Thursday, December 21, 2006

How to Enjoy the Iditarod

I own and moderate an email list for Iditarod fans. Just as the list mentored me in 2000 when I was plotting my first trip, it's been my pleasure to do the same for others, a sort of "pass it forward."

Here's an email I/the list recently received and my response.

---- Original Message ----- >
I'm going to Alaska for the Iditarod start!!!!!!!! I am thrilled, this is something I have wanted to do for years and thought I would never get there -- this year everything has come together and I am GOING!!!!!

OMG!!! I am so gassed! And reality is starting to hit....What do I need for clothing? I have lived in south Texas for over 30 years and any cold> weather gear Ihad in Michigan is long gone or grown out of.

Any and all suggestions are welome.
-----END OF EMAIL-----

By the time I got a chance to answer, the clothing issues had been dealt with, mostly a la "layer, layer, layer," so I focused on the experiences she could expect to have. My response is below....

It sounds like you're getting lots of good advice, Bilinda, but don't hesitate to ask questions as they occur to you, even if they might seem silly to you. Trust me, I was the queen of dumb questions back when I was alternately elated that I was coming to my first race and terrified I'd somehow freeze into an ice-cube.

Man, thinking back to my "rookie run" as an Iditarod fan, who'd have ever guessed I'd be living here in Alaska now. Well, okay, Lois. She knew I was hooked on Alaska before I did, as did the likes of Rosemary and Dillingham's, I'm sure, not to mention many still living ini the Lower 48.

You'll have a blast, but, as I said earlier, beware. While the race is addictive, it's Alaska that has called to me and so many others. No lie, I'd give up ever seeing the Iditarod again before I'd give up Alaska.

As far as the usual first gathering of Idita-support folks (members of our list), that seem to tend to be on the Wed. at the vet check out here in Wasilla at Iditarod Headquarters. You've got to be careful not to be a nuisance or get in the way of the vets doing their jobs, but can be fun. We never seem to have a specific spot to meet, but do manage to stumble into each other pretty quickly. Do you think that could have anything to do with the visibility of Betty in her subdued orange outfit? We've done lunch after a few times, tho' I was so sick last year that I pretty much bailed on everything, I'm afraid.

Thursday's the musher banquet, which I swear every year I'm never going to again, but somehow manage to wind up attending. It's a good day for musher viewing, too, as the hotel will be hosting the final pre-race musher meeting. You're likely to find several Idita-supporters hanging out in the Fancy Moose, so keep your eyes open.

There's a book fair with Idita-authors and several presentations on Friday at the hotel, too, that while geared to the teachers are open to the public. I know Paulsen is speaking, but kinda think you'll want to hear Gay Salisbury, who was speaking this year again, too, at least the last time I looked at the schedule. I know, I know, I need to catch up on my Idita-homework. So sue me, Diane (Johnson, ITC's Education Director), I'm woefully behind on all things Iditarod, even the teaching stuff.

Haven't confirmed this yet, so don't quote me, but Jeff King and his artist wife Donna Gates usually can be found at the Aurora Art Gallery late Friday afternoon, too. If you're not familiar with Donna's artwork, you're missing a treat. My walls are adorned with several of her works. Jeff's there with musher cards and the like and willingly poses for pix and signs endless autographs. Wouldn't be too surprised to see one of his girls or a dog or two somewhere in the vicinity, either, tho' am kinda inclined to think Salem's toes might be too vital to risk Salem possibly getting stepped on for it to be him, alas.

Saturday is, of course, the start. Go early (a shuttle runs from the Millennium) cos you can get onto the street in the early hours for some upclose viewing and photos til they herd everyone without the proper credentials thru the gates and off the street. Given how tough walking in the snow on the street has been some years, you may not regret being herded off as much as you might think, trust me. Afterward, lots of places to shop afterward and it's always kinda fun to hang around long enough to watch the snow being removed, too.

Sunday is the restart in, uh, well, out here in the Valley somewhere. Whereas mushers are pretty approachable on Saturday, let's face it, that's not for real, you'll find the mood is much more serious on Sunday and for the most part you shouldn't expect to be getting upclose and personal with even the friendliest at the restart. Saturday's for the fans, but Sunday is where the clock starts ticking, so the mushers' focus tends to be more inward, if that makes sense.

Then...then we all tend to go somewhere and take a nap, marveling at the fact that while we're exhausted, it's just beginning for the mushers and their wonderful, wonderful dogs.And that's it in a nutshell. Okay, I'm already exhausted just typing about it. I think I'll go to bed now. June


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