Ceremonial Start Day


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North America » United States » Alaska » Anchorage
March 3rd 2018
Published: March 4th 2018
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Iditarod officially starts Sunday, but today was the Ceremonial Start, traditionally held the Saturday before the start. In common parlance, they refer to the two events as the Ceremonial Start and the Restart. Today's event started at one end of town and the Iditarod mushers each take one lucky passenger on an 11-mile ride down the center of town, then out of town and through the woods, finishing at a somewhat remote location. The selection process for "IditaRiders" starts in December the prior year, when people are invited to submit bids to ride in a particular musher's sled. The more well-known and popular the musher is, the higher the bidding price goes, maxing out at $7500! Anyone can watch the bidding to see who wins in January, and see how much each musher earns to support the race. A few days before the race, the IditaRider gets to meet the musher they "won," attend the musher draw banquet (where the order of start for the race is determined), and ride in the Ceremonial race through town. They also get up close at the Restart to hang with "their" musher before he or she takes off for the big journey!

My job Saturday was nowhere near the start in town, but rather at the finish, helping IditaRiders "dismount" from the sleds, directing visitors, and helping with the shuttle bus tracking and loading. But before my shift started at 10:00 am, I headed into town to watch them setting up for the Ceremonial Start. Overnight, dump trucks had unloaded tons of snow (dug up from their snow "dumps" where they haul snow from the city streets), enough to fill 4th Street with 5-6" depth of snow, and huge compactors smoothed the snow to prepare for the race. But, getting the teams to the start area required trucking through the newly compacted snow; the heavy trucks and trailers have little traction, and they really dig ruts into the nicely compacted snow. Volunteers then had to smooth it out to make it better for the teams, mushers and riders. It was interesting to watch the trucks and trailers coming up the side streets to the start area and try to negotiate the deep snow.

It was fun to be at the finish and see the chaos as 67 sleds, 530-600 dogs, and 67 IditaRiders (some first-timers) all arrived in a lot to disembark and load the trucks to depart. I heard someone describe it as an ant farm that got dumped out, and it's pretty accurate! They do a good job of trying to prepare, by announcing the next musher through the chute and which teams are following. Still, when several teams arrive close together, it's pretty chaotic with teams and sleds arriving and trying to locate their truck and helpers, excited dogs wanting to go where THEY want to go, loaded kennel trucks leaving to make space as more trucks arrive! It was fun to chat with people from all over, though I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to, between ejecting one rider from a sled and chasing down the next arrival!

I loved the jacket so much, I asked if him to tell me about it, and if I could take his picture. His said his friend, Jason Stewart, is a musher and has worked as a Corrections Officer for 3 years.

It was fun to hear the IditaRiders rave about how great the trip was, and hearing some of the escapades. A few of the sleds tipped over rounding a curve, many experienced
Furry ManFurry ManFurry Man

He said it's Brown Bear, Black Bear, and Fox!
a bumpy ride, and one team apparently saw a dog in a yard along the route, and nearly ended up on someone's front porch! I saw more than one rider with misty eyes describing how much they loved it. Temperatures were in the 20s, which was ideal for a short fun run, and about noon, the snow started to fall, which enhanced the ride.

When I finished my stint at the finish, I headed back to town to watch the Running of the Reindeer. This event is part of Fur Rondy, and the local radio station created it and has sponsored it for the past 11 years. The DJ who was hosting the show said he was surprised when they let them do it, and are surprised every year when they get to continue it. There is a $30 registration fee to run, and I can't begin to estimate how many runners there were. It is based on the running of the bulls in Spain, but with reindeer! Surprisingly, no one has been hurt. They ran races for men only, women only, and two heats of combined tourists and couples. Many of the contestants were in costume, and what costumes they were!

After they unloaded all the snow for the Ceremonial Start in the morning, before 4 pm they trucked all the snow back to where it came from, the snow dump. Then they lined up the Running with the Reindeer contestants in groups. For each start, they led 2 dozen reindeer from Palmer's Reindeer Farm behind the runners. They counted down the start and let the runners get a head start of about a city block, then they let the reindeer loose. I have some pretty fantastic videos, but I haven't figured out how to upload them here yet. The DJ said what they use for "bait" is the female reindeer at the far end of the 5 block fenced area! After the reindeer go by, their handlers run after them and lead them back to the start, where they part the field of runners to get them behind them and do it all over again. It was funny to watch all the people running and holding their phones up to capture the action.

In the Men's field, there was a guy in boxer shorts. Not surprisingly, the DJ called him to the front and asked him about his mental state, before asking him to make a snow angel in the street - he obliged!


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but he's wearing my colors!
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Ohio is represented.
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This guy is UNDER dressed!


4th March 2018

Boy oh boy!
Pat-this sounds like a lot of fun. I love your choice of photos!

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