by Erin Kirkland
It’s pretty clear that the 2017 Iditarod Ceremonial Start will have enough snow after two years of struggling to stay off the bare ground. That’s good news to the 72 teams signed up for the 900+- mile mush to Nome in recognition of the event’s 45th year, and Iditarod Executive Director Stan Hooley isn’t mincing words.
“Always a logistical puzzle, making the Iditarod go,” Hooley said at this afternoon’s media briefing at The Lakefront Anchorage, headquarters for all things Last Great Race.
AKontheGO hasn’t covered the Iditarod Sled Dog Race for anything close to 45 years, but after 8, we’ve got a system for navigating the crowded streets, trails, and pathways upon which 2,000 dogs and their people will mush through Alaska’s largest city. And (this is key) navigating it happily with kids.
Attending Iditarod Ceremonial Start activities on Saturday? Read on for everything you need to know:
WHEN does it start?
The first team departs the starting line on 4th Avenue near Sunshine Mall at 10 a.m., and teams will leave every two minutes after that. Race Director Mark Nordman predicts the final team will leave downtown at 12:40 p.m. The trip from downtown Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip is about 11 miles.
ProTip: If your kids are dying to see dogs up close, and meet mushers as they prepare for the race, walk west along 4th Avenue between 8-9 a.m. on Saturday. While you will be required to stay on the sidewalks, mushers and their handlers know spectators are anxious to say hello and will often pose for photos.
WHERE should we watch?
There are many opinions about the perfect Iditarod Ceremonial Start venue, with some people utilizing the same spot year after year. If this is your first year, or you’d like to shake things up a bit, here are some of our favorite places to catch the teams (and maybe a high-five) as they go by:
- 4th Avenue and Cordova Street. Teams make the turn from the starting line around a sharp corner, then head south along Cordova. We always find room along this stretch, particularly near the Anchorage Cemetery.
- Chester Creek/Sullivan Arena/Mulcahy Park. Walk from the lot at Sullivan Arena to the trail. It can be crowded, but teams typically pick up a bit of speed along this stretch and many folks picnic trailside.
- University Lake/Alaska Native Medical Center Campus. Thanks to free parking on weekends, it’s fairly easy to walk from the UAA campus, or nearby Alaska Native Medical Center. This is a popular spot, particularly where teams enter a narrow chute and tunnel before continuing over the Tudor Road pedestrian overpass.
- Campbell Airstrip/Campbell Tract. By far our favorite place to see teams, savor the views, and participate in a bit of “Trailgating,” Campbell Airstrip is a gem of a place to take the kids. Forests in which to play, ample room to see the dogs, and little struggle for parking thanks to a free shuttle from either Kasuun Elementary or Abbott Loop Community Park nearby. Plus, the folks from Friends of Campbell Creek Science Center will be handing out free hot chocolate along the trail. That’s a win.
WHAT should we bring?
Some Iditarod Ceremonial Start years are warm, and some are cold. The prediction for 2017 is sunny and VERY cold, especially during the morning hours. Dress the kids for warmth, but also for standing around. Hand and foot-warmers, base layers of non-cotton material, hats covering ears, mittens, and a thermos of something hot will go a long way toward happier young spectators.
We also like to picnic while we’re watching teams trot by, and have gotten pretty sophisticated about our Trailgating. Folding table, chairs, food, beverages and flags to wave at mushers. Be sure to pay heed to trail guards, though, and set up your portable camp only where you’ll be out of range of dog teams. ProTip: If you’re downtown, check out Denali Montessori School’s Food Truck Festival during the Ceremonial Start. Good food, great access to the race (right on Cordova Street), and an excellent cause: Kids.
Oh, and a special message from Iditarod officials: Do NOT, under any circumstances, bring your pets. This is a dog race, and one wild family pet can wreak havoc. Please, don’t go there.
HOW can we watch with other families?
You’re in luck; AKontheGO has partnered with Anchorage Community House to bring you a special family-friendly Iditarod Ceremonial Start experience. Interested?
- Meet up along the Campbell Airstrip’s end (near BLM Field Office, off Elmore Road). Look for the folding tables with red covers, AK Dad, and kids running around. That’ll be us. We’ll post photos on our Instagram and Facebook feeds, too, in case you get turned around.
- Bring some drinks, snacks, and sleds/skis/toys. Kids will be playing in the forest and watching sled dogs. ACH owner Meg will also have some activities available, including disposable cameras for a special photo project we’re launching right after the event.
- If you’d like to sit, bring a tarp or camp chairs for comfort.
Ceremonial Start ProTips:
- If viewing the race from downtown, park as far east or west as possible of 4th Avenue to make a clean getaway and avoid traffic jams due to the race lane and spectators.
- Grab a copy of the Alaska Dispatch News race guide, and use it as an autograph album.
- Don’t hesitate to ask mushers questions. If they want to share information, they’ll do it gladly. Be aware, however, that they have a pack of dogs to ready for a starting time and may not be able to chat for long.
- Respect the volunteers. It takes more than 1,000 volunteers between Anchorage and Nome to keep this race running, and some of these folks give up their entire vacation to help Iditarod. Give them a high-five if you can.
- Watch for Make A Wish Kid Annika, originally from Ecuador but receiving life-saving treatment in Wisconsin. Annika, like our first Wish Kid Hannah, would LOVE to hear the love as she rides in Ryan Redington’s sled. We’ll let you know Ryan’s bib number/start order. Stay tuned.
Other AKontheGO Iditarod stories you may enjoy:
Erin Kirkland is publisher of AKontheGO and author of the Alaska On the Go guidebooks. She lives in Anchorage.