When Alaska sled dog racers boot up they are not starting up a computer. They are putting protective booties on their dogs to protect their feet. This week is the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The actual race starts in Willow, but on the first Saturday of March the ceremonial start of the race takes over Anchorage’s 4th Avenue amid ceremony and celebration. IditaRiders win auction bids to ride in the basket of a sled for the first 11 miles of the trail with a musher. The auction helps support the race.
The first 11 miles don’t count in the race but the mushers have to be careful not to injure their dogs, or tire them before the race. Yet they have to put on a good and happy show.
The start of the race seems like organized chaos, a reunion of Alaskans happy for the first of March. The start of the Iditarod is winter’s last stand. And while on the trail the song “When it’s Springtime in Alaska it’s 40 below” sometimes rings true, it is our statewide celebration of the coming spring and the advancing light. The northern lights are running wild but will soon give way to the long light in the land of the midnight sun.
These pictures are from the ceremonial start in 2007. I am in Sitka for the start of this year’s race but it’s a sure thing I will be following it closely.