Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Iditarod: Photos from Anchorage, March 2, 2013

I accompanied my wife for a week in Anchorage from February 24 to March 3.  She was consulting with a client, and possibly, as a lure, her client scheduled her visit to overlap with the start of the Iditarod.  No way would I pass up an opportunity like this, so I tagged along and played while Andrea worked.

At a later date, I will post more on Alaska and Anchorage, but since the Iditarod just finished today, I decided I had better get out the following photographs while they have some timely relevance. After all, in Alaskan "chamber-speak," the Iditarod is known as "The Last Great Race on Earth."

It was won this year--today in fact, March 13, 2013--by Mitch Seavey.  His time on the trail was 9 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes and 56 seconds.

Aliy Zirkle, Musher from Two Rivers, with one of her sled dogs (cel phone photo by Andrea Kihlstedt)

In second place, a mere 24 minutes behind, was Aliy Zirkle.  While I was wandering the starting course on Anchorage's 4th Avenue with my camera on Saturday, my wife's clients introduced her to Aliy, who is a good friend of theirs. So here (above) is Andrea's shot of Aliy as she discusses strategy with a member of her team.

By the way, last year Aliy Zirkle also came in second. She was beaten out by Dallas Seavey, Mitch's son, by one hour.  Today, Mitch Seavey became the oldest person to win the Iditarod, while his son, last year, became the youngest to win the "Last Great Race on Earth."

Two second place finishes for Aliy, back-to-back, ain't too bad, especially when one considers that the race is 1,049 miles in length. This means that, over 2,098 miles, Aliy's lag-time was under an hour-and-a-half. That's consistency at a high level.  

If Andrea's clients invite her back for more meetings next year, I'll tag along again and try to make my way to Two Rivers, where Aliy lives, and see if I can't document her entire team and her preparations.

Anyway, here are some of my photographs taken on Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Anchorage, where the "Ceremonial Start" of the Iditarod took place.  The Official Start, called the "Restart," took place 50 miles north in Willow on Sunday, March 3, at 2:00 p.m.

Anchorage, Alaska, 4th Avenue, Friday, March 1, 2013, late afternoon

Anchorage, Alaska, 4th Avenue, Saturday, March 2, early morning

These two photographs show the conversion that must take place in order to have the ceremonial start in Anchorage, where the city streets normally need to be kept snow-free.  Friday evening shows a clear 4th Avenue, which is where the Iditarod starts.  Then, voilà, by early Saturday morning, several miles of snow have been trucked in and dumped on the streets, enabling the sleds to run through the city.  

They mush for about 11 miles to a 730 acre tract at the edge of the city, the Campbell Tract, where the teams pack up dogs and sleds and drive to Willow, where the "restart"--the real race--begins the next day.

Willow, Alaska, Air View of Lake

According the our bush pilot, who flew us into the Alaska Range and around Mount McKinley the day after we arrived in Anchorage, this is the lake where the Iditarod actually begins. So, I guess that we are looking down on Willow in this photograph.  Lakes, rivers and mountain passes are the choice--and the necessary thoroughfares--for this race and for most any other winter travel into the Alaskan wilderness.

I took the following photographs in the hours before the 10:00 ceremonial start.  The teams arrive in trucks and find their assigned spot on 4th Avenue or some of the adjoining side streets.  Mushers emerge, often to gatherings of fans seeking proximity and autographs, sleds get taken down from cab roofs, and the dogs emerge from their rolling kennels.

It's cacophany.  These dogs are excited and rarin' to go.  They are fed breakfast, relieve themselves in the snow, then are put back in their kennels to rest (and calm down, I imagine) before coming out again to be hitched up and go to the starting line: that's when you really see their adrenaline take over.

Sled, Charley Bejna, Musher from Addison, IL

Nice blanket (or rug): possibly Charley's guardian angel?  As of this writing, I have no news on Charley status, except that he still is running and was holding 49th position.

Scott Janssen, Musher from Anchorage, AK

Waiting for Breakfast: Sled Dogs of Scott Janssen

Scott, being a local, was besieged by autograph seekers.  By the time he turned and saw me, I'm sure he was simply looking for an escape path to get back to his dogs.

Nine days ago, on March 4, Scott pulled out of the race, apparently out of concern for his dogs. This is understandable, because, in the 2012 Iditarod, one of his dogs--Marshall--collapsed as the team descended into the Dalzell Gorge, and Scott gave it "mouth-to-snout" resucitation. Marshall is fully recovered and now lives in Scott's house.

Waiting for Breakfast: Sled Dogs of Mushers Paul Gebhardt & Kristy Berington from Kasilof

As of this writing, I have no new status on either Paul or Kristy, except that both are still running.  Paul was holding at 15th position, and Kristy was in 20th position.

Croner getting some love from Carrie: Sled Dogs of Musher Jeff King from Denali

Jeff King has finished and came in third place, one-hour and 42 minutes behind Mitch Seavey, the winner.  Let's hope that Carrie's love hugs kept Croner warm and healthy for all those nine-plus days on the trail.

Resting and Digesting: Sled Dogs of Jeff King

Ernie is ready to go; Ugly prefers his special chair: Sled Dogs of Nicholas Petit from Girdwood 

Nicholas Petit told me that Ugly, who is sitting in the chair behind the trailer, might be hitched up for the ceremonial run, but then he goes back into his warm kennel--no Iditarod for him.

Nicholas finished the race in sixth place, 9 days, 11 hours and 39 minutes on the trail.

Bomber: Sled Dog of Musher Michael Williams, Jr. from Akiak

As of this writing, I have no new status on Michael, Jr.  The last report had him in 24th position.

Icicle & Innoka: Sled Dogs of Bob Chlupach from Willow

Snow: Sled Dog of Bob Chlupach

As of this writing, I have no new status on Bob Chlupach.  The last report had him in 56th position.  Given the fact that 10 sleds have scratched and are no longer running, and the race started with 66 teams, it looks as if Bob is in last place.  

I'll be interested to see if he is able to make up any positions.  I also hope that these sweet dogs of his stay healthy.  I was told, by the way, that Icicle and Innoka (pictured in the upper photograph) are twins.

Tundra: Sled Dog of Charley Bejna from Addison, IL

Murphy & Shred: Sled Dogs of Ray Redington, Jr. from Wasilla

Ray finished in 5th place, 9 days, 11 hours and 4 minutes on the trail.

The following photographs show the dogs in action, at the start of the Saturday, ceremonial run.  Take note that there are several people and usually two sleds.  That's because this is really a fun day, preliminary to the real race that started on Sunday.  The extra riders are sponsors and supporters of the team.  They will enjoy the eleven mile ride to the Bureau of Land Management Campbell Tract, where I am sure there is food, conviviality, and where they have already parked their cars so they can get home once they see their teams off on the road to Willow for the next day's "restart."

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 2 Sled, Martin Buser from Big Lake

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 3 Sled, Scott Janssen from Anchorage

The Number 1 sled was a ceremonial sled probably going only to the Campbell Tract.  Therefore, sleds 2 and 3 (above) represent the first two racing mushers. Here, in the first turn, they seem to reveal differing approaches to making a ninety-degree right turn: wide and easy for Martin Buser, narrow and tight for Scott Janssen.  But then, I know absolutely nothing about handling a team of eager dogs and am simply responding to the visual evidence before me. 

As of this writing, I have no new status on Martin Buser, who at last report was in 17th place.

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 3 Sled, Scott Janssen

As this picture suggests, since Scott is from Anchorage, he may have cut this tight turn in order to give the locals a closer look at a favorite home boy.  

By the way, even if liberal easterners like me might think of Alaska as politically conservative, with all that that entails, take a look at the pro-Union sign being held up by one of the local viewers. It reads, "This Track/ Union Built." My rear end may be freezing as I sit on a snow bank taking these photographs, but that sign sure does warm my heart. Now how about a little more of this progressive thinking in Michigan and Wisconsin!!

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 4 Sled, Jodi Bailey from Chatanika

As of this writing, I have no new status on Jodi.  The last report had her in 44th position.

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 5 Sled, Lance Mackey from Fairbanks

As of this writing, I have no new status on Lance.  The last report had him in 19th position.  

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 6 Sled, Ken Anderson from Fairbanks

Ken finished in 12th place, 9 days, 16 hours and 9 minutes on the trail.

Before I froze my you-know-what off, sitting in the snowbank at the Cordova turn, I began to make my way back to the starting line.  Somewhere there, looking down from the warmth of an enclosed gallery and eating catered food, was my wife and her clients.  But I was not quite ready for those amenities.

The 4th Avenue Chute: Number 9 Sled, Kelly Griffin from Wasilla

This photo shows the rather narrow chute that that accommodates the sleds once beyond the starting line.

Number 9 Sled, Kelly Griffin

As of this writing, I have no new status on Kelly, who at last report was in 26th place.

The 4th Avenue Chute: Number 10 Sled, Peter Kaiser from Bethel

Peter finished in 13th place, 9 days, 17 hours and 36 minutes on the trail.

4th Avenue: Number 12 Sled, Jason Mackey from Wasilla

Jason scratched and is out of the Iditarod; the reason given was that he took ill.

4th Avenue: Number 13 Sled, John Baker from Kotzebue

As of this writing, I have no new status on John Baker, who at last report was in 20th place.

4th Avenue: Number 14 Sled, Paige Drobny from Fairbanks

As of this writing, I have no new status on Paige, who at last report was in 35th place.

4th Avenue Starting Line: Photographers wait for Sled 19, Dallas Seavey from Willow

Dallas Seavey, son of this year's Iditarod winner, came in 4th place  with a time of 9 days, 10 hours and 20 minutes.

The reason those photographers look so comfortable, stretched out on the wall of snow, while I had to leave my snowbank and start rediscovering my circulation, is that all of them brought (insulated?) tarps to lie on. 

4th Avenue Starting Line: Sled 20, Kristy Berington from Kasilof

I already reported about Kristy's status.  I love the very start of the race, as the dogs strain to overcome the inertia of a sled at rest.  Kristy's lead dog almost appears to be looking back and barking commands.  Maybe he (or she) is doing just that.

4th Avenue: Number 28 Sled, DeeDee Jonrowe from Willow

DeeDee finished in 10th place, 9 days, 13 hours and 24 minutes on the trail.

However, in case anyone thought the Iditarod might be some sort of extended walk in the park, I encourage you to watch this video interview with DeeDee about a harrowing early experience that she had. The video is titled, "DeeDee and Her Wild Ride." It's amazing that she was able to finish the race, eight days later.

4th Avenue:  Number 54 Sled, Jessica Hendricks from Two Rivers

As of this writing, I have no new status on Jessica, who at last report was in 25th place.

4th Avenue: Number 57 Sled, Wade Marrs from Wasilla

As of this writing, I have no new status on Wade, who at last report was in 32nd place.

4th Avenue: Number 59 Sled, Jim Lanier from Chugiak

As of this writing, I have no new status on Jim Lanier, who at last report was in 34th place.

I hope that you have enjoyed some parts of this blog post, but I can't really speak about the Iditarod from personal experience. I have never even taken a ride in a dog sled, and all I saw was a two-hundred yard run on urban snow!

Even so, watching these dogs run this short stretch of 4th Avenue was inspiring, and I can only imagine what it would be like to ride behind them on a wilderness trail.  I encourage you to watch the following video that offers much more than my simple, still photographs; its passages of mushing at night in the wilderness are particularly captivating.  It's title is "Run Dogs Run."


  1. Great photos, and the Iditarod site is fantastic! Easy to get WAYY too excited about a dog race.

    1. Hi, Scott. It was fun. Now, I would like to experience a ride on one of these into the wilderness. Somehow, a snowmobile just doesn't have the same appeal.

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