Iditarod Feb 28 – March 6, 2018 We had 1 week of action packed fun in and around Anchorage, Alaska
Uber picked us up at 5:30 am for our ride to John Wayne airport where we had a 7:50 flight to Seattle. Flight was 2.5 hours and then several hours lay over in Seattle. We flew Alaska airlines, which we always enjoy. Flight to Anchorage was 3.5 hours, so it was the better part of the day. We arrived in Alaska at 4:45 where “Doug our tour guide with Alaska Adventures,” picked us up and took us to nearby ”Lakeside Inn” where we were staying for the week. We were the last of our group of 11 to arrive and it was bitterly cold (9 degrees plus a severe wind.) Everyone else in our group was in the hotel lobby waiting for us, so we quickly ran upstairs of this lovely, large hotel with our luggage. It was a good 5- minute hike as we were at far end of hotel. We just grabbed our warm jackets, boots, and mittens and then joined the rest of our group. Doug drove a large Mercedes van that held 12 people. He took us to the lake to get some sunset photos of Anchorage from across the lake. It was so petty, but bitterly cold with the wind. We all jumped from the van to quickly take some photos. Doug then drove us around town a bit where we saw a big Moose eating some berries from a tree in front of a home! The moose wasn’t a bit afraid of us, but we could not get good photos from the van windows, too much reflection.
Doug then took us to a neat restaurant called “The Aleute Grill” in Anchorage. We were told to order anything from the menu and that the first drink was included in the tour price (in fact, three meals per day were included) Food was excellent, and we were all starved from flying all day! I tried delicious fresh Halibut Kabobs with Cheese Risotto. Don tried the tasty Scallops, and we both shared some yummy Potato Leek soup. It seemed like a good group with 2 couples, 4 single women, a single man, and a mother and daughter.
We arrived back at the hotel around 9pm and organized our gear. We were tired after a long day, so we set our alarm for 6:45 to get ready, have breaky in the hotel, and meet Doug in lobby by 7:30. We were to wear warm clothing in layers for our day of “Mushing” the next day.
Thursday March 1st
Awoke before alarm went off and could not go back to sleep. I was worried about having enough warm clothing for the day. We arranged our “layers” of warm clothing, taking extra items in our small backpack. We had “Breaky” at 6:45 in hotel coffee shop before meeting Doug at 7:30 in the lobby. We waited in the lobby for 20 minutes for one person who Doug finally called in her room. She had overslept and quickly joined us. By 8am, we were all piled into the van for our hour-long drive to the Dog Mushing place in Willow. The owner “Vernon” and his wife were former Mushers and raised dogs for the Iditarod and other races. He was also the mayor of Willow. We also met “Cindy Abbott”, another dog Musher with an incredible story! Cindy had climed Mt. Everest in 2010. Both talked to us and told us about the highlights of dog mushing, the TLC given to each dog, and all the strategy. It’s a tough life, and we had a renewed respect for these strong men and women and dogs! There were 67 teams competing, with 25 % of the contestants being female. Some of these women were tiny and petite. Four countries were represented: U.S., Canada, Norway, and France. Cindy had an incurable disease, and yet she has summited Mt. Everest in 2010! We purchased her book entitled “Reaching Beyond the Clouds”. She has since run several Iditarod races winning 2 “red Lantern” races. Her love of each dog was very evident and in all the other dog handlers. We were very impressed with the treatment of the dogs and the whole operation.
After a nice lunch in their Facility, we all donned heavier clothes. We were given Mukluk Boots and heavy space like suits to keep us warm. Don and I were so warm and could hardly move in our suits, as they were large on us. These clothes were to wear over our own warm things. Mine was so large, I could hardly walk (the crotch was hanging down to my knees)
Don and I all bundled up for our Mushing
I felt like the “Michelin l Woman”! It was difficult to move, let alone walk in the deep snowdrifts! We also had very large, warm gloves with the instant “Hand warmers” inside. They really work and last up to 8 hours! Needless to say, we were warm and toasty. The dogs were great, and did they LOVE TO MUSH! They were so excited when it came time to run! They were all jumping, whining, and squealing!
We rode on Snowmobiles until it was our turn to “Mush” on the sled. We had to really hold on tight.
Don Mushing Sharon Mushing
It was So beautiful and pristine in the virgin woods, as we saw the trees and branches laden with the white stuff! What fun we all had! (Photos) The dogs were actually warm and would roll in the snow to cool off and to grab a bite of snow. After our mushing, we went back to see the dogs at the ranch. They were so friendly and lovable, putting their front paws on our shoulders and giving us doggie kisses!
Don with lead dog named “Banana”. Banana ran the Iditarod race 2 times
Sharon getting doggie kisses More doggie kisses for Sharon
We all thanked Vernon, Cindy, and crew for the Incredible day and said our “goodbyes” before the hour long drive back to Anchorage. Back at hotel by 4:15, we all had to meet in lobby by 5pm for our ride to the “Musher’s Banquet” at the Convention Center. It was a lovely, huge center, and we first got to meet the Mushers before we joined in the Silent Auction downstairs, and then the Banquet.
Each Musher must spend about $75, 000 dollars to run the race, once qualified. They need many sponsors. We “Mingled” upstairs for awhile before going to the Silent Auction. Our group was seated at a large table where we enjoyed the Banquet. There was live music up front, then the program started. Each Contestant was introduced and gave a short speech. There was a Bio of each Musher and we listened as we read along with our Official Race Guide, given to each person attending. It had the names, photos, and race stats and the winnings they had incurred. We listened to some really touching stories of adversity and triumph! Some mushers were veterans, and some were rookies. The Iditarod covers 1,049 miles and lasts anywhere from 8 to 14 days. We were home by 9:30 and I hit the sac after journaling until 11:30.
Friday March 2
Up by 5:30 so we can get to the coffeeshop by 6:30 for Breaky. We’re to meet Doug in the lobby by 7am. The coffee shop was packed today, and the service was very slow. Obviously, they were under staffed. We finally put our “Quick order” in of oatmeal and yogurt parfait and juice. It did not come in time for us to leave, so we had to cancel our order. We asked for it to be “takeout” but were told it would take too long. Doug had bananas and some snacks in the van, and he allowed us to stop for 5 minutes to get some “Crispy Creams” to share with the group. We had a long drive to get to a long, 2-mile tunnel, that only had a 25-mph speed and it was only open once per hour! It was the Tunnel that took us to “Whittier”, gate way to ”Prince William Sound.” We were supposed to take a cruise on the frigid sound, but it had to be the “Captain’s Call”. We were lucky to make it in time, and also to take the cruise. The yesterday’s group was cancelled due to the 60 Knott winds, and todays wind was only 12 Knotts. So, we hopped aboard the “Lazy Otter Tours”. Captain “Mike” and his mate had interesting stories. The boat was warm and comfy with plenty of seats inside. They even had hot chocolate and coffee and homemade warm chocolate chip cookies on board! It was freezing outside in front of boat, but several were out there most of the time (All bundled up of course)
Panoramic view of Prince William Sound
We all took photos of the wildlife and icebergs and glaciers. It was pretty much a “Winter Scene” with all black and white, except for the beautiful glacial silt blue color. We were lucky to see some Otters, Seals, Eagles, and beautiful pure white Mountain Goats.
Find the Otter Bald Eagle flew near our boat
Mountain goat high on the side of cliff
The white Goats showed up on the dark cliffs ahead of the boat! The boat was strong and would break up some small icebergs in the frigid water. Captain Mike stopped the boat for 10 min., so we could get out and get photos and skip some smooth stones.
A view of our boat on Prince William Sound, Alaska
We had a nice picnic Lunch onboard with tasty “Boars head” (my fav) sandwiches, chips, fruit, and goodies. It “Hit the spot” out there in cold country while on the cozy boat.
By time we disembarked, it must have been around 4 hours that we enjoyed our glacial cruise. There was another group waiting to go out on the boat.
On way back to Anchorage, we stopped at the “Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center”, where we saw Bears, Bison, Wolves, and Musk Ox, supposedly the warmest of all furs. The males were butting their heads (horns) together. We drove and walked through the huge facility.
Musk Oxen at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center Wolf at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Then Doug had another “Surprise for us. He drove us to a lovely Ski Resort called “Girdwood” where we all took the huge “Alyesha Tram” up to the top where the views were beautiful, and the five star restaurant and bar called “7 Mountains”. Doug bought us all a drink in the bar as well as appetizers. It was “Happy Hour” and we were a happy group! Two of the gals were from Chicago and they were a “Hoot”! I called them the “Giggle Sisters” and the “Selfie Sisters”, as they liked to do both! (especially after having Vino)
LuLu and JoJo, the Selfie Sisters
“Jo Jo” and “Lu Lu” made the trip such fun for us all! Jo Jo brought up the fact that the “wet weather made her hair frizzy”, as she looked at our good-natured leader Doug, and asked him if he agreed? Doug was bald, and we all laughed so hard, along with him!
We arrived back in Anchorage around 6pm and met in the hotel lobby by 7:30 for dinner. We ate at “49th State Brewery” in Anchorage, and we all Loved it! Great food, service, and ambiance! It was a packed place, so we all ate upstairs at a long table. I had delicious fresh Halibut Tacos (Yummy); Don had Salmon and Smashed Potatoes. All our dishes were great! Such a fun night as we all got to know one another better! Ladies were: LuLu and JoJo, Carol, Nellie, Donna and daughter Casey, and the other couple Maurice and Norma, and single guy named Steve. We were lucky to have a fun and compatible group, as well as our guide “Doug”! I called him “J.W.’’ for John Wayne, as his voice sounded so much like the “Dukes”! It was a long day but filled with great memories!
Doug our guide View from Alyesha tram looking back to resort
Sat. March 3
6:30 wakeup call so we could enjoy Room Service that we ordered last night. It was supposed to be there by 6:30, but alas, it was nearly 7:30 when it arrived, and we were supposed to meet Doug in the lobby by 7:45. Only half order was brought, so we wolfed the cold Oatmeal down and our coffee, then ran downstairs to meet group. Clearly, the hotel had a staffing issue. We were happy with our lovely room and comfy bed, it was just the food service that needed help!
As Doug drove us to the Iditarod start in Anchorage, it was lightly snowing and so pretty! This was a great year for snow, as many years they have not near the snow they need. The “Preliminary Race” was to start by 10am in town. Doug dropped us all off and told us to just enjoy the surroundings and walk around. That’s just what we did as we saw the various dog teams and mushers and people everywhere! Some “Rigs” were really fancy for the dogs and some were very basic, just in the back of their trucks. We saw the dogs getting lots of love and attention by the dog handlers. Every little while, we would duck into a shop to browse and warm up before meeting our “El Groupo” at a local Mexican restaurant for lunch at 12:30. We purchased some Iditarod shirts and mugs and goodies to take back home. I also bought some cute miniature Husky stuffed dogs for my “Grands”.
This race was just a formality until the actual race started on Sunday from Willow. All 67 teams would perform for the crowds. The dogs were such fun to watch and clearly LOVED what they did! They were born and raised to run! They were barking and jumping in anticipation of the race!
Un-official Iditarod in Anchorage, Alaska Un-official Iditarod race in Anchorage, Alaska
Then, once the race was over, we were given ” Reindeer Run” T-shirts and antlers for this fun tradition. We just pulled them over our warm clothing and started to chase these cute Reindeer down the snowy streets. They were brought out on ropes, about two dozen, and they were so cute! People were dressed in crazy clothes, like P.J’s, and Drag outfits and a group of “Grandmas running for Reindeers” wearing rollers in their hair. It was really tough running in these deep snowdrifts! The Reindeer had some sharp antlers (Racks), and one had to be careful that they did not come too close. We had a group photo around “Stella”, a very cute and calm Reindeer. It was like she was posing for us! It was crazy fun! Then we were driven back to hotel for some free time before dinner. It was nice to have 90 minutes of free time! Don took a little rest while I caught up with my journaling before we got ready for dinner. “Capo Bellas” Italian restaurant was a great hit! Nice atmosphere, great food and service! We had such a great day and evening. Went to bed around 11pm.
Part of our group at the Reindeer Race in Anchorage, Alaska Reindeer Race, Anchorage, Alaska
Sunday March 4
Got up at 7am to be ready to meet Doug in lobby by 8am. We’re all done trying to have breakfast in the hotel, so we are going out to local places for remainder of breakfasts. We tried a Great place called “Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant”. What a cute place with the waitresses wearing old Bordello costumes and old photos on the walls. Also, photos of the big 1964 earthquake in Anchorage. The food was Delish with Huge Helpings! I had yummy Belgian Waffles and shared them with Don and others. He had Eggs, Biscuits and Gravy. Everyone loved their food and we should have shared our breakfasts, just so much food! By 10am, we were on our way to “Willow” for the official start of the Iditarod. We arrived at 11am, and the Race started at 2pm. There was plenty of time to wander around and check out everything. We took some photos of all the people and the beautiful, snowy trees, and we found a good spot close to the “Start”, as there were people lined up for a mile on either side of the trail. Then the trail wound up into the hills and trees. The race started off with a Bang right at 2pm, with each musher being introduced, along with his dog team, every 2 minutes! We watched the first 15 teams start their long run, before walking around to see other vantage points. It was really tough walking in deep snowdrifts, and I did a couple of “face plants” as my boots sunk down to my mid calves and once, to my knees! Don was sorry he did not capture me in a photo during those times! (not me!)
Vet checking urine samples Dog with urine bag for testing
The Iditarod 2018 race in Willow, Alaska. All dogs have booties.
Doug doing a snow angel with a child at Alaska’s Iditarod Beautiful “Hoarfrost” trees, Alaska
We had some warm food outside and some hot chocolate to warm me up! My feet got quite damp from the snow getting down into my boots. Later, our group had a “group Photo” taken under the “Start” sign. Then Doug did some Snow Angels in the snow with a cute little boy who was loving it! He was a lot of fun and so easy going! Earlier that day, he stopped in route to Willow to show us some beautiful “trees with “Hoar frost”. The temp must be just right, and it made the trees look like Lace with Glitter everywhere! There must be some sunshine for this phenomenon to take place. Definition of Hoar Frost: A gray-white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor found in clear, still weather on trees, fences etc. Around 5pm, we all piled into van again for our pretty drive to “Settles Bay Lodge” in Wasilla. This is the home of Sarah Palin, and Lulu in our group looked so much like her! We kept calling her “Sarah”. There were photos of Sarah on the walls. It was a neat restaurant/lodge right on the Bay. We had a wonderful meal! I had Chicken with Mushrooms and a great salad. I also had my first white Sangria and it tasted like peach. We had a nice meal and evening. The fog started rolling in, so we started our 45-minute drive back to Anchorage.
Monday March 5
We awoke early to be ready for Breaky at a nearby “50’s Diner”. It was a cute place with really good food! Jukebox was playing some favorite “oldies”, and we had fun! Then we were on our way to the airport for our flight to “Rainy Pass” (on the Iditarod trail). We prayed we could make the flight, as it was the pilot’s call due to the weather and winds. Once again, we got lucky! We checked into “Rust’s Flying Service” where they weighed each of us completely dressed in warm clothing and boots and with our gear. There were 3 separate pilots for our group. Red and white Single Engine planes.
The plane we flew up on to Rainy Pass, Alaska View of Mushing team far below the plane, ALaska
Typical Alaskan topography from plane View below the plane of a snaking river, Alaska
“Scott” was our pilot and he flew us over Denali Park to see some wildlife (we saw a herd of Moose), along with a few Dog teams and mushers on the trail to “Rainy Pass”, one of the check in points. It is where the trail starts to really get tough. The flight took about an hour. We saw gorgeous scenery below, and we were so lucky to have such good weather and sunshine. Once we arrived, it was again, tough to walk in the deep drifts! We were taken closer to the Iditarod trail and check in point on Snow Mobiles. There were chairs set up with goodies and snacks along the trail. There were no public restroom facilities there, so I had to hike up in the deep drifts to the outhouse. I tired to use the restroom in the old lodge (the oldest in Alaska), but it was not for the public.
Rainy Pass check point. Oldest lodge in Alaska Dog teams arriving to Rainy Pass checkpoint
Dogs resting on their hay after running. Hay bales and fuel used by the Mushers
Food set aside for each dog team, Rainy Pass Don and Sharon at Rainy Pass, Alaska
Vet checking out dogs at Rainy Pass Checkpoint.
Later, I had some hot chocolate in the lodge and sat by the fire to warm me up. I was careful to not have too much liquid, so I didn’t have to make another trip up to the outhouse! We walked over to the dog teams resting on their hay bedding. There must have been around 15 teams that had checked in at this check point. If the dogs had run 8 hours, they would rest for 8 hours, along with the Musher. They would be fed, checked by the vet, have their booties changed on each paw, and rested. They were fed warm beef mixed with water for more liquid. There was one required 24-hour rest stop and one required 8-hour rest stop during the race. The Mushers really had their hands full, with so much to do for the dogs! There is a lot of Strategy with running the dogs. The dogs get a lot more rest than the mushers. If a dog doesn’t look right, the vet will drop them, and that means they will be taken back to their kennel in Ancorage. We were so impressed with the care of the dogs, and the loving attention given them. It was obvious how much they loved to run, it was really in their blood! Despite all this, Peta was there to protest. We also heard (rumors only) of possible dog doping. The dogs all go through a urine testing prior to the race however. We saw the dog food “Caches”, along with the bales of hay, fuel to heat the water, and drinking water. There was an Official to check all the dog teams in.
For lunch, we had the choice of Moose stew in the lodge (it was a bit gamey for me), or a Hamburger grilled outside and served with Cole Slaw. We chose the burgers and a hot chocolate. It was interesting watching all the activity everywhere! Planes coming and going, Snow Mobiles, dog teams coming and going. One had to really watch for traffic! Once the sun set behind the mountain, it got really cold fast! My feet were damp and cold as well as my nose! We were to leave and fly back by 3:30 and I was ready! We arrived at the hotel with an hour to spare before going to our “Farewell Dinner”. I had some hot coffee in the room to warm me up.
We tried a different Brewery restaurant in Anchorage and it was great! It was a huge place and was packed! I started out with a pear cider and it was so good! Don and I split a “Chopped Salad” and it was still huge. Then we shared a Delish “Macadamia Encrusted Rockfish” dinner, which we loved! It was just the right amount. Doug ordered King Crab for both tables, but I passed. Just too much food and I didn’t want to be so full. Later, Doug ordered 2 desserts for both tables, so I was glad I wasn’t stuffed! One was a dark, rich chocolate cake (too rich for me), and the other was a yummy Cream Brule which was great! I did have a few tastes of it.
Our last group breakfast in Anchorage, minus 4 of the group
We all exchanged addresses, cell phone numbers, and E-mails so we could stay in touch and share just 12 – 15 of our Best Photos of the trip. This will be difficult for us as Don takes so many photos!
We’re sure going to miss our fun group and itinerary, and it’s amazing how fast the time went by and how fast we all bonded! Guess we must go home to catch up on our rest! We later met in the hotel bar for a longer chat before we said our “goodbyes” LuLu and JoJo were flying out that night in the wee hours (3am) for Chicago, so we would not see them tomorrow. They were just going to stay up until they were delivered to the airport. We got back to room around 11:30 and decided to just pack early in the am.
Tuesday March 6
We got up at 5:30 to pack and get ready by 6:45 when we would meet Doug and others in the lobby. We were down there a bit early with our bags packed. Doug loaded our suitcases in back of the van, and we were off by 7am for breaky at “Gwinnies” again! We were leaving on Alaska airlines at 10am. Breakfast was again, wonderful! I had scrambled Eggs, grits, and a side of French Toast. I could not eat it all.
Then Doug drove us to the airport and we all hugged and said our “Good byes”. We waited for an hour for our first flight to Seattle. Nice 3-hour flight. Second flight, just under 3 hours. We always enjoy Alaska Airlines. Once back at John Wayne airport, we called Uber and soon had a ride back home to Laguna Beach, arriving around 7:30pm.
Good to arrive home, as always, but I do have a bit of “let down” after experiencing such good memories! We loved seeing beautiful Alaska in the Winter, as we had several trips there in the Spring and Summer, but All seasons are lovely in Alaska!
Now for all the four-letter words: Work, Bills, Pack (Unpack), Wash, Diet. In other words, back to the routine.