Friday, February 28, 2020

Going Nome for Iditarod

An Iditarod legend once explained to me that to be a full fledged Iditarod fan, one must do three things:
1. Attend the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage
2. Attend the Re-Start in Willow (previously Wasilla, sometimes Fairbanks)
3. Be there for the Finish in Nome

Now, to be fair, for most fans this trifecta is a bucket list dream that may never come true. But, if you are able to swing it, here is some information, tips, and what have you to help make your bucket list trip a reality.

Getting Started - When to Book

Before you even look into travel and lodging, decide which year you're going. Nome is a small community with not a lot of options for places to stay so you want to book lodging well in advance (like when Iditarod of this year ends book for next year, and even then you may be too late). Nome is not on any of the highway systems in Alaska so your options are extremely limited, but with a little planning you will find yourself having an amazing time. There's no place like Nome (Dorothy Gale was *close* all those years ago on her return from Oz).

But how do you decide when you want to go? That's easy. First, decide what finishes you want to see. Do you have 8 days to spend in Nome? Then you can see it all and then some. If you have a specific musher in mind that's a little harder to judge, but with some Iditamath you can at least ballpark it. The Iditarod race starts in earnest on the first SUNDAY of March - every year. (Ceremonial Start is always Saturday, but the real race starts in Willow on Sunday at 2pm). It typically takes the first musher 8.5 days (give or take a few hours) to get to Nome.

If you want to see the Champion come to town (and I would suggest you DO because it's an incredible experience) you should book for Sunday through Thursday (at the least stay to Thursday evening). They typically expect a team to cross under the burled arch on Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday Morning. Most of the Iditarod big wigs and sponsors fly in Saturday evening/Sunday morning and leave out Thursday afternoon. They do book their hotels for longer stays but typically check out earlier than what they've booked and so rooms do become available for later in the week.

If seeing the Champ really isn't your speed, but you have a specific musher in mind, the bulk of the teams come in Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, with the final teams coming in usually by Saturday evening. The Musher's banquet is that Sunday and typically all teams are in by then though there are the occassions where the Red Lantern comes across the finish line while folks are at the banquet. It is always difficult to judge until closer to race time as weather and trail conditions play a huge factor on how quickly the race is run.

If you can swing it - Go Sunday to Sunday. (That'd be the Sunday AFTER the Sunday start - typically the second Sunday of March, though in 2020 it will be the 3rd Sunday). You would have Sunday to get your berrings, and all of Monday to check out all of the extras in Nome. Once teams come in you'll find yourself having a harder time pulling yourself away from Front Street and the HQ. But we'll discuss that all a little later in this blog.

Getting There

There aren't many options to get from Anchorage to Nome unless you're willing to take a dogsled. Only two airlines run regularly to the finish line from Anchorage, though you might be able to find a charter service willing to take you that far. Be aware that all flights are totally dependent on the weather in Nome more so than Anchorage. I've been on flights where they didn't stop in Kotzebue as scheduled due to dense fog, and during the 2019 Iditarod several flights were cancelled because of the snowstorm that blew in and it took folks several days to make it to Nome as all flights were fully booked. Give yourself a buffer! With that in mind, let's discuss the options.

Alaska Airlines - This is probably your best bet for getting a good rate and a good flight to Nome. AKAir is top of its class when it comes to timeliness and affordablility. If you play your cards right you can swing a round trip fare for around 350.00 (ANC-OME-ANC). They typically run three flights daily during Iditarod season, with a direct flight option as one that stops in Kotzebue before continuing to Nome. Direct flight is an hour and a half travel time (roughly) and the ANC-KOTZ-OME flight is about three hours total time. All flights are on your standard commuter plane, most often in the 737 series.

You can book directly with Alaska Air on their website, you may also want to follow them on Twitter. They have an amazing social media team. I'm biased though. If you are an Alaska resident you get three checked bags free on your flight to Nome plus two carry ons. Make sure you're a Club 49 member to get this perk, it's free to all Alaska residents.

RAVN Air - Another option is the smaller prop planes from RAVN air. RAVN is the leading Alaska based "air taxi" service in the state. They service most of the remote villages and towns of Alaska. They are also far more expensive with fares as high as $710. With being one of the only games in town, RAVN has angered many Alaskans in recent months with their constant delays and cancellations with many reports of RAVN denying to waive fees for changing a flight even when the changes are due to their error. They don't have the best track record, but they may be the only option if Alaska Air is booked up. You can book with RAVN directly on their website.

RAVN appears to have no direct flight, but it does have a three stop flight - some of the stops are in villages that play the role of checkpoint for the Iditarod (one of the stops is Unalakleet). These flights are more expensive and more apt to have cancellations due to weather.

While there's not a lot of option for air travel, you don't have to book flights right away. We're three almost four weeks out from the 2020 finish and you can still book flights to Nome for the dates suggested above. Don't wait until the last minute, but airfare is rarely refundable or changeable without fees, and it's best to make sure you have everything else confirmed before booking your flights to and from Nome.

Please note - the Nome Airport is insanely small. As you come in from the runway (yeah you have to walk down stairs to get out of the airplane and walk across a snowy, windy runway) you will walk straight into the line of folks waiting to board their flight. On the other side of the line is where baggage claim is. There's no carousel. The airport is an experience in and of itself. And for some insane reason I LOVE it (after the fact). Keep this in mind when you get ready to fly home. You definitely do not want to get there at the last minute, they'll keep your luggage until the next day while you fly back to Anchorage. (Yes, I speak from experience.)

Housing Options

GET THIS DONE FIRST! Once you know when and how long you want to go to Nome, BOOK YOUR LODGING. You will have to call - while the hotels have a marginal online presence, they are still old school in how you go about booking a room. Note that Nome is not big on amenities, it's about practicality. You'll be paying high prices, but you'll be getting moderate to economy type lodging. Remember you are going for the experience, not pampering. Going in with that mindset helps. This is not to say that you're going to be staying in a hole or anything, just note that you won't get quite the same amount of amenities we're used to in the big city or Lower 48.

There are three hotels open in March. They are all within quick walking distance of the burled arch, and Front Street. While I have only stayed at one of the hotels (the hotel I stayed at my first time in Nome has since burned down), I've talked to enough folks both from Nome and who have booked rooms in the past to get a good idea of what each has to offer. **Pro-tip: If you can't find rooms for the whole week, see if you can get rooms for later in the week. This doesn't work if you want to see the CHAMPION come in, but if you really have your heart set on going to Nome for any part of the Iditarod finish this is an easy back up plan.**

Aurora Inn & Suites - This is probably the best hotel for the cost. It is warm, staff is friendly, the rooms are clean and spacious. Bathrooms are well kept as well - and each room has a bathroom. The Aurora is owned by the Bering Straits Native Corporation, and they seem to take pride in their establishment. There is ample parking in front and behind the hotel (though you do not need a car, but you can rent a vehicle at the front desk... it's expensive, I'd take a cab or walk). They have suites and standard rooms and one accessible room. The hotel is located on Front Street but several blocks away from the finish line. You can walk out the front of the hotel, cross the street to the Subway restaurant and watch the teams come off of the beach and onto Front Street if you wish (and if it's like 2019 and the ice has already broken up, they come off the beach further down the road so the teams pass right by the hotel on the street).

Though they don't have their prices online, it's a good to budget for $250* a night for a standard room. WiFi is extra (and expensive!). To learn more about the hotel you can visit their website. To book a room give them a call 1-907-443-3838 - they have an email address but they don't always answer back quickly. Phone is your best bet.

Nome Nugget Inn - This hotel has been in Nome a long... long... long... time. Or, at least, the building has. It's also the "official hotel" of the Iditarod in Nome. Many of the mushers, officials, and volunteers book rooms here. It is typically cheaper than the Aurora, but with the building being older it has a lot of older building complaints. Still, it's a bed and bathroom in a place that during the Iditarod has more demand than supply. The hotel is attached to a bar and a restaurant and the door leads you right out to the burled arch. If you're a light sleeper this might not be the best choice for you, but if the price is right there are always ear plugs. The party goes all night long the entire week of Iditarod finishes, lots of events happening in the bar. The bar is also connected to a restaurant (that is one of my favorites). So if you don't want to have to walk much the Nugget might actually be your game.

The Nugget will have a lot of familiar faces staying at it, and it's a very quick walk to the Iditarod HQ. If you want to be in the center of the action, this is it. But, remember, this is an OLD building and the hotels don't get renovated as often as hotels in the states. I've heard and seen mixed reviews of the Nugget, but as I noted earlier - you really do not have many choices. Last I heard rooms during Iditarod run about $199* a night. You can view more info on the Nome Nugget Inn on their website. To contact the hotel directly call the front desk 1-907-443-2323.

Dredge No. 7 Inn - The furthest option of the "big three", the Dredge #7 boasts "state of the art" accommodations. Wifi is complimentary. Rooms are either a King bed or Two Twins (I assume that means they push the two twins together and put on a mattress top to make a King?). Every room has a microwave, private bath, and cable tv. Rooms share a common area with several other rooms. The Dredge Inn is several blocks away from all of the Front Street action, but it's an easy walk to get to the fun. Rooms appear well kept and spacious. The hotel is owned by a 3rd generation Nome Mining Family. A lot of history of the mining era of Nome can be found throughout the hotel. The operate in two locations, but only the Sluice Box Street location is open during Iditarod.

The Dredge Inn is the only hotel that you can book in advance online - and they offer a 10% discount for doing so. A quick glance at their site shows that you can book for Iditarod well in advance (we're not even at the start of Iditarod 2020 and they have prices and dates for 2021). Rooms during peak Iditarod is listed at $254*, but it drops significantly after the Champion comes in. You can view more information about the hotel and book a room on their website. You can also give them a call at 1-907-304.1270.

Other Options - If you struck out on getting a hotel room, don't give up just yet. There are several bed and breakfast options that could be available, and locals often rent out homes and rooms for Iditarod fans. While you might be able to find something on Air BnB, your best bet to know what your options are is to visit the Nome Visitor Center's website. Not only do they have links to all B&B's in Nome, they also are the ones to contact to be put on the waiting list for the "Iditarod Overflow Housing Program". The visitor center will get you in touch with those renting out beds/couches during Iditarod. Not the most ideal, but beggars can't be choosers. Plus, you can't get more Iditarod than that! Some folks make life long friends this way. You can contact the visitor center through email or by phone 1-907-443-6555.

*All prices are guesstimates based on past rates. Please check with the hotel directly for any pricing information.


I've often said that Nome has a wider selection of food options than we have in my hometown of Kenai, Alaska. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you can get just about anything you get in most populated areas of America. While there are no fast food options (unless you count Subway, which I guess most do) you can be sure to have plenty of options to satisfy. I'll list a few places I've eaten at below, note that some may be closed (one of my favorites closed after I went to Nome the first time and I didn't know until I got there the second trip. so sad!). Most establishments can be found on Yelp! So make sure to check that out when you're looking for places to eat. There are also quite a few bars, but I've only been in one of them to meet with friends, so I won't comment on them.

Pingo's Bakery & Seafood House - This is not a restaurant/bakery that you expect to find in "Rural Alaska". The food is different. It's not your standard comfort food. They have a different menu board almost daily. They are open only in the morning and afternoon but they are well worth the visit. There is VERY limited seating and it's pretty much family style. If there's a space open, sit. You can always order take out if you'd prefer to carry it down to the Iditarod HQ to chow down. Their garden salad is "fancy" and it's large. It's not really a *side* salad.

Bering Sea Sushi Bar & Grill - They have a huge menu, and surprisingly most of it is good. You have everything from American comfort food to Sushi and Chinese Food, to Pizza and bar food. This is the restaurant attached to the Nome Nugget Inn, so it stays pretty busy. Their breakfast is also pretty good. Portions are large for most of the dishes. They are open for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. You will see many Iditarod folk there. I typically eat there several times. There's a great view of the sea ice and the Nome Forest

Polar Cafe - This is another eatery attached to a bar. The cafe is around the back. You get fantastic views of the sea ice. The food is typical American Diner fare, and while MANY swear by this restaurant as being the best, I've had very average meals. Other places IMO are better. Still it's a short walk from the Aurora Inn to this place, and it's well located. AND THE VIEW!

Airport Pizza - Go for the pizza. Everything else is standard. But the pizza is worth the walk up the road. Alaskans love their pizza, so it's no surprise that one of the best places to eat in Nome is a pizza place. The rest of the dishes - other than maybe the burgers - seem to be frozen food they've cooked up. The crinkle fries are just crinkle fries. Go for the Pizza. It's a Nome staple. Do it.

Milano's Pizzaria - I'm told this is owned by Airport Pizza, but I'm also told that the pizza here is not as good as Airport's so... I don't know. I didn't do pizza twice in a week. They also have pasta dishes on the menu as well as some Japanese dishes. I think Pizza/Pasta might be your better options as the Japanese dish I had was just okay. This location is on Front Street, so if you don't want to walk a ways to get pizza, this is the better option.

Golden China - Standard American-Chinese place. Nice sized portions. Hot, made to order. If you're like me and like "Cheap Chinese" this is the place for you.

Nome Soup Supper and Silent Auction - A fundraiser for the local Food Bank held by the Nome Methodist Church. For a donation you can sample several different types of soup. Get there early if you want to try the MuskOx stew. There's also moose, caribou... and beef and chicken for those that are less adventurous. Soup comes with bread and dessert. It will probably be one of your cheapest meals in Nome, and one of the tastiest.

Nome, Sweet Nome

There's something special about Nome, Alaska. It quickly gets inside you. Very few folks who visit during Iditarod come away thinking negatively. Most - like myself - want to return immediately. This is a trip everyone should take, whether you're into the Iditarod or not. For an Iditarod fan - this is a must do if it's at all possible. There's just something so special about being with everyone cheering the dogs into the finish. The family like atmosphere as you walk by strangers who you just feel a connection to because you're all there for the same general purpose. The locals are friendly, greeting with smiles, and it's a slower pace. No one is really rushing (except maybe the dog teams). Nome, Alaska IS Alaska, and I hope if you're reading this you'll be ready to experience for yourself very soon.

Coming up hopefully in the next few days... Nome part 2 - a look at what you can do and see at Nome while waiting for the dog teams to come in!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Iditarod 2020 Musher Bib Numbers

You asked for it, and here it is. The links to all 57 teams heading to Nome in just two weeks. The positive response for these posts has been humbling and overwhelming - almost as overwhelming is the research to find all of these teams online! 46 veterans and 11 rookies are making their final preparations for Iditarod 48, drop bags were deposited to the ITC last week, now the rest of the logistics and final training runs are taking place.

The roster boasts an incredibly strong field with six Iditarod Champions (Pete Kaiser, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Mitch Seavey, Lance Mackey, Jeff King, and Martin Buser), and four Yukon Quest Champions (Brent Sass, Lance Mackey, Aliy Zirkle, and Jeff King). Jim Lanier, after having to re-qualify for Iditarod this season, will attempt to continue his record of being the only musher to run the Iditarod in every decade.

In researching the musher links, it's fun to learn about each team - there are a lot of fantastic stories and goals represented in this roster. Enjoy reading up on all of them as I have.

*This blog will be updated March 5 after the Bib Numbers are drawn.
*Updated March 5 with Bib Numbers.

Bib #Musher NameStatusLinkLinkLinkLinkLink
2Martin MassicotteRookieIditarod BioFacebook
3Tim PappasVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
4Kristy BeringtonVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteInstagram
5Ramey SmythVeteranIditarod BioFacebook
6Fabio BerlusconiRookieIditarod BioFacebook
7Wade MarrsVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
8Linwood FiedlerVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
9Peter KaiserVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
10Lev ShvartsVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebook
11Laura NeeseVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
12Lance MackeyVeteranIditarod BioFacebookInstagram
13Meredith MapesVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
14Deke NaaktgeborenRookieIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
15Karin HendricksonVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
16Richie DiehlVeteranIditarod BioFacebook
17Gabe DunhamRookieIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
18Anna BeringtonVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteInstagram
19Jason CampeauVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
20Travis BealsVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
21Nicolas PetitVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookTwitter
22Kelly MaixnerVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebook
23Aliy ZirkleVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
24Jeff DeeterVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
25Aaron BurmeisterVeteranIditarod BioFacebook
26Martin BuserVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
27Mitch SeaveyVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
28Robert RedingtonVeteranIditarod BioFacebookInstagramTwitter
29Matthew FailorVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
30Tom KnolmayerVeteranIditarod Bio
31Jessie RoyerVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
32Mille PorsildRookieIditarod BioWebsiteFacebook
33Michelle PhillipsVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
34Jessie HolmesVeteranIditarod BioFacebookInstagram
35Joar Leifseth UlsomVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
36Aaron PeckVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
37Ryan RedingtonVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebook
38Magnus KaltenbornVeteranIditarod BioFacebookInstagram
39Tom Frode JohansenRookieIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
40Thomas WaernerVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
41Jessica KlejkaVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
42Zoya DeNureVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
43Monica ZappaVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
44Brent SassVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
45Larry DaughertyVeteranIditarod BioFacebookInstagram
46Sean UnderwoodVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
47Jeremy KellerVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
48Riley DycheRookieIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
49Alan EischensVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebook
50Quince MountainRookieIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitter
51Grayson BrutonRookieIditarod BioFacebookInstagram
52Damon RamakerRookieIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram
53Dennis KananowiczVeteranIditarod BioFacebook
54Robert BundtzenVeteranIditarod BioFacebook
55Jim LanierVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebook
56Nils HahnVeteranIditarod BioFacebook
57Kaci MurringerRookieIditarod BioInstagram
58Paige DrobnyVeteranIditarod BioWebsiteFacebookInstagram

Which teams are you cheering for? Comment below!