Mush on, you huskies! It’s barely three days until the start of Iditarod 2014, when 70+ teams of 20+ dogs and one human apiece will depart from downtown Anchorage for more than 1,000 miles of Alaska backcountry mushing. In its 42nd year, the Iditarod is known as the “Last Great Race,” and a great one it is, for perhaps no other sport requires the coordination, cooperation, and gumption of both canines and people.
Emails begin arriving sometime in late January from eager race-watchers who want to know, exactly, how a family is to stand outside for hours on end waiting for a team of dogs to come ’round the bend on their way to Nome. Lucky for everybody that AKontheGO has spent several years scoping out venues for family-friendly Iditarod viewing on Ceremonial Start day, Saturday, March 1. You’re covered, folks, but let’s discuss the must-know stuff, first.
IDITAROD FAMILY-VIEWING CHECKLIST:
1. Dress appropriately. While the weather for Iditarod 2014 is not expected to be bone-chilling, it will indeed still be winter. Snowsuits, hats, mittens, weather-wise boots are a must, and perhaps stashing extra mittens in a backpack is a good idea, since trailside viewing can become snowball-tossing, snowman-building fun after a while.
2. Bring a map. The Iditarod Race Committee has a website with all things Ceremonial Start, including where to access the beginning and end of the Race, Day One. Whether you and your family want to see the send-off along 4th Avenue downtown, or plan to cheer on teams from an Anchorage trail, a map is a must for adequate directions and parking opportunities.
3. Plan for a busy, hungry day. Kids get hungry, especially while walking, playing, and clapping hands, so pack food, drinks, and a small trash bag. We carry a backpack or two wiith everything we’ll need for a day outside, including a small tarp upon which to set up a picnic along the trail. If planning on watching the start downtown, expect enormous crowds and long lines for beverages and snacks. Keep an eye on kids!
4. Hop a bus. Parking along the most popular viewing areas is nearly impossible, especially on a sunny day, when the entire population of Alaska appears to be out and about. A best bet is to catch a shuttle bus at Kasuun Elementary near Elmore and E 68th Street, or at Abbott Loop Community Park just south of Kasuun, along Elmore Road. This free bus will transport your family to a number of viewing areas along the latter portion of the Ceremonial Start route, within the Campbell Tract. Buses begin running around 10:30 a.m. and will continue until at least 3 p.m.
5. Want to meet mushers? Go early. Downtown’s 4th Avenue is blocked off to anybody without official credentials around 8 a.m., but mushers are happy to talk with their adoring public over the fence. Take an Iditarod guide and a felt pen and see how many autographs you can nab. Mushers are humble people, and while they don’t always like the publicity, most, if not all, love to promote the sport to kids. TIP: Be downtown by 8 a.m., gather your high-fives and photos, then head out along the trail in time for the 10 a.m. start. Teams depart every two minutes after that.
Armed with a plan and ready to roll, AKontheGO has a few favorite venues whereby we “Tailgate” along the trail, enjoying the sights and sounds of Iditarod 2014. Join us, and don’t forget to holler for booties!
1. Cordova Street, downtown Anchorage. Right out of the chute, Cordova is where mushers are all smiles, and dogs are fresh and ready for a day of running. We enjoy the entire stretch of Cordova, and find parking on the east side of the Anchorage Cemetery, a bit of a walk, but doable for most kids.
2. Anchor Park, located near Lake Otis Parkway and 20th Avenue (north of Northern Lights Blvd). Nice wooded stretch with a neighborhood feel. A good place with run-around room for kids as well, especially near the ball fields.
3. Campbell Creek Science Center, just off Elmore Road near E. 68th is once again hosting an Iditarod party, with hot chocolate, trail information, and crafts for kids. Catch a shuttle (mentioned above), as parking is reserved for staff and VIPs, but once there, it’s tons of fun. Center staff and volunteers will be on hand to help find viewing areas, too, and access to our favorite spot along the Campbell Airstrip is easy. Show up at the Science Center between 10:30 a.m.and 3 p.m. for excellent Iditarod 2014 family fun. Tell ’em I sent you.
4. Campbell Airstrip, accessible via the Science Center, Abbott Loop Community Park, or Campbell Airstrip Road, just off Tudor Road. Amazing views (and photo ops), flat terrain for skiing or hiking, and a nice place for a picnic; that’s the airstrip, and it’s our favorite, year after year.
Questions? We love to talk Iditarod, so do email us if you have any concerns or questions about experiencing the Last Great Race with your children. It’s an unforgettable day, and one we cherish every year. email@example.com. Keep up with race day activities, photos, and updates on our Twitter feed @akonthego, or on Facebook.