Friday, July 16, 2021

Nome, Sweet Nome for Iditarod

Now that you've made it to Nome, what is there to do? Depending on when you come into the final stop on the Iditarod, you may have a bit of a wait until the champion or your favorite musher cross under the burled arch. But, don't worry about being bored! The City of Nome looks forward to the Iditarod week every year. There are many city hosted events taking place as everyone waits for the siren to go off and teams to come up Front Street.

In my last Idita-Getaway post, I pointed out the different restaurant options. Each one holds a special bit of Nome in them, and if you are at all into Food Network shows like Diners, Drive Ins, or Dives or if you were a fan of Anthony Bourdain it might be fun to take a look at all of them (and if you are there long enough it's easy to do). 

Your first stop should be your hotel's front desk. Most will have the calendar of events for Iditarod week. If by chance they don't, you can take a walk to the Nome Visitor Center (which you should do anyway). The calendar will give you the times and places each event/attraction take place. It typically has a map of the city on the back, and a description of each event. These maps are free, and make a great souvenir (speaking from experience). You can also download the Event Calendar ahead of time by visiting the Nome Visitor Center's website.

While at the Visitor Center you can chat with the very friendly volunteers and staff and ask their advice on what to do and see. They will give you updates on the race as they are able, they can explain the weather and the history of their City. They often have other free or cheap souvenirs (I'm a fan of their I <3 Nome buttons). It's also a great place to stop and warm up as you wait for teams to come in. They're also responsible for the City of Nome webcam, and are the folks you'll want to contact as you make plans for your trip and are in need of lodging (should you not be able to get a hotel, they are the keepers of the list of rooms for rent in local homes). This is also often the site for different tours to pick up/start. 

Behind the Visitor Center is a trail to the sea ice and the Nome National Forest. This one of a kind forest is the self proclaimed northern most forest, and is a unique photo op. Be sure to check with the Visitor Center before exploring just incase the sea ice is considered unstable (in 2019 we couldn't visit as the day after we arrived the ice broke up). What makes the forest its own is that while the trees are natural - they are "planted" on the ice after Christmas by the local families. They're used Christmas trees! The city also puts out different wooden decorations and other photo ops. It's totally kitchy and every visitor to Nome should experience it at least once.

Once you come back up to Front Street it's just a quick walk to the Russian Church and the Nome Craft Bazaar. Do not miss this. Many of the local artists and craftspeople plan their whole year around this bazaar. There are many beautiful Alaskan made crafts, artworks, and clothing. Many of the artists are more than happy to talk to you about their craft, their lifestyle, and their culture. There is also an art show where you can see many talented pieces and how they are judged.  Be ready with both cash and card as some of the vendors prefer one over the other. There is also typically a raffle at the door. 

Next, take a walk (or grab a cab if you aren't renting a car) and head for the Nome Museum. The Museum is fairly new having been built in 2017/18. It is one of my favorite museums in Alaska. Most of the exhibits are interactive and they share the Indigenous history as well as the goldrush and beyond. You are met at the entrance of the museum with a full on display about how mushing has been a huge focal of the area - with a tribute to both the Iditarod as well as Nome's most well known and celebrated musher Leonhard Seppala and his dog Fritz. You learn about the diphtheria outbreak that made Nome famous (as well as that little dog name Balto). Plan to spend at LEAST an hour there. Often during Iditarod you will find free talks and Iditarod specific exhibits. Jon and Jona Van Zyle (official artists of the Iditarod) were there in 2019 with a special exhibit of Jon's paintings and posters, and they also did talks on Jon's running the Iditarod as well as their adventures in Alaska.

Before or after you visit the bazaar, walk through the snow over to the Welcome to Nome gold pan sign. You can also meet the "Three Lucky Swedes" who supposedly put Nome on the map. This is a popular photo op for Nome visitors, and depending on the snow depth you may be much taller than the statues. There are also some recreations of Indigenous people's tools like a boat and salmon drying rack. Signs at each spot explain what you are looking at and the history of the items. 

Depending on what days you'll be in Nome there are several fun events you can attend as a spectator or even as a contestant. Several bars host trivia contests, pool tournaments, there's wet buns/tshirt contests (if that's your thing, the Alaskan spring break), poker tournaments, concerts, foosball tournaments. This is where that calendar of events really comes in handy. Most events are free to spectate, but some do have a $5 or $10 cover charge. Nome during Iditarod is a very festive atmosphere along Front Street where everyone comes together and you are the best of friends during the week. 

There are several gift shops open during Iditarod, and it's worth going into each one to talk with the store owner and to look at all the souvenir ideas. A lot of local artists fill the shops with their creations, and there are some really fun novelty items as well. The bars are also easy to slip in and out of even if you aren't a drinker (I'm not). A lot of history within those walls and there are several that people tell you to visit just to say you've been there.

If you have time and are dying for some every day entertainment, head to the Subway sandwich shop and go to the back, the Nome Movie Theater typically has two movies playing with your typical movie theater concessions. There will also be the basketball tournament going on during Iditarod and that brings a lot of athletes from all over Western Alaska to Nome. Many Iditarod fans go to catch a game or two. 

There's also a need to stop into the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve building. You can watch some videos on the ice age's "land bridge" that brought humanity to North American all those millennia ago. They offer snowshoe tours out in the preserve, as well as a host of information at their office. You can view fossils, there are some wonderful souvenirs (including pins that you can only get from National Parks), and learn some valuable history of the area. This is more of a hidden gem for many.

And then do not miss walking down to the Iditarod HQ. It is below the Iditarod Finish line and it's where you will mingle with mushers, their families, their handlers. The Iditarod dog lot will be behind the building and security will ask you to look but not take pictures. You can see how well the athletes coming off the trail look (which is AMAZING in comparison to what their mushers look like). Inside HQ are volunteers willing to answer all of your questions, a computer where you can check in with the GPS tracker to see how close the teams are to finishing, food for sale, and the Iditarod merchandise tables. There's also free (but very slow) wifi, and a lot of places to sit and warm up while your phone charges. 

There are things that I'm missing on my list. Nome events are always changing, though the mainstays go strong every year (except for when Pandemics hit). Every part of the week is a part of your Iditarod experience and while I do suggest taking your time and just being spontaneous, I also encourage you to take in as much as possible. By the end of your trip you'll most likely be in serious planning for your next trip to Nome. Just walking through the streets of Nome you can run into some really neat things. Talk with the locals. Talk with other travelers. We're all feeling the excitement (it's the one time I'm not THAT much of an introvert).

But, wait, what about...

Don't worry, I know what you're thinking WHAT ABOUT THE ACTUAL FINISH?! I want to see MY team come under the arch, I want to see the champion! Don't worry, I have that post planned as  my next article!

Like what you see and want to see post like this continue? Support is always greatly appreciated, if you want to buy me a slice of pizza (or more) I won't say no. (To be honest that money goes into paying for internet and other website related costs.)

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sivo Kennel welcomes newest member

2018 Iditarod Champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom and his wife Margot Fairbanks-Ulsom welcomed the newest member of the Sivo Racing Kennel on Monday when their son Henrik Fairbanks Ulsom entered the world. The happy parents waited until Sunday to announce the arrival of their first child, sharing a quick post with several pictures on the kennel's facebook page.

Congratulations, Ulsom family! Welcome to the world baby Henrik!