Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Iditarod Voluteer Crops-Part 1

 It takes a virtual army of people with a variety of skills to support the massive endeavor that is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in the twenty-first century. When I arrived at the Lakefront Millennium Hotel on the south side of the city early in the morning on March 1, many people were there already. During the next two weeks, a conservative 2,000 people came and went, some heading home early, some out to the checkpoints, and some remaining long after I returned to New Mexico. They come from almost every state and a number of foreign countries. It seems very popular with Aussies and New Zealanders, Germans, some Japanese etc.
Lakefront Millennium Hotel

Here are a few of the special functions that must be performed:

  1. Veterinarians and Vet Techs. These folks have to examine and drug test every dog that goes out on the trail before the official start. Teams of them also go out to the checkpoints, sixteen in this year’s race route which ran from Fairbanks to Nome for the third time in the race’s forty-five year history. The normal official start is in Willow, just north of Wasilla and about sixty miles from Anchorage.  Then, as dogs are “dropped” which means taken off the musher’s teams, normally due to injury, sickness or just being overly tired, they are checked before they are transported by air back to Anchorage and after they arrive there.  The wellbeing of the dogs is very important to everyone involved and each year more advances are made in how they are managed and cared for.  More vets are at the finish at Nome to reexamine all dogs and ensure they are not in need of medical aid.

  1. Dog Handlers: This bunch has several jobs at different points in the race. For the ceremonial
    Hotel grounds, SW end
    start in Anchorage, which is the “show” part of the event, they assist the vets/techs and then help the mushers get the excited dogs lined out and kept under control until each team receives it’s “go” from the Race Marshall. They start at two minute intervals here just as they do in the second or official start.  Next, groups go out to the checkpoints where they assist the mushers by directing them to rest or parking places, locating drop bags (bags of food and supplies sent out ahead of time, each marked with the musher’s name) , watch and check on all dogs to include the dropped dogs before they are transported, help the vet with the examination of each dog and clean up the bedding straw and debris after each team departs.  They also monitor the dog yard at Nome while the mushers are busy with the festivities and public activities there, keep unauthorized people out and sometimes dispense food and water. Another group stays in Anchorage to pick up returned dogs at the airports and care for them until either the musher’s authorized representative can come to take them or for those not picked up with a few hours,  groups are taken to the Women’s Prison in Eagle River where inmates are privileged to care for them.

  1. Communications: This covers two broad functions, data collection and recording and answering incoming calls from the public.  Groups of comms folks go out to all checkpoints on the trail and with laptops and other electronic devices send back information on the arrival and departure times of each musher, number of dogs in and out for each team, monitor the mandatory rest times, and any other critical information. This data is received and compiled in Anchorage and entered into the data bases which generate the status reports given to the public and maintained for the entire period of the race.  Meanwhile, after the official start, people want to know who is ahead, where their favorite musher is and often seek to find out about rumors and ‘wild tales’ which do circulate. Information on such things is only given out after a press release is prepared but current standings can always be shared. This crew also sends out “Mushergrams” which are notes of support and encouragement sent to mushers by family, friends and fans. This function is not as busy as it was before the extensive use of the internet with videos and live streaming of portions of the action, but not everyone is on line, even today!
    Volunteer Registration  Room

Miscellaneous:  Other assorted tasks include packing materials to go to various checkpoints and in this instance to Fairbanks for the official start and Nome for the finish. All volunteers must register, receive a badge and the year’s cap, sign releases if they are not ITC members (that is not an official of the actual board but a ‘card carrying’ supporter, such as I am and most of the volunteers are.) In short the race headquarters is a busy place, even after the preliminary mushers’ meeting, the banquet where they draw start or bib numbers and get their dog ID tags and bibs etc. and the ceremonial start events.  A few also go out to some checkpoints to cook to feed the volunteers and mushers. Not until the last musher arrives in Nome, the last dropped dog is safely returned and the ‘loose ends’ of the rce are neatly tied up do the last volunteers depart.

1 comment:

  1. Very good info. It is always easier to understand the race when one knows a bit about the nittier, grittier aspects of what is going on behind the scenes. Thanks .


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