Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alaska Day 7, Thursday, Mar 1, 2007

Day 7 was spent grazing downtown Anchorage – again - and resting up for the Musher’s Banquet.

The Musher’s Banquet is where the starting numbers for the race are drawn or in the case of this year, chosen. Apparently, there is a whole lot of woo-woo and ju-ju and some strategy in choosing a number showing the order of starting the race. In year’s past, the preferred slots have been influenced by strategy, since the Official Start on Sunday was in the morning and that would cause the early teams to have to run in the ‘heat’ of the day. Higher numbers were preferred so that the initial run of the race was done in the late afternoon and night. The teams leave at two minute intervals and with 82 teams running this year there is about a two hour spread from team #2 to team #83. That time is made up when the teams take a mandatory 24 hour rest at a checkpoint of their choosing around the Yukon River. The last team out will have a 24 hour hold the next to last will have a 24 hour 2 minute mandatory rest, etc. That way, once all teams have had their 24 hour, the rest is an even race as far as time on the trail and the first team into Nome wins the race.

Anchorage is now getting about 12 hours of visible light from 7:10 to 7:12. However the sun at ‘high’ noon is at most 45 degrees above the horizon, so to us southerners, the sun seems to be either early morning or late afternoon light. This is what I find hard to get used to. I cannot tell time and my circadian rhythms are all messed up! It would not seem that that low sun would make much difference but it actually warms up maybe 20 degrees during the day. The dogs like running in COLD weather, anything above -30 is fine with them. This year’s race begins at 2:00pm so the start time is not that much of a factor.

The Musher’s Banquet is a gathering of the 82 Mushers and about 1800 of their nearest and dearest friends. Need I say it is a mob scene? We were next to the table Karen Ramstead and her hubby were at and got to chat with them.

The first order of business is naming the Honorary Musher. If you noticed, I have been referring to Bib # 2 as the first musher out. Bib #1 is worn by the Honorary Musher, often someone of historical importance to Alaska or the Iditarod. Last year, the Honorary Musher was Jirdes Winther Baxter, the last known survivor of the children who were saved from a diphtheria epidemic by the historic 1925 serum run to Nome. This year, the Honorary Musher is Susan Butcher, four time Iditarod winner, and all around hero. Susan was the driving force for improving the care and conditions of the dogs used in the race and in mushing. Susan died after a valiant fight against leukemia this last August. Her husband, David Monson, accepted the award for her. When the crowd at the banquet gave an over five minute standing ovation tears were in the eyes of many, including me. Susan was my first introduction to the race, and by winning the race 4 out of 5 years, inspired what I think is the ultimate T-shirt: Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod. I still want that shirt!!!!!

Then the selecting of the bib numbers began. Lance Mackey, this year’s winner of the Yukon Quest earned first choice of numbers by being the first Musher to sign up for this year’s race. He camped out in the parking lot of Iditarod HQ for almost 2 weeks. His choice was bib 13 – so much for the bad luck thing – seems his dad and his brother each won the race wearing bib 13.
I was sitting there watching musher after musher pick their bib numbers and just looked at them in awe – these are people who I have followed for years in their quest for the simple prize of a belt buckle given to those who finish the Iditarod. Most of the mushers in the race are not even trying to win. Making it all the way to Nome is winning in their world. The difficulty of even finishing, let alone wining the race is demonstrated by the factoid that more people have climbed Mt. Everest than have completed the Iditarod.

Back to the Hotel after braving the winds of Anchorage – gusts were up to 40 mph, and the wind chill in the –teens. The wind was so strong it actually slid me across the ice in the parking lot. Even the natives are grousing about the weather being brutal.

This is a FOUR dog night with no dogs, but tomorrow I get my dog fix with some fur therapy at Karen’s open house.

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