Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Iditarod Volunteer Corps--Part 2

When I covered the volunteer subject in the previous post, I semi-intentionally left out one function. It will lead right into some of my experiences that were more closely linked to that area than the others. That final function is security. Volunteers working in this area do a wide range of things. They assist in guiding the musher parking in downtown Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start. Imagine lining up about seventy five dog trucks, some with trailers, so that each musher can proceed with his or her team to the starting line in an organized and orderly way. Yep, that is one big job.  Then the same work is repeated at the official start, be it at Willow, as usual, or in Fairbanks.

And, while the ceremonial start takes place and the ensuing run for eleven miles through the city and out to the BLM Compound on the northwest side, others serve for crowd control and make sure the snowy path stays clear and no one gets into a hazardous spot or distracts the dogs.  Once again they control the crowds as the official start gets underway.  Everyone wants to see it ‘up close’ and they jockey for the best photo op spots but spectators must not be allowed to interfere so volunteers man the barriers and keep people in a safe place. Volunteers  also assist at the Mushers’ Banquet—more on this shortly—and they keep watch on the dog yards, both that for dropped dogs returned to Anchorage and at the finish in Nome where dogs are housed for several days until all the mushers have arrived and the final awards ceremony is completed.  

Table decorations
One of the first jobs I had was working at the Mushers’ Banquet. This is a big event held in a huge hall in downtown Anchorage. At the event, fans and supporters can purchase tickets to dine and socialize with the mushers and watch the action as the mushers are called up in the order they registered for the race to draw their bib number which also determines their starting position. There is a big silent auction to raise added funds for the event and some volunteers help with this, using tablets to collect and record bids. Kids all around the country have made table decorations and long before the doors open volunteers put them, race guides and other documents out at each place—roughly 2,000 chairs in this enormous room, ten places at each of about 200 round tables. Every table had at least one item made by a school child somewhere in the US. Some were very creative and handsome, too!

Da'anina Center, Banquet site
Finally the doors opened and more volunteers stood in the portals and asked to see tickets of everyone who enters.. Most are orderly and polite but a few get pushy and have to be asked to stay out—or someone goes to find a supervisor and be sure the person is allowed to come in. I helped with both tasks and then got to observe the rest of the event. Unfortunately I was having a bad eye day and instead of wandering around to chat and get some photos as I had hoped, I watched the blurred action and mostly listened from the back of the room. Still, it was a thrill to be there. I heard Aliy speak after she drew her number—42—and thank the supporters for the love and good wishes they had poured out to her after the tragic snow machine issue last year. And I cheered for several other favorites.

This was Thursday evening, March 2. Two days later, I considered going to downtown Anchorage to watch the start –busses ran from the hotel and later brought people back--but instead opted to go out a bit farther with a group of the “Trail Guards” that included a new friend who had also volunteered at the banquet. 

At about 7:00 a.m. (still before daylight savings) it was c-o-l-d. The mercury hovered around the zero mark. Bare hands went red and then blue in mere minutes and you wanted a scarf or neck gaiter to cover your lower face! We took a cab out to the area known as Tudor crossing where the trail, normally a hiking and bike trail through some parks went in a tunnel under a busy road. We soon found the rest of the group who were mostly local residents. Everyone pitched in to help set up a big tent to give a warm-up place and to serve later for the tailgate party after the last team had passed. By then the sun came up and before long it was up in the twenties and did not feel bad at all.
Tudor Crossing trail guard gang

I found a couple of likely view points not far from the trail and set up with the goal of getting a photo of every team as it passed. I missed a few but got about sixty five of the seventy four or so that ran by. Besides the seventy three entered racers, the Honorary Musher—someone selected by the ITC Board each year for their support and contributions to the race-- led the way with a non-racing musher as their ‘taxi’.  I’ll be posting several of these photos in a later post.

After the final team had gone by—it took about three hours—we gathered for a great feed the local people provided. I had some ‘moose bratworst’ that was delicious and other more ordinary tailgate party treats. Finally my friend and I rode back with another volunteer who was in the same hotel we were—the Lakeside. It was a beautiful, sunny and mostly still day—what the Alaskans call a “Bluebird Day,” a real blessing and treat.  What a fabulous day that had been!!

My fave of the table decor!
Aliy via big screen video--know by red beanie
that it is her!!

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