Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dog Sledding

After watching other people mush dogs during the Iditarod, we decided to try it ourselves (#85 on the list). So, we drove out to Knik and met with GB of The Iditarod Trail Kennel. GB participated (and finished) the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. He has many dogs, all of whom ran in one or both of the races as well.

First we learned about the sled and the basic controls. We then hooked up all 8 dogs and traveled out to the oval course off the historic Iditarod Trail. With GB riding along we both drove around the loop getting a feel for the course and the dogs.

After that I drove around with Rebekah in the basket, and then we switched. It was a blast and the dogs has a ton of fun as well!

When we were done with driving, we rode in the basket as GB took us for a trip up the Iditarod Trail. It was narrow and there were a lot more hills, so I am glad we weren't still driving.

GB was a great host and loves showing off his dogs. He only charged us $20 per person, when we have seen similar packages for much more at other more "touristy" locations. We recommend anyone who is interested visit the website and send an email to GB.

On the way home we stopped to take some pictures of Knik Arm.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Willow Re-Start

Hope everyone enjoyed the pictures from the ceremonial start in Anchorage. Here are some pictures from the official re-start in Willow, AK, which is about 50 miles north of Anchorage. There is a need for a restart due to the lack of snow leading from Anchorage north. The re-start takes place on the frozen Willow Lake. It is sort of like a big tailgate party. People start fires, bring grills, enjoy various beverages, ride snow machines and also cross-country ski. It was windy on the lake, but luckily we were all bundled up!

This year, the winner of the Iditarod was Lance Mackey, who has won both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest in the same year, four times now. His time was 8 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 9 seconds. This was the second fastest time ever recorded. The fastest time was set in 2002 by Martin Buser, with a time of 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and 2 seconds. This year second place went to Hans Gatt and third place went to Jeff King, a veteran musher who has said that this was is last Iditarod.


Friday, March 26, 2010

The Last Great Race- Saturday Ceremonial Start

A few weekends ago was the start of the Iditarod (#23 on the list). It was a big event 'round these parts. Lots of tourists. You can always tell the tourists because they are either 1. lacking appropriate cold weather clothing or 2. wearing brand new winter apparel, like they just had an REI shopping spree.

It is also so interesting that they call the Iditarod the "Last Great Race". It is 1,049 miles long. Another race, the Yukon Quest, is approximately 1,000 miles long. So, about the same distance. It is also important to know that the exact mileage changes each year because the route may change slightly. The Iditarod also has a Northern and a Southern route. During even numbered years, the mushers follow the Northern route and during odd-numbered years, they follow the Southern route.

On Saturday, there is a ceremonial start in Anchorage where the mushers ride only about 20 miles. The dogs that they use during this ceremonial start are not the same dogs that they will be using on the actual Iditarod trail. They just cannot risk their dogs getting hurt while they are basically just showing off for everyone who comes downtown to see them. All of the mushers have what is called an "Idita-rider" in their sled with them. Basically, this is a person who pays a lot of money to get to ride with the musher during the ceremonial start.

Lance Mackey and his Idita-Rider.

We actually showed up 2 hours before the start, so we could secure a spot of our choice right next to the starting line. We were actually standing right in front of where the news cameras were. The reporter interviewed the woman standing on the other side of Steven and some friends said they saw him on TV!! Steven was excited that we has finally reached celebrity status in Anchorage!!

There were many different people from many different places that were participating in this years race. There was someone from Jamaica, someone from Scotland (who wore a kilt while on his sled and had his dogs dressed out in plaid tartans), and a veteran named DeeDee Jonrowe who is a breast cancer survivor and almost 60 years old!! She had all of her dogs wearing pink little booties to keep the snow off of their feet. We were also cheering for Aliy Zirkle's team. On Friday night, we were coming out of the restaurant and at the hotel that is next door, people were getting their pictures made with the dogs. Although it is a little blurry, here is a picture of Steven and I with some real sled dogs!!!

Her team's Kennel has a website with lots of videos and information regarding dog mushing!! Check it out! It is a great educational resource for anyone wanting to learn about sled dogs!!

I want to leave you with a few more pictures from the ceremonial Iditarod start in Anchorage, Alaska!! Stay tuned for pictures from the official re-start in Willow, Alaska.

Scottish pups and Scottish musher.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fur Rendezvous, Sunday

Saturday we just wanted to go see Fur Rondy. On Sunday we decided to jump right in and experience it. We started bright and early (for an Alaskan winter) at 10 am at the Peanut Farm, which is a local sports bar. They were hosting Ice Bowling on the pond behind the restaurant.

The lanes are a little shorter and right next to each other without gutters or dividers. And since the ice isn't perfectly smooth, and gets progressively less smooth as you throw a bowling ball across it, it makes for some interesting bowling. I, in one throw, successfully managed to get a strike on two lanes as the ball ricocheted off the back barriers of hay. Luckily for the bowlers, there were volunteer children (or maybe the employees' kids being forced) to retrieve the balls and reset the pins after every throw.

I hit no pins on my first and last throws of the day, but managed to knock every pin down on every throw in between (except one) to finish the 10 frames with a score of 258 (about 40 higher than I have ever finished in real bowling). Rebekah came in at a very respectable 99, which was around where the rest of our friends came in.

(Rebekah got a little intense)

After a small stop off for lunch, we went to Jason and Brittany's place just in time to watch the 3rd period and overtime of the memorable Gold Medal Olympic Hockey game between Canada and the USA. We were convinced that it was destiny for the US to win after the tying goal with less than a minute remaining in the 3rd period, but somehow Sid the Kid managed to pull off the winning goal for Canada.

From there we walked down the street to watch part of the World Championship Sled Dog Races, which occurs during the first weekend of Fur Rondy. Many of these mushers are the same that compete in the Iditarod, which begins the following weekend. However, these are their sprint dog teams instead of the endurance teams they will use during that race. The World Championship Sled Dog Race is a three day race completing a loop in Anchorage. It lasts only a couple of hours per day and is based off elapsed time. As with all sled dog races, they let a team go every couple of minutes so the teams are spaced out for the safety of the dogs and drivers.

Next we drove down to Ship Creek to view the entries in the Snow Sculpture Contest.

It was amazing what the teams were able to make out of blocks and piles of snow.

The winning entry (and our favorite) showed a Native Alaskan in a small one person fishing boat and a giant fish. The entry was very detailed and looked like it took a long time to complete.

After parking downtown, we walked down to 4th Avenue to participate in the Running of the Reindeer. This was the 3rd annual event, and basically it is a 6 block run. First they let a group of people start running down the snow covered street.

About 10 seconds after the start they release a half dozen male reindeer (oh, and they have sprayed the urine of female reindeer in heat on the trailers at the end of the race) which run as fast as they can through the crowd to the end.

Chaos ensues as many people are scared by the proximity to the reindeer. However, the reindeer just try to avoid the people and no one has been hurt in the race in the three years it has been put on (by the reindeer at least, a few people have fallen on the snow and ice).

Did I mention that people like to wear crazy costumers?

As we walked back to our cars, we stopped to watch the blanket toss going on at the carnival. It looked like fun, but we were all worn out from the long day and decided to go home and sleep.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fur Rendezvous, Saturday

Here in Anchorage, there is a winter carnival and festival the weekend and week before the Iditarod (#24 on the list). Wikipedia says that Fur Rondy (for short) is celebrating the end of a long winter and the beginning of spring. Although spring is on it's way, it is not here yet! Fur Rondy gets its origins from the time when fur trappers would meet in Anchorage to hold their annual swap meets with their harvests. They began to hold sports tournaments around this swapping. That was 75 years ago, before Alaska was even a state! Today, there are events all over town, including dog sled races, hockey, a parade, fire works, a snow sculpture competition, Frostbite Footrace 5k, Outhouse Races (I will show you), carnival with rides, Trappers and Miners Charity Ball, Ms. Fur Rondy Pageant, Running of the Reindeer, Ice Bowling and more. Needless to say, we were busy and we didn't even go to everything that there was going on!

First, we walked around at the carnival to see what was there. We saw the Fur Auction and the creative headwear that people were sporting. In the background, you can see the fur auction. Those furs are NOT cheap. A coyote skin was auctioned for $400!! But, 6 squirrels went unsold...go figure.

Next was the Outhouse Races sponsored by the Architecture and Engineering Club at UAA. Apparently these are the World's Largest Outhouse Races. Wow, I didn't know that this happened anywhere else but Anchorage, Alaska. Basically, different teams built structures that resemble outhouses, put them on skiis and race them down the snow-covered street. The teams go two-by-two so as not to cause a traffic jam. Some of them have funny names and themes...

Just something entertaining to get us out of the house during the long, cold winter!! Stay tuned for more Fur Rondy, the Iditarod starts in Anchorage and Willow and our dog mushing adventure!!!