One of the more fun things we’ve been doing this past week is following the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, a race of mushers on dog sleds starting in Whitehorse this year and finishing in Fairbanks. The hardy souls who’ve raced this course had several days of -40 weather which is excruciating to be in for a short term, not to mention hours and hours racing in it. A number of racers scratched early on. School kids were told to pick a musher and follow him or her and Ollie chose on – Rob Cooke – who, as it’s turned out, is running last in the race! At least he is still IN the race as I’m guessing at least 10 people dropped out. It’s been fascinating to follow them in real time on yukonquest.com where you can see exactly which mountain slope they’re speeding up. Just yesterday (Feb. 16), word was that two of the mushers were racing each other to the finish, so Ollie and I went downtown (all of 5 miles), found a parking place and at 10 pm joined all the folks standing on the bridge spanning the Chena River to wait for the first musher to come through. When Brent Sass pulled up at 10:50 pm, everyone cheered and bells rang out in the town. Handlers were throwing steak pieces at the dogs, who looked none the worse for wear. The musher had tears pouring down his face, as he’d raced this course 8 times before and finally won it. Fortunately for us, it was a balmy 24 degrees out, so the temps were not bad at all.
We stuck around for the second musher, Allen Moore, who pulled in just after midnight. I got better photos of him; the winning musher was mobbed by camera people so I couldn’t get anything decent as we were in the stands or on the bridge. There was still a good crowd to welcome the second guy. Afterwards, Ollie and I went driving on some back roads to get a better look at the northern lights and sure enough, we finally found a good place only 4 miles from where we live, but over a ridge where no light pollution exists and – voilà – there were long sweepy bright green tendrils across the sky. We drove out there again tonight and got another show.
More dog mushing is coming our way, as the Iditarod will be starting here in a few weeks. Usually it starts near Anchorage, but the southern part of the state has almost no snow, thus the race has been relocated up here; only the second time in 42 or 43 years that has happened. Of course the locals are quite happy about this but city officials are trying to figure out how to squeeze 20,000 onlookers along the Chena River to watch it all on March 9. I’ve gotten more interested in what it takes to mush these impossible distances at great speeds (for a dogsled) and it costs a fortune to buy all the dog food, mail it to spots along the trail plus equip your own self which is why all these racers seek out sponsors.
Ollie is hanging in there, doing fun things like taking a cake decorating class, as she really is quite the artist. We got an overnight trip to Anchorage so I could lecture at the University of Alaska/Anchorage campus. On Feb. 14, I sent in a book manuscript that I’ve been working on for close to three years, which is a big load off my mind. I’m now working on 2 academic papers plus I am taking an undergraduate course in Scandanavian history, which has been much fun. There’s a lot of smart people in the class and the professor did her doctoral thesis on the alcohol culture in far north latitude countries. Today we discussed how Iceland’s volcanic past has shaped the way its citizens look at life. We figured that Alaska and Iceland have a lot in common. They’re both at the same latitude; in fact Fairbanks is situated just a few degrees north of Reykjavik; and both are considered as exotic northern playgrounds for tourists. I was reading a book out of the UAF library on far north tourism and how for hundreds of years, people have flocked to warmer climes but in the past century, the north has been seen as a place to go and relax as well.