Experience Ultimate Alaska at the Iditarod Start

Note: This is the second of a two-part story by freelance writer Heather Mundt, about her experiences at the 2016 Iditarod.

by Heather Mundt 

High fives are guaranteed at the Iditarod Ceremonial Start. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

 If you’ve had the pleasure – as I have –  to drive or ride with a sled dog team, you never forget the noise of the dogs’ excited shrieks and howls leading up to departure. Now amplify that racket roughly 100 times to get a taste of what it’s like to witness the start of the Iditarod.

Musher Bryan Bearss takes a moment with each member of his team before the start of Iditarod 2015.

 It was that anticipation during the two hours leading up to start time that I’ll never forget: mushers and dog handlers lining the main drag along downtown Anchorage’s 4th Ave., the dogs waiting in harness for a 10 a.m. start as tourists and media visit teams, food and souvenir vendors set up stands along the sidewalks, all amid the yips and cries of amped-up canine athletes. I was surprised at the emotion the scene stirred in me—the whole “specialness” of it—tears sneaking up on me as I thought to myself, “I’m here. I’m really here.”
 I was actually in Alaska, getting to celebrate the Last Great Race on Earth: 1,000 miles paying homage to the historic mail and supply route, and the 1925 lifesaving diphtheria run to Nome. I felt honored to watch as each team launched from the starting line, dogs quiet and focused as they pulled the sled down a snow-covered street, as each musher embarked on a harrowing few weeks in the rugged Alaska wilderness. It was clear to me why the event is a source of pride for Alaskans.
 “We get to showcase our state and a certain lifestyle by sharing Iditarod with the world through media, show the glamourous side of the sport and just how incredible the sled dog is during the beautiful ceremonial start,” says Iditarod 2016 Musher Becca Moore.  “Then once the mushers leave the re-start (in 2017 from Fairbanks) and people follow along through television or newspaper, I think Alaskans feel more connected to the history of Alaska and the importance of the sled dog.”

Watch for sled dogs in Anchorage and Fairbanks this weekend! Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

 Did you know? The first Iditarod took place on March 3, 1973, and has started at the corner of “4th and D” in downtown Anchorage since 1983. And while the ceremonial start traditionally includes an 11-mile run (that does not count toward the overall race), it was reduced in 2016 to an unprecedented 5 miles due to lack of snow. 
 Current champion Dallas Seavey earned his fourth Iditarod victory in 2016 with a record time of eight days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds, walking away with $70,000 and a new Dodge pickup. His dad, Mitch Seavey, took second place. Each year, the last musher to finish the Iditarod receives the Red Lantern Award.

Becca Moore (right) and daughter Ava before the start of Iditarod 2016 in Anchorage. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Meet musher Becca Moore

Mushing since 2000, Becca Moore, 44, is a wife and mom of three kids who achieved her dream of racing the Iditarod in 2016. Married to Iditarod veteran Ramey Smyth, the couple own and operate professional sled-dog racing kennel Smyth Racing Team Homestretch Kennel in Willow, Alaska. Finishing 52nd out of 71 finishers, according to 2016 official race standings, Moore is an advocate for promoting healthy activity for kids. Having met her the morning of her first ceremonial start as an Iditarod racer, she answers my questions here about her Iditarod 2016 experience. Ramey Smyth will be racing in 2017. 

1. You mentioned training for the Iditarod as an example for your kids. Why?

I like that my older kids (Ava and Banyan) can be directly involved in caring for the dogs and getting ready for the race. From raising pups to packing for food drop, they get excited to help. So even though I have to be away much of the time to train, when I am home, the kids like to be part of the process.

2. Considering the significant time and effort that goes into training for the race, what makes it worth the sacrifice for you?

I’m just drawn to long-distance adventure, and there’s nothing like being able to take a team of huskies across the amazing state of Alaska. There’s also nothing quite like having your kids at the finish line with beaming smiles cheering for their mom. They were a part of the training, chores and all the long hours, and then they have the reward too. To see all the teamwork and effort come together, we get to share the joys and success of the finish line.

3. What does the Iditarod mean to you?

The race helps preserve the history of and expands people’s knowledge of sled dogs. It’s really important to me that mushing continues to thrive. I also love that teachers can incorporate the race into a variety of classroom lessons.

4. How was your Iditarod experience?

The race was fantastic for me. I was really excited to experience some of the more talked-about sections of the trail like the Happy River Steps, the Gorge and the Farewell Burn. I loved trail, the checkpoints and the history along the way. It was also wonderful to see all the dogs that I had worked so hard with last season really come together and shine. My leaders were amazing, and I am so proud of them.

5. What advice can you offer to parents based on your racing experience?

It’s so important to keep doing the things you love and are passionate about; I believe it inspires our kids. Also, keep kids involved in what you do but support, encourage and be a very active part in what they love to do. I’m lucky my kids love to mush dogs, but I would never make them do it. I love that they also have their unique interests and I love exploring those things with them.
And for parents, I say it’s never too late! Whether you have no kids, one kid or eight kids, go for that adventure you’ve always dreamed about!

Watch for Iditarod-viewing tips in time for Saturday’s ceremonial start in Anchorage. ~EK

Heather Mundt writes the blog Momfari and lives in Longmont, Colorado with her family. 

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