where they should park. Shift ends at 9am - one hour before go time. This can actually be a lot of fun, but know that you are dealing with mushers and at early morning hours and there's stress so sometimes they can be a little less than stellar. We're all human, just be patient and have a positive attitude and you should be fine. Mushers love their volunteers, but sometimes forget their manners (probably why they all prefer dogs to people?). It will be dark, cold, probably slippery. You will be moving around a lot. While not the most physically demanding job you could have on Saturday Morning, you definitely want to be able to move and work hard... and stay warm!

Ceremonial Start Security takes place downtown near the chute and musher set up. This is a one day gig, on the first Saturday of March. The role is pretty self explanatory, you keep people that don't belong out of the staging area and chute. You must be able to stand cold temps and annoying people for the majority of the day until the last team has left the staging area/chute. Safety of the mushers and the dogs are the top priority of all volunteers, and this is an important one. Downtown can get VERY cold, especially on windy mornings. Feet especially get cold standing on the snow and ice. We'll talk more about how to dress in an upcoming blog post. There is also need for security at the end of the trail at the BLM.

VIP Liaisons and Iditarider Volunteers are the babysitters. Dignitaries, special people, and Iditariders all need people to move them around and get them where they need to be. This takes place mainly at the Staging Area/Chute... but also at the BLM (for Iditariders).

Dog-Handlers may sound like an odd one considering most mushers have handlers/teams and so why would Iditarod be providing more? The simple fact is 14-16 charged up dogs is a lot for ANYONE to handle. Add the commotion of all of the other teams, the crowds, and cameras, and you're looking at potential chaos. Dog handlers are folks physically fit enough to hold onto the team and direct it through the staging area up to the chute. Using ropes clipped on to the gangline of the team, handlers are placed along the team on either side and walk-run along the team while the musher rides on the back of the sled holding down the brake. You may also want to practice your running on snow and ice skills, I've seen many handlers take a tumble over the years. Handlers MUST ATTEND A DOG HANDLER CLASS and get their Dog Handler card. If you do not get that credential you CANNOT be a dog handler. You MUST BE PHYSICALLY FIT. This is not something that everyone can or should do. Not only is your safety a concern, but the dogs' safety.

Trail Guard is my favorite job (and the one I know bestest!) From 4th Avenue to the BLM, Iditarod posts volunteers along the trail to make sure teams and pedestrians/viewers do not tangle. You're also on animal duty, not just moose but dogs and other animals that could cause problems. Depending on where you are stationed you could be in with a group of people, or be the only one there. Some of the busier parts of the trail have established groups who come back year after year. The Trail Guard coordinator does is best to get you in the area you want. Because the Ceremonial Start is a little more laid back, volunteers are allowed to take photos and high five mushers along with the crowd - so long as the crowd control is, in fact, under control. Trail Guards begin about 9:00am at the latest and are done when the last team is through their section of trail. Teams leave the chute in two minute intervals, so you can do math to get a good idea of when your turn should be over. This is not an overly demanding job, and in some parts of the trail you can bring a chair and sit. There is an optional training for all new volunteers, but really they do not go over what you need to do with this. Not to worry as the coordinator does a very good job of communicating many times leading up to race day, and he sweeps the trail ahead of the start to check in with all of his people. Keep people, pets, and kids off the trail when a team goes by and really the job is a breeze.

Willow Opportunities

Many of the same jobs for the ceremonial start are available for the ReStart in Willow. A few of the jobs are a little different, though. So let's go through them quickly. Volunteers have jobs to do and are discouraged from playing "fan" or "photographer". Asking for autographs or photos while on duty is a major no-no.

Set Up begins VERY early, and takes place on Willow Lake. Unloading the trucks, setting up the fencing, etc. There are opportunities both late on Saturday and early Sunday morning. Probably should be fit enough to lift and carry and walk distances.

Security works the same as in Anchorage, don't let unauthorized people in the staging area. This can be very difficult because a lot of people mingle around the area and there are only plastic fencing in place where as there's wooden fencing in Anchorage. There's also a lot of folks trying to slip in as in year's past it wasn't as big a security issue.

Musher Parking/Staging Area just like Anchorage mushers and teams need help finding where to go and park. Stress is even higher because this is the real deal, but teams show up way before the 2pm start. They also don't start showing in earnest until about 10am, so they aren't having to be functional around people quite so early. Some DO show before 8am, but for the most part they are all well coffee-d up by the time you deal with them. (Most mushers are still happy go lucky and don't get into race mode until about 40 minutes before they have to be in the chute.

The chute also needs volunteers, but that is typically given to volunteers with a lot of experience and are hand picked by the coordinator. Considering all that happens in the chute and it's the official start of the race, it makes sense that they only want to deal with experience, not newbies.

Dog Handlers are once again needed to help teams get through the staging area and into the chute. If you think they're charged up for the Anchorage Start... it's like they KNOW that this is the REAL DEAL and they're even more charged in Willow.

Trail Guards line portions of the chute as well as out on every road crossing. Unlike trail guards in Anchorage, they are all business. No photography, video, or fan stuff while on duty. No high fives. You can cheer on the teams (all of them) but do not get in the way and don't let anyone else get in the way, either.

Traffic Control/Parking is further out, and you may get shifted to when the race is happening, but this is another important cog. There's only one highway in and out of Willow and it passes through where Iditarod has its parking. Parking is across the high way from the "entrance" of the race chute. Stopping both foot and vehicle traffic is key. Lots of standing. Lots of awareness. It can be cold.

Tear Down happens after the last team is out of the chute on their way to Nome. Take down starts immediately. The fencing comes down and is rolled up, the trucks are packed up. You might as well help because the drive back to Anchorage is a long one. Traffic gets backed up quickly and it's slow going most of the way back.

On the Trail Opportunities

This is the most "complicated" of volunteers. There are far more requirements for volunteers out on the trail. First and foremost you MUST BE A MEMBER OF THE ITC TO APPLY. Anyone can join the ITC, there are several tiers with more and more perks. You only need to be a member at some level. You must be 18 or older. You must be in good enough physical condition to withstand extreme cold, long hours, lifting drop bags, handling dogs, etc.

Checkpoint volunteers do a little bit of everything, they check teams in and out. They assist where needed. Most checkpoints have sparse living conditions and amenities. You have to have a lot of time to volunteer as some checkpoints are open up to 16 days. Volunteers are flown into the checkpoint with the Iditarod Airforce, which means small bush planes. This is definitely an adventure. You will be "roughing it". Most volunteers are from the local areas, and others are return volunteers. It's not likely that a rookie volunteer will find themselves out on the trail, but you never know. There's no harm in applying and getting you name in the running for future races, too.

Trail Comms is the other half of the Comms in Anchorage. These are the people who contact comms with any changes in the checkpoint. From teams coming in and going out, to teams scratching, to dogs having to return home. Long hours, cramped spaces. Not as cushy as in Anchorage, but a lot of fun.

Veterinarian Assistants are chosen by the lead vet, however you can always apply. You MUST be trained to apply for this position. To get your name on the list, you choose "Returned Dogs" as your choice of area to volunteer. You should also contact the Iditarod directly for all information on how to be part of the Vet team.

Nome Opportunities

Nome works a lot like Anchorage, and some of the activity does transfer from the Lakefront to Nome as the race makes its way up the coast. Lodging is in high demand for Nome, so if you are planning to volunteer in Nome SECURE LODGING FIRST! Iditarod does NOT have the ability to offer housing to volunteers.

Office Help is a round the clock gig. You're part receptionist, part comms, part musher babysitter as teams come off the trail, part go-fer. You do a little bit of everything, but you get to stay in a nice warm building where all the action is.

Dog Lot Security is just outside of where the office help hang out. A little colder, security is top priority. Keeping people out and dogs in is key. It's pretty easy, but you are outside in the cold. Another round the clock job shifts are key, and are dependent on how many volunteers sign up for the duty.

Chute Set Up, if you're planning to be in Nome the weekend before the finish you can possibly sign up to lend a hand in setting up the chute. Until teams come through the chute is available for people to walk up to the burled arch with no problem, but setting the snow up on front street and then putting up fencing takes time.

Chute and Street Security as teams come in - especially the Champion - crowd control is key. Like the ReStart, this is an all business position and the fan stuff has to be put away while on duty.

Musher Banquet happens the weekend after the Champion comes in - and typically when most of the teams are already in. Set up volunteers are much needed as are those that work the banquet. This is where the musher awards are given and all finishers are celebrated. It's a great party and the food always looks lovely. It is a big deal in Nome, and it always "sells out".

End of Race Tear Down happens a day or two after the last team comes in (or after the Banquet depending on which happens last). If you're still around, lend a hand. It's a lot like after Christmas when the tree has to come down. Kinda sad, but so thankful for the memories.


All volunteers get credential with lanyard. Depending on what type of volunteer position you hold, you also get an arm band or other essential markers to show that you are "official". All volunteers also get a hat with "volunteer" embroidered on the back. The hat has the year's logo on the front. It's the same one that fans can purchase, but they do not say "volunteer".

If you become an ITC member, you also get a pin or patch (your choice) a race guide, and depending on which level of membership you have you may get other items such as a race DVD and subscription to Iditarod Insider.

Important Links

You can read up more on the volunteering by going to the Iditarod's page detailing the requirements.
To apply for the Anchorage/Willow and Trail opportunities, click here.
And if you're wanting to sign up for stuff in Nome, click here.
Don't forget to become an ITC member if you want to go out on the trail.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (Oct 29)

Not going to lie, this week I'm kinda copping out. It's been a rough week. I wasn't really paying attention to social media for mushing tidbits like I wanted. Just didn't have it in me... but here are a few things I caught.

Q&A: After five years in Alaska, Sweet Briar grad Alison Lifka gets ready for Iditarod

Saturday, October 27, 2018

So you're coming, how do you get to Iditarod?

Alright, so you've decided that you're going to do it. You're actually coming to Alaska for the Iditarod. But how are you getting here and where are you going to stay? We'll focus on getting to Anchorage/The Start in this post and will do Nome separately. If you're worried about the Fairbanks ReStart, we'll do that separately too so that it is only relevant in for sure Fairbanks years (hopefully never, but it's up to Mother Nature for that).

I am in no way a travel planner or expert, most of my opinions come from my experiences or tips I've gotten from others on the subject. I do not get a kick back or perks


While it is possible to drive to Alaska, and the Al-Can Highway is an amazing adventure (I do NOT recommend driving it in a uhaul with two other people in the cab), it's not recommended. So your best option is definitely to fly. Anchorage has one airport (not counting the small plane airport, and other air strips). The Ted Stevens International Airport services flights from all major domestic airlines - but not all year. Domestic airlines that fly to Anchorage in winter are as follows: Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines. International flights seem to be a little trickier, I can't seem to find any that come through in March - so your best bet might actually be to fly to a major hub in the United States and transfer to a domestic flight from there to Anchorage.

Following guidelines by the "professionals" for choosing an airline is a great start, but they rarely take into consideration air MILES. Book with miles as soon as you can. The more searches happening for a specific time frame, the quicker the cost for miles goes up.

Typically Alaska Air is going to be your cheaper bet. Delta gives AK Air a run for their money, but it's been my experience that while airfare may look more expensive looking at AK Air, they don't have hidden fees. You are still able to choose your seat, your checked bag fees are not outrageous, etc. So when you look to book definitely take that into consideration. They also have a lot of great in flight features (and I am a huge fan of their snack packs). I am very biased, though. I love Alaska Air, and I haven't flown any other major carriers since 2007 (I have flown South West and Jet Blue and honestly I think I'd rather pay the extra and fly AKAir, and I'm not independently wealthy). There's a reason they're #1 in the game.

Also note that most of your "American Airline" flights actually transfer in Seattle to an Alaska Airlines flight. They are "partner" airlines and miles should be transferable. Delta is no longer partnered with Alaska Airlines, so your miles are not transferable. In my own experience I'd avoid United and American at all costs. Horrible customer service and a lot of delays and cancellations.

Ground Transportation

With Anchorage being the major hub for all of Alaska, there are plenty of options for transportation in and around the city. They have a fairly decent public transportation system with the People Mover, which are buses that service all over the city and run right by the major spots for the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod. Several cab companies are available, as are the popular ride sharing apps. Walking can also be an option - but it can be chilly, and in a new city do you really want to hope you don't get lost?

The People Mover runs seven days a week with Monday - Friday starting at 6am and ending at 10pm, Saturdays from 8am to 8pm, and Sundays from 8am to 6pm (subject to change). Most routes have a bus stopping every 15 minutes at any given bus stop. They have an app that you can download to track your particular route, purchase bus fare, and check schedules. Fares begin at $2.00 a ride or $5.00 for a day pass. If you're planning to use this system for more than 6 days, there is an option to purchase a week pass for $26. The week pass must be used consecutively, so price it out accordingly when budgeting. If you are 60 and over, or you have a child aged 5 years to 17 years old, you can get what is called a Half Pass, which just means your fair is half the cost of the regular fare. You must have proof of age with you when you board. You must also complete an application ahead of time which you can find on their website.

For cabs there are two major players in Anchorage. There's AK Checker Cab, whose cars are orange with a black and white checkered strip on the sides. Base fare is $2.75, with $2.50 per mile after that. Their phone number is 907-644-4444. They have cabs running all hours day and night, every day of the year. The other is Alaska (or Anchorage) Yellow Dispatch, which you can guess is a bright yellow cab. Base fare is $2.75, with $2.50 per mile. Phone number is 222-2222. Neither cab company gets stellar reviews, and having working with both of them a LOT when I worked in Anchorage I can definitely say they're both going to be hit or miss as for quality. I've never ridden with Checker Cab, but Yellow Cab drivers typically take you the longest way possible. Both cabs charge by the cab, not by the rider (in other parts of Alaska it's per person, be aware).

Uber runs in Anchorage, and can range from 10 - 30 dollars (or more) depending on how far you have to go. I know in the states for the same distance/time it's less, but, welcome to Alaska. Lyft, also, runs in Anchorage and the fares are the same as Uber. Both services are wonderful IMO, but it's my understanding that there are more Uber drivers in Anchorage than Lyft. I typically have my own vehicle, so my experiences with either company are not in Anchorage but are outside of Alaska (I prefer Lyft).

Speaking of driving your own car, there is always the option of rental cars. All major rental car companies operate in Anchorage. I won't go through the list as they're fairly standard. You can typically get a good deal through Expedia, Orbitz, or other travel sites... or by contacting the local rental car offices directly.


Anchorage is one of the major hubs for tourism so there are a lot of lodging options. Hotels range from Hostel to Five Star. There are many great options for every budget and I'll highlight the ones that make the most sense for Iditarod and I'll warn you about the ones to stay away from no matter what the savings are. These are, again, my own opinions and experiences unless otherwise noted. I do not get any perks for recommendations, and I am not trying to be malicious when I state which hotels I would avoid at all cost.

The Lakefront Anchorage - located just minutes from the airport and right on one of the lakes used for float and ski plane landings, the Lakefront is also the official hotel of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Located on Spenard Road it may seem like not the best location, but for Iditarod fans it's prime real estate. The hotel bustles with activity for three weeks before the race begins and while it goes on. It houses volunteer registration, Race Communications, Race Merchandise, and is home to out of town mushers and their handlers as well as many of the volunteers. During the race it's also the drop off location for dogs returning from the trail hang out at the hotel waiting for transport home (handlers are typically on hand to bring the dogs home). This hotel is on the pricier end mainly due to the fact that it IS the official hotel and rooms are at a premium. However, the proximity to the airport, Iditarod dedicated shuttles, and all the official activity make it almost a bargain. There is a restaurant and bar on property (GREAT food), and so much people watching! Rooms right now look to be averaging $120 a night. Closer to Iditarod there seem to be specials of $99 rooms, but that's based solely on availability.

Alex Hotel & Suites - Just down the road from Lakefront is the cheaper option of Alex hotel. It is within walking distance to the Iditarod official hotel, though sidewalks aren't always well maintained and can be slippery. It's within walking distance of several restaurants, including the famed Gwennie's, and offers a complimentary continental breakfast. Rooms look to average around $100 a night. Watch for specials, they can cut down on the price significantly.

Courtyard Anchorage Airport - Run by Marriott, the Courtyard Anchorage Airport is also within walking distance of the Lakefront (it's practically across the street). Several mushers have been known to stay in this hotel, so you're still within the action.  There are no dining options in this hotel, but it is within walking distance of several places to eat as well as allows for dining delivery. Average rate looks to be about $115, but you can snag a pretty good deal if you're willing to book a room with no refund available should you cancel. You can also use Marriott points.

If you're more concerned about being closer to the downtown action for the Ceremonial Start (and Fur Rondy events), then there are several options within walking distance of 4th and D.

The Hilton Anchorage - is just one street down from the start, in fact you'll probably exit your hotel to find dog teams setting up for the race. The Hilton also offers great views of Anchorage, the Inlet, and the mountains. The Hilton holds a bar and a cafe inside, but is within walking distance of some great places to eat as well. This is a higher end hotel with rates starting around $140 a night during Fur Rondy/Iditarod. If you're a Hilton member, you may be able to luck out on deals for extra points or discounts.

Aviator Hotel Anchorage - If I had to stay downtown for the Start of the Iditarod, this is probably the place I'd stay. While the entrance is located on 3rd Avenue, they have many rooms that look out onto 4th Avenue RIGHT. WHERE. THE. ACTION. IS. They even have Iditarod packages specifically for the rooms that give the best view. In 2018 the rate was $148 a night. If you can't swing that, you can book a room that does not overlook 4th avenue for much less. Both packages come with breakfast for two, and the 4th avenue package also gives you two tickets to a VIP Start Party! Wow! If I wasn't a volunteer working the trail that day I might be booking one up myself!

Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa - A little further away from the starting line is the Sheraton on 6th avenue. The hotel is close to where the teams turn off of 4th avenue onto Cordova. That area of the trail is a great spot to watch the teams go by, watch teams make the sharp corner is exciting and fun and the barricade is loosened more there. The price tag is the biggest one of all the hotels I've recommended so far, but it's part of Marriott so if you have points it might be worth it. The Sheraton has spa amenaties on site, as well as two restaurants and a starbucks. Rates average around $160 a night.

Comfort Inn Ship Creek - Futher out of the way on Ship Creek is the Comfort Inn. The price is much better here, you're close to the Ulu Factory and it's not too terribly far for a walk to downtown Anchorage (if I can make the walk, anyone can). This hotel sits across from the Anchorage Railroad depot, but there shouldn't be too much noise in March. A few mushing teams typically stay here (Comfort Inn has sponsored SPKennel in the past, for example). It's a very nice hotel, and bonus you can bring your pets ($15 charge per pet, up to three pets)! Average rate starts at $95. It's a bargain. No restaurant on site, but there are many within walking distance and you can always uber it OR you can order in.

The Westmark Hotel and The Hotel Captain Cook are also a little out of the way and a little spendy, but if you're looking for a very nice stay either one of those could do the trick.

If you're willing to drive/ride/bus to Downtown or you're planning on watching the Ceremonial Start along the trail but not necessarily downtown you can typically get a better deal.

Inlet Tower Hotel & Suites - ETA: I can't believe I forgot about the Inlet Tower. This hotel hosts several top name mushers, so dog trucks can be seen from the parking lot. They also sponsor meet and greets with their biggest named guests - typically Jeff King and Mitch Seavey who have seven Iditarod championships between them. Rooms start around $109 a night, which is a sweet deal. You'll need to have transportation to the start of the Iditarod, but it could be worth it if you get to "stalk" some mushers. They do have a pub onsite as well as a coffee shop.

Comfort Inn Midtown - Off of International Airport Way, it's not far to drive or ride to anywhere you want to watch the start from. Rooms average around $100 a night, and it's close by many different restaurants.

SpringHill Suites at University Lake - My choice for hotels when I come up for Iditarod is this hotel. It recently changed hands, however, and so it's a little pricier than in years past (boo) but it's within walking distance of where I trail guard for the Ceremonial Start, which is one of the most popular places to watch from that isn't downtown. Rooms are now going for about $130 a night, and come with free continental breakfast. It's not within walking distance of many places to eat, but it does allow for food delivery.

Hotels to Avoid

Please note that I do not do this maliciously. I have nothing against the employees or owners. Just my experience, the experience of others, and... well... news and police reports.

Mush Inn Motel - Yeah, the name is PERFECT for the Iditarod, but do not be fooled. Just looking at the building could make you contract some sort of parasite. This is a well known establishment that has rooms you can rent by the hour if you get my meaning. I mean, if that's your thing, then go for it I suppose, but not if you're wanting a good night sleep. The TripAdvisor reviews back me up - and are actually pretty entertaining to read should you be looking for a few laughs.

Puffin Inn - I have friends that swear by this hotel, but guys they have another shooting or knifing in the parking lot every other night it seems. Just not a very safe place. Another one that has a lot of ladies of the night and drugs going on. Of the hotels that I say not to use, this one is probably the one I worry about least, but if you DO stay at the Puffin, don't let me know. The TripAdvisor reviews are all over the map, but most agree that this isn't the best option.

Black Angus Inn - The midtown version of the Mush Inn. So much crime here, how do they even stay open?! Bed bugs are reported, and I bet those aren't the only infestation you'd get. There are bars on the outside of the windows, my guess is to make the repeat offender criminals feel at home. TripAdvisor reviews are terrifying for this one. Don't book there. Just, don't.

There are many other hotel options in Anchorage. I went with ones that make most sense for getting to the Iditarod events. I did not include Wasilla, Big Lake, or Willow. I may look into those for the ReStart blog I plan to write, but really with all the shuttle and bus options (that I will address for the ReStart later) I'd recommend staying in Anchorage and busing up the road if need be.

Have a favorite hotel I didn't put on my list - or one that should be on the AVOID list? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (Oct 21)

Yet another week has passed, and fewer and fewer leaves remain on the trees. Snow has been reported in the interior and more northern parts of Alaska. Dryland races - which seem to be more mud than dry land - are winding down. Folks are getting snow tires on their vehicles. Some swear they can smell snow in the air. Me? I'm just wishing this rain would turn to snow so I can see the moose while driving at night. Right now they just pop out of the dark and by the time they're seen it's too late. Not fun!

If you're looking ahead to Iditarod and possibly traveling from wherever you are to the start (or finish) of the Last Great Race's 47th installment - you may find my new series "IditaGetAway" to your liking. Shameless plug, I know, but I started it this week so I'm going to say that it counts as mushing news. Hoping to have the series continue through at least December - there's so much info to discuss! Fingers crossed I can stay organized and motivated. If you have any questions, tips, or suggestions for the series let me know, I want to hit as many topics within the subject as possible!

One of Alaska's premier sled dog photographers, Laurent Dick, shared a photo this week on facebook showing Father-Son mushing duo Ketil & Martin Reitan running his team on snow outside of Kaktovik. They are the only mushers to mush HOME from Iditarod (not counting teams that live in Nome), it takes them a month to return via dog sled. Adventurers the both of them, they are signed up to run the 2019 Yukon Quest.

So, like I said, it's been pretty wet this October... all over Alaska. Iditarod musher Cindy Abbott shared a photo from training this week where it looks like everyone should've been wearing swimming wear! I guess she can chalk this up as some open water training with the dogs, but dang if it isn't nasty wet out on the trails. Cindy also shared a look at what the pups eat for snacks out on the trail. Salmon that goes for a pretty penny in the states (and even here in Alaska) is chopped up for a quick and healthy snack while dogs are training (and racing). Pretty crazy, eh?

Mitch Seavey broke the golden rule of picking favorites and shared a photo and a bit of a brag on one of his up and coming super stars named Echo. This dog must be special if Mitch takes the time to give him a shout out on social media!

Are you a teacher who uses the Iditarod Education program in your classroom? Ever wonder what it takes to be the "teacher on the trail" or where the Iditarod gets its curriculum ideas from?! Well, they're looking for their next Teacher for the 2020 Iditarod - Applications are due Dec 1. Hurry up and apply.

Dennis Kananowicz - Outlaw Dog Racing - shared some photos of training and the pros/cons of this fall's weather. Looks like they had a semi-decent day weather wise.

Another musher who was sure they were done with long distance mushing announced Friday that he was wrong. Charley Bejna is once again signed up for Iditarod! Charley made the following statement on his social media page:
"Even though I said I wasn’t going to sign up for another Iditarod, today Brown and I took a ride to headquarters to sign up for the 2019 Iditarod. It would be hard to not compete in the race as I enjoy working with my dogs and traveling across the state to Nome. Everything we do in life is a challenge and this is definitely a big one for me, especially with my diabetes. I will continue to raise awareness for diabetes as it’s a disease that is affecting myself and others on a daily basis. I will also be having a (CGM) continuous glucose monitor that will help me control my blood sugars along the race. I’m very excited to try this and see how it does in the extreme conditions. Thank you to all the sponsors, new sponsors and the support that everyone gives to the dogs and myself."
Brett Bruggenan also signed up to run next year's Iditarod, bringing the total teams signed up for Iditarod 2019 to 38 with just a month and half left before registration closes.

Willow Dog Mushing Association hosted a vaccine clinic for anyone needing to get their pets updated on the rabies vaccine (cats and dogs). Mary Helwig shared this humorous story about one of her dogs that was not so eager to be stuck with a needle.

The Berington Twins - Kristy & Anna - and the dogs of Seeing Double Kennels are stars of a short movie titled Sixty-Three Dog Night. Showing why girls rock, Anna and Kristy share their love for their dogs and their sport - and how Female Mushers are a cut above the rest. Girls kick butt!

Jessi Downey's kennel, Aimaagvik (Inupiaq word for "Home") Kennel, shared a few photos this week of their pups having fun while the musher was away. Happy, healthy dogs is what we like to see!

I get asked about podcasts to listen to - this one is kind of fun. One of Iditarod's former teachers on the trail has come up with a podcast that is run by herself and her students. Each episode is an interview with a different person involved in mushing/the Iditarod.

The UP200 has opened its registration. They announced the first two teams signed up, and reminded mushers looking at sign ups that they have a chance to win part of their entry fee back if they sign up by November 1.

Gotta love musher humor. This photo coming from a team in New Hampshire.

Matt Hall shared a little bit about sled dog foot care and the costs associated with making sure all of the dogs' feet are well cared for and bootied.

Rob Cooke has been on the trail with his team daily, and they've encountered some semi frozen water that the dogs are learning to avoid or at least listen to their musher when he tells them not to run over it.

And Quince Mountain shared some video today of Blair Braverman - who will run her rookie Iditarod this coming March. The team still running on their trails at home, not yet on their way to Alaska to train for the winter. Most teams will continue to train with ATVs until December - or whenever a lot of snow packs the trails and it is safe to run with traditional sleds.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

So you want to come to the Iditarod...

Kelly Maxiner celebrates during the Ceremonial Start of Iditarod 46.
March 3, 2018. Anchorage, AK.
For many a mushing fan, attending any part of the Iditarod is a bucket list item. The cost of travel, plus the unknown of what to expect detours a lot of fans from ever making the trek. So often when thinking of Iditarod people think of the cold, icy, remote parts of the trail that seem impossible to reach. While the vast majority of the race is like that, the Ceremonial and Official Starts are much more accessible, and close to the largest travel hub in the state.

In the coming weeks I'll give off tips, tricks, and answer frequently asked questions I've gotten over the years on how best to plan and prepare for a trip to the Last Great Race on Earth. So often, for me, it's hard to come up with answers because my experience is not one of travel and care - I've lived in Alaska my entire life. I have routines and being born and raised here I am used to the weather, the lack of sunlight, and other concerns "outsiders" typically have. I've reached out to others who have traveled to this great state for this race, and will share their tips along with my own.

All recommendations come without any kick back to myself or anyone else. I am not giving advice as a way to financially gain or get any sort of perks for sending anyone their way. All opinions are my own unless stated otherwise, and I can only go by what I have researched or experienced first hand.

When to come

This is the million dollar question. While the race runs about 2 weeks from start to finish, champion to red lantern, most fans cannot take off that kind of time, so the question becomes - when do you want to come and what do you want to see?

The start of the Iditarod is the first weekend of March - every year. It's tradition and there's no way they're going to change it any time soon. The entire mushing season in Alaska keeps the Iditarod tradition in mind when they schedule their races. The Ceremonial Start is Saturday and begins at 10am. Teams leave from the chute on 4th Avenue and D in Anchorage, AK and run roughly 11 miles through Anchorage to end at Campbell Airstrip where they load up the teams and head up the road to Willow, Alaska to prepare for the Re-Start (also called the official start). I plan on doing a blog post about the Ceremonial Start later on in this series, so for now we'll just work with the time and date.

Like most other sled dog races, the Iditarod has a staggered start. Each team leaves in bib draw order in two-minute intervals. The first musher out of the chute is typically the Jr Iditarod champion (Jr Iditarod takes place the weekend before Iditarod) and is carrying the Honorary Musher (or if that person was awarded the honor posthumously then a member of their family rides). They get Bib #1, so all racing teams get bib numbers 2 and up. Depending on how many teams sign up, you're looking at 2+ hours of watching teams take off in a celebration of pure Alaskan tradition.

But let's back up a couple of days. Before the ceremonial start, the mushers come together for a Musher's Banquet. Thursday before race weekend at 6pm the Dena'ina Center is filled with music, food, and lots of alcohol. This is where the mushers will thank their sponsors and draw their bib numbers. Their official media photos are taken for the Anchorage Daily News and They eat food and mingle. There is a silent auction as well as an outcry auction. And the best part? Fans can be a part of the action! As of 2018, autographs are no longer allowed during the banquet, however there is a Musher Meet and Greet prior to the banquet which begins at 4pm. Iditarod does not show a Meet and Greet on this year's calendar events, but when asked they would not confirm that it would or wouldn't be happening in 2019. All mushers must be in attendance at both the Meet and Greet as well as the Banquet. Both the Meet and Greet and Banquet are ticketed events, with the Meet and Greet being included with Banquet admission. Tickets go on sale by January.

In between Thursday's official events, and Saturday's Ceremonial start is Friday's "freebie day". This is a day that many mushers's sponsors host meet and greets with the mushers they support. Inlet Towers typically holds a meet and greet for Mitch Seavey and Jeff King. Comfort Inn/Matson host one with Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore. Other meet and greets also happen. Most of these are not known about until the last minute unless you know where to look, or are on musher newsletter/emails/etc. A lot of mushers stay at the official hotel The Lakefront, and there are several book signings typically planned with different authors and mushers. If you have a few hours to kill you can hang out around the lobby and talk with other fans, eat food at one of two restaurants on property, or just people watch. There's also the official swag tables, and the registration desk for volunteers. (I'll have another blog about volunteer opportunities.)

Sunday is when the real race begins. The Re-Start takes place on the lake in Willow, Alaska. That's about a three hour drive from Anchorage - but don't worry! There are lots of options to get you there if you don't want to make the drive. I know I sound like a broken record, but there will be a blog in the coming weeks to give you a look at some ways to get there. The Re-Start is the official start of the Iditarod. It's what all of the mushers have waited for all year. For the rookies, it's the day they've dreamt about for years - some of them their entire lives. The teams take off starting with Bib #2 (remember earlier when I said Bib #1 was for the honorary musher? they only run in the Ceremonial Start), and leave in two-minute intervals. This will be made up later when teams take their mandatory rest along the trail. Teams hit the lake to start getting ready as early as 8:30am (maybe earlier, I never get there that soon). Spectators are allowed to walk around the chute that is "barricaded" by that lovely orange plastic fencing. You're able to take pictures, talk with the mushers and handlers, and see all the dogs. Most mushers don't get too chatty as they are in race mode, but there's a buzz like no other on race day. Spectators then line the chute on both sides all the way across the ice and into the woods. It continues for miles. It's a sporting tailgating party, a must do.

For the next 10 days the race is run through Alaska's rugged and most beautiful terrain. There are ways to get out onto the trail and watch teams come into different checkpoints. This is expensive, and I'll leave you to decide if you want to add it to your itinerary - there will be a blog for these options coming, but this blog is just about planning how long of a trip you want.

Like I said, it will take about 10 days for the teams to start coming in. If you're wanting to see the finish in Nome, most have to make the painful choice of attending either the start or the finish, otherwise you're looking at a lot of time off from work/home... and a huge credit card bill when all is said and done. Alaska is not cheap - and it gets significantly worse the further away from Anchorage you get. So keep that in mind when planning your trip. The top teams average finish is in 9 days, bringing them in on a Tuesday evening/Wednesday Morning. Mitch Seavey holds the fastest time in just over 8 days. There are only two flights into Nome a day during that time on a commercial airline (Alaska Airlines), the Sunday evening flight gets you in with typically a day, possibly two, to get your bearings and see the sights. There is A LOT to do during Iditarod week in Nome. If you can swing a week in Nome you have a good chance of seeing all of the mushers come in under the burled arch.

The sun shines bright over the burled arch in Nome, Alaska. March 2017.

The Finisher's Banquet in Nome takes place two weeks after the ReStart (Sunday). This is a pay at the door event and is where the mushers all come together and swap stories, mingle with friends, family, fans and the community of Nome. Sometimes the banquet happens before all of the teams come in - but lately the red lantern has come in in enough time to participate in the festivities. The Banquet begins at 4pm and tries to end in enough time for folks to make it to the airport should they be flying out on Sunday night. The final flight of the day leaves around 9:30pm, so you may miss a few of the awards, but for the most part you should be fine. You don't need to be at the airport 2 hours before hand. Their TSA is... interesting. But that's for another blog (yes, soon).

Suggested time-frame

So what do I recommend for a bucket list Iditarod trip? Well, I could just be cruel and say blow 3 weeks worth of savings and come from beginning to end. I mean, we're talking bucket list, right?! But, if you are like me and have a limited income and so time and money are precious, I can suggest a few ideas.

For the Starts:
Fly in Tuesday Evening, Spend Wednesday touring locales near Anchorage like Girdwood and Portage, Thursday Mushers Meet and Greet/Banquet, Friday tour Anchorage and check out some Meet & Greets or hang out at the Lakefront and people watch, Saturday attend the Ceremonial start, Sunday attend the restart (at some point in those two days make a trip to the official Iditarod HQ in Wasilla to get a pic with the Iditarod signs as well as Joe Redington's statue!), Monday fly home.

For the Finish:
Fly in Sunday settle in and take in Nome, Monday if possible take a tour to see musk ox or the tour of Nome (both spendy, but it's on my personal bucket list), Tuesday is a possible Iditarod Champion Finish day, Wednesday is a for sure finish day, fly out Thursday evening or Friday Morning... if you can swing a full week then stay through the Finisher's Banquet on Sunday and fly out Sunday evening.

One more (important) note

Now, not to throw a wrench into things but... well... Mother Nature has had the control of late and we've seen Fairbanks come into play for the restart. This has happened now three times in the last 15 years, most recently in 2015 and 2017. Should that happen forget everything I said about ReStart Day and pay attention. SHOULD the race's restart and trail be moved further north the FAIRBANKS RESTART will take place Monday following the Ceremonial Start. The Anchorage Start stays the same, but they need Sunday for travel time to get the teams up to Fairbanks. This is a 10-12 hour drive in the best weather, and if there's snow and ice and wind as there often times is, the drive can be longer. But, don't dispair, there are other travel options on how to get to the ReStart. Flights from Anchorage to Fairbanks are regular and have several airline options. The flight is about an hour and half long. There is also the option of the train, they have rides running but you're at the mercy of their schedule, and it is based on track and weather conditions. Air travel is your safest bet.

The Fairbanks ReStart would take place at 10am on Monday morning, so you would want to fly up the day before and snatch a room. The restart takes place right outside Pike's Landing (which is a fantastic hotel, btw) on the river. I'll talk more about the logistics and planning of a Fairbanks restart in a later blog, but just make sure that when planning your bucket list trip for the start that you are aware of the possibility of things changing. These changes are typically announced TWO WEEKS before the start of the event - so there's not a lot of time to change plans, but if you have a contingency plan and budget in place it's doable.

Hopefully this gives you a basic blueprint to plan your trip for Iditarod - as the weeks go on I hope to have more information on all aspects of trip planning, but this gives you an idea of the timeline you're looking at. Do you have any questions on this or other topics in planning your trip? Comment below or shoot me a note on social media ( @tonichelleak on twitter ) and I'll give you the best info I can. Are you planning a trip? Let me know in the comments when you're hoping to make it, I'd love to know how your planning is going!

*Note: I am not an official travel planner or guide. All advice is from my own experience/knowledge.*

Monday, October 15, 2018

Mushing News Round Up (Oct 15)

Another week has passed (and then some) and I am finally done with training at work... at least until March when we do it all again (yeah, don't ask me why I thought scheduling training to start the week after I get back from Nome was a good idea). Once again, I am sure I've missed a bit on the mushing news circuit - especially since there were a lot of races to sign up for - but here are some highlights I snagged while being completely distracted with work.

The Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race - that runs from Kasilof, AK to Homer, AK and back - announced tonight that registration will open on November 1, with the random drawing on November 3. They also announced that they will be posting updated rules soon, suggesting some changes were coming to the official race rules.

Mushers have been excited to announce which mid-distance races they have signed up for. This is especially exciting for teams that are trying to qualify for their first long distance races. One such musher, Eric Kelly, plans to run the Iditarod in 2020, and has signed up for - what he hopes are - his final two qualifiers.

Alaska and the Yukon aren't the only places that are seeing fall training in full swing. Northern Norway has also found cooler temperatures. The Finnmarkslopet race shared this beautiful training photo on their social media pages. The race opened registration earlier this fall, and so far no teams from North America have appeared on the roster. Last year, you may recall, four-time Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey ran the race and placed third. Seavey stated at the time that he would probably not be back to the race for several years as it was an expensive endeavor and he needed to build up the funds and team - however Seavey has yet to register for any race for next season... and he's been spending an awful lot of time in Europe.

SPKennel - home to Yukon Quest Champions Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore - is in winter prep mode. They shared a blog post a few days ago about how they prepare for freeze up... or, rather, fix the mess the dogs make during the summer months. Moore is once again signed up for the Quest, and Zirkle has signed up for the Iditarod, as well as a few other mid-distance races.

Jeff King's Husky Homestead social media crew are killing it these days with the puppy pic updates. I have to say that Zig's litter is probably the prettiest litter I've seen in a long time coming out of a very competitive Racing Kennel. Sled Dogs that race aren't typically chosen or bred for their looks, but their athleticism. It'll be a few years to see what these pups will do out on the trails, but for now they are breaking the internet.

In a somewhat surprising announcement this past week, the UP 200 race announced that they were increasing the purse winnings for the 11th-15th placed teams. The announcement gave credit to the mushers who suggested the change. Who knew there were races out there with boards willing to listen to the mushers?!

Okay, so, Jeff King doesn't have the monopoly on cute puppy picks. Ryne Olson's photo this week was a huge awwwwwww as well. Who DOESN'T want a basket full of puppies?!

And mushers continue to share photos of their training runs. Iditarod musher Misha Wiljes shared a photo of "on by" training yesterday. This is very important, not so much the head on kind that they were doing in the photo - but just passing in general. Sled Dogs need to be aggressive racers, but also polite. The last thing a musher wants is a tangle (with another team, or just within the team itself). Slower teams MUST give a faster team the right of way - unless they are in the final stretches of the race known as "No Man's Land" which begins one to two miles before the finish line. The slower team slows or even stops to let the other team pass. Typically the command the advancing team gets is "on by". That way the leaders know that they are to continue and not stop with the other team, and the team dogs know that they are to pass and not try to take a chunk out of one of the other team's dogs. This typically works with little incident, but just like with humans sometimes the dogs forget their manners. This is why training is so very important.

Lastly, Wade Marrs is jumping into the arena of winter sled dog tours. Until then he is opening his property up to kennel tours until the snow flies. Marrs is a competitive Iditarod musher who - until recently - served as the Iditarod Official Finishers' Club's (IOFC) spokesperson to the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC). This summer it was decided that the IOFC representative could not be a current racer, so Wade Marrs was forced to step aside. Marrs found himself in the middle of the Iditarod Doping Scandal last March when it was brought to his attention at the official start of the Iditarod that his dogs had tested positive for the same substance that Dallas Seavey's team had - just in smaller doses. Marrs' fiance took to social media after seeing Wade safely down the trail to call out the inappropriate communication by the ITC's Doping specialist and alleged that he threatened Marrs with outing the findings if Marrs did not stop his support of Dallas Seavey. Like Seavey, Wade Marrs has not signed up for Iditarod as of yet, and has not gone public with any plans he has for this season's biggest race.

And on that note I'm off to bed. Did I miss anything big in the mushing news scene? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Mushing News Weekly Roundup (Oct 8)

Sorry for the lateness of the round up. I've been tied up with work and will be again next weekend so I am working on a little bit of a different schedule than what I've had before. I've also probably missed a lot of news as I haven't been able to be able to keep an eye on news as it breaks like normal. This week did see a lot of excitement as several races opened up registration for their events. A dryland race event took place this weekend as well, and there was (of course) a lot of talk from the different kennels as training continues.

Probably one of my favorite things on social media this week was when Quince Mountain shared a thread on twitter of a Mushers Panel he attended. It was a great play by play of a panel that featured Jake Berkowitz, Mike Ellis, and Laura Neese. Some of their ideas on the state of long distance mushing, kennels, and use of social media was quite interesting.

Jodi Bailey of Dew Claw Kennel shared this adorable puppy photo. I've taken my share of puppies asleep where they eat, but this one is just too great to pass up.

Fall is a good time for mushers to finish up building projects like dog kennels, fencing... and dog boxes. Sometimes it's more dramatic than you want it to be.

There was a bit of a shake up for Montana's Race to the Sky sled dog race as their race manager of 5 (going on 6) years stepped down earlier this fall. They have already named a replacement, and the previous manager will be at hand to help with the transition and getting the new management up to speed. You can read the official statement below:

Team trading doesn't just happen in professional human sports like Football and Basketball, it also happens in sled dog racing. Sometimes a Kennel needs some "new blood" in the mix - mainly for continuing their kennel's race lines - and so dogs that show their metal on one team are valued by another and when they come up for "trading" other teams jump at the chance.

The premiere mid-distance sled dog race in Western Alaska - the Kuskokwim 300 - opened registration this week. Some top names are in the mix, among them the four-time Kusko Champion Pete Kaiser. Kaiser is a local area musher who seems to dominate the race in an incredibly strong fasion. Also signed up are two Iditarod Champions - Jeff King, and Joar Leifseth Ulsom. The most exciting name for mushing fans, however, is Paul Gebhardt's name on the roster. Gebhardt was sidelined from racing two years ago with a cancer diagnosis. Last year during race season Paul was undergoing stem cell transplant to help in the fight of his life, that transplant was successful and his recovery seems to be going well. Teams sometime sign up but have a handler run the dogs and not the musher the team is registered under, but it seems like Gebhardt is, in fact, planning to run this one. There are currently 10 teams signed up, with the possibility of 20 more teams being added.

Jeff Deeter reported on the never-ending drama most mushers know all too well of ATV repair. If one part isn't breaking it's another...

Jeff King has some very good looking dogs, not just in the athletic department, but the eyes. One of his most popular dogs is a female named Zig. She has piercing ice blue eyes... and now this little pup Otto is giving her a run for her money in the best looking King dog department. Wow. The markings and those eyes. He is going to be a very handsome dog.

Not wanting to jump into the political quagmire that is our Nation right now, but the approaching November election had several mushers in the news this past week. This weekend, President Donald Trump came out in support of Iditarod Finisher Steve Watkins on his run for Kansas Senator. Watkins is a war veteran and adventure enthusiast. Several years ago he made his rookie run to Nome claiming it was a one and done deal as part of his goal to run the Iditarod and climb Everest in the same year. Watkins was an outside chance at winning the Republican Primary in Kansas, but has now been on the fast track of the political scene as it looks like the GOP believes he is one of the seats that could somehow turn from blue to red. Iditarod Champion Jeff King and fellow Iditarod musher Tara Cicatello (who ran last year with a team out of Bacon Acres which is closely linked with Jeff King's kennel) went public this week as well stating that Watkins was a hair shy of being a fraud. King is very outspoken in his political views - and his dislike of President Trump - and so it really came as no surprise to those who pay attention. King has also spoken out about the Supreme Court Justice Nominee (who is now appointed) Brett Kavanaugh, having participated in a rally in front of Senator Lisa Murkowski's office prior to the vote.

Enough politics, let's get back to mushing! The Copper Basin 300 (CB 300) opened up registration Saturday. The CB 300 is probably the most popular mid distance race in Alaska. Its timing and trail seem to be the perfect combination. Unlike other races along the road system, the CB 300 hasn't had to cancel in years of poor winter conditions. The race typically sees a whirlwind of sign ups when registration opens, and a long waiting list. This year mushers took to social media to praise how easy online registration was this year, and were happy to sign up. And, sure enough, over thirty mushers signed up by the end of the day!

The newer Willow 300 race also announced that their race was on again this winter, and registration was open. There are currently 20 teams signed up, and it won't be surprising to see more names pop up as they miss out on registration for other races.

With race registrations in full swing, pups and top athletes alike are preparing... by... napping?

Mushers took to the trails this weekend for some dryland racing. With training seasons starting later and later due to warmer than normal temperatures, mushers are finding other ways to get out and stretch their teams into racing shape. It was a muddy weekend, but it seems to have made that much more fun. The event is growing as more recreational mushers and "professionals" alike come together and the Chugiak Mushers Association are hoping for continued growth and success.

Lance Mackey is on his way to Texas to be the guest speaker of a fundraising event for a drug rehab program. Mackey will be speaking on perseverance and survival as well as his own struggles with addiction. The ticketed event takes place on October 18th beginning at 5:30pm in Belton, TX.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (Sept 28)

Where did September go?! We're in the last couple of days of the month and then we'll be in full on Halloween mode! Termination dust has been reported on the mountains of South Central Alaska, which means we're only weeks away from the first real snow of the season. How is this even possible?! Time for the clock to slow down a smidge! Before we know it the racing season will be underway... okay, well, we still have about 3 months before we need to worry about that...

The Yukon Quest and Iditarod saw their rosters grow by one name (each) this week. Iditarod has until December to finalize their roster and numbers. They are still well below their average, whereas the Yukon Quest is looking at a stable number that is slowly climbing and it could be one of their largest rosters ever.

Ryan Redington shared a photo of a recent training run.

Apparently, Denmark has a new law that directly affects the mushing community in that country. I am still looking into it, but considering most of what I've found is not in English, it's hard to figure out just what the law is. It sounds like they are blocking teams from running near any "established road" but it's loosely worded so that basically anywhere is considered "near a road". It makes training and races nearly impossible - or so some of their mushers are saying.

Brent Sass also shared a photo of a recent training run, and it looks magical.

New England fans have a chance to bring their pups out to an event next weekend to learn about pulling/mushing sports and have a chance to listen to a few Iditarod veterans give talks. The New England Sled Dog Trade and Seminars event spans the course of two days and is a way to keep sled dogs active as well as educate others on the sports and the different ways you can be active with your pup. Your dog(s) does not have to be a husky to be welcome to participate, just has to have an inclination to pull. Guest Speakers are Justin and Jaime High, and Bruce Magnusson.

Pretty slow news week. There are a lot of training posts as well as the "please sponsor us" posts on social media. There were also a lot of dryland mushing events held last weekend around Alaska (and probably elsewhere).

Friday, September 21, 2018

Weekly Mushing News Round Up (Sept 21)

Martin Buser and team at the ReStart of the 46th running of the Iditarod.
March 4, 2018 - Willow, Alaska.
Just going to share a few fun items today as well as some movie news - there is now a website (that I'm not involved with) that is working on "mushing news" and it's run by someone a little more dialed into the politics of the sport than I am. I don't want to step on toes, but I'll continue to do the round up of social media finds and big news.

If you've been around the Iditarod mushing scene for any length of time you know that the mushers all typically get along even when there are fierce rivalries and intense differences of opinion. Dogs, though, bring all of these personalities together and they get along more than they don't. Two old dogs who have rival kennels and tour businesses seem to have a lot of fun at each other's expense. Jeff King and Mitch Seavey shared a good laugh this week.

Yukon Quest champion Matt Hall shared some puppy sweetness on facebook today. Who wants to cuddle? I volunteer as tribute!

Squid Acres took to the interwebs to find a handler, interested in working with one of the top female mushers in the sport right now? Head on over and apply. (This is not an endorsement, simply informational.)

The Kusko 300 is doing something right when it comes to filling its purse for the race. They announced their breakdown online for their three race classes, a full breakdown will be available closer to race time. The numbers are impressive considering the Iditarod can't seem to keep the numbers steady... unless you count the steady decline. Iditarod powers that be have blamed loss of sponsors and monies on the animal rights groups, but other races seem to be thriving and get just as much flack from the terror groups. Just an interesting observation.

The Finnmarkslopet has opened up registration for all of its race classes. So far 57 teams total will run the 500, 1200, and junior races. No Americans or Canadians appear on the roster, and of the 57 teams that are signed up, 30 of them are rookies. There's still time to enter, and with Dallas Seavey having had such a good time in this year's race, it wouldn't be surprising to see another team try their luck. Seavey said after the race this year that he would be back, but that they'd probably not be able to make the trek back so soon. Seavey is not signed up for Iditarod which runs during the same time frame, and has not really spoken publicly of his race plans for the coming season. His name has yet to appear on any roster in Alaska.

Dallas Seavey has racked up a few airmiles lately, having made several trips over to Norway to give talks and run dogs over the summer and fall. He finished up an event earlier this month with current Iditarod Champion Joar Liefseth Ulsom that apparently was well received. If you attended, comment below and let me know how it went.

I found out about a neat opportunity for troubled youth in the Fairbanks area. Had no idea that this organization existed. I wish there was a program down on the Peninsula. Our kids could really use something like this.

Lisbet Norris' kennel had a great training run today. Gotta love those happy, muddy faces.

Iditarod rookie (come March) Blair Braverman came up with a brilliant grading system on sled dog softness this week. She graded most of her dogs in her dog yard. It's very scientific. If you have time, read her twitter thread on the subject (or even if you just like pictures of happy sled dogs, she's got lots).

Last, but not least, Disney is currently in production for a new film about Leonhard Seppala and Togo and the story of the Serum Run. Willem Dafoe stars as Seppala. It's currently filming in Alberta, Canada (cheaper than coming to Alaska now that we no longer have tax incentives for Hollywood big budget movies, don't get me started). Martin Buser announced via facebook this week that he has been called upon to be the expert on set. His race team will be brought to him later this year so that he can continue to train for Iditarod 2019. He does not, at this time, plan to not run the 47th running of the Last Great Race. The movie is set to premiere on Disney's new streaming service they plan to have up and running next year. The movie does not have a release date yet. Here's hoping this is better than Spielberg/Dreamworks' animated film Balto which had so many historical inaccuracies it makes you cry. Then again, Disney did no better around the same time with their version of Pocahontas' history, so... we'll have to wait and see which version of Togo we get.

And that's a basic rundown of what was interesting in the world of mushing this week. Let me know what you think about this and whatever else is on your mind by leaving a comment or two.