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.