Iditarod 2019: Musher’s Banquet & Ceremonial Start

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Published on The Doomstead Diner March 3, 2019

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Today, the first Sunday in March marks the Offical start of the 43rd running of the Iditarod, The Last Great Race on Earth.  For those of you unfamiliar with it (and that is most people), the Iditarod is a dogsled race that goes from Willow to Nome, a 1000 mile Journey over some of the toughest terrain in the toughest weather on the planet.  It is a race held in commemoration of the "Great Race of Mercy", when a relay of Mushers (the people who train the dogs and drive the sleds) who worked for the Postal Service in 1925 delivered Serum to Nome from Seward when a Diptheria Epidemic broke out there and threatened to wipe out the entire population of the town.  For more about the history of the Iditarod and the Great Race of Mercy, you can read my Iditarod article from 2018.  Here also from is a little of the race history:

The Beginning of The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race®

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race first ran to Nome in 1973.  

In the mid 1950’s, Jo and Vi Redington were writing letters to bring rememberance to the old Iditarod Trail and it’s important historical significance to Alaska’s history.

There were two short races using nine miles of the Iditarod Trail in 1967 and 1969.  (Sprint races)

Dorothy PageThe idea of having a race over a portion of the Iditarod Trail was conceived by the late Dorothy G. Page.  In 1964, Page was chairman of the Wasilla-Knik Centennial Committee and was working on projects to celebrate Alaska’s Centennial Year in 1967. 

Page was intrigued that dog teams could travel over land that was not accessible by automobile. In the late 1890’s and early 1900′s, settlers had come to Alaska following a gold strike. They traveled by boat to the coastal towns of Seward and Knik and from there, by land into the gold fields. The trail they used is today known as The Iditarod Trail, first surveyed by  the Alaska Road Commission in 1908 and now one of the National Historic Trails as so designated by the Congress of the United States. In the winter, their only means of travel was by dog team.

The Iditarod Trail soon became the major “thoroughfare” through Alaska. Mail was carried across this trail, people used the trail to get from place to place and supplies were transported via the Iditarod Trail. Priests, ministers and judges traveled between villages via dog team.

All too soon the gold mining began to slack off. People began to go back to where they had come from and suddenly there was less travel on the Iditarod Trail. The use of the airplane in the late 1920’s signaled the beginning of the end for the dog team as a standard mode of transportation, and of course with the airplane carrying the mail, there was less need for land travel. The final blow to the use of the dog team came with the appearance of snowmobiles in Alaska…

Yiu can watch the Official Start of this year's Iditarod live from Willow at 2PM Alaska time on the homepage of  The Ceremonial Start in Anchorage was held yesterday , covering a 14 mile trail through downtown Achorage and out to one of the parks there.

Held also last week on Thursday was the annual Mushers' Banquet, where fans of the race come together to meet the Mushers, get autographs and have a nice Banquet-style meal.  It was held this year at the Dena'ina Convention Center, and my estimate is about 500 people attended.  It's only the second time I attended this Banquet, the first was a couple of years after I moved up here over a decade ago with a couple of Musher friends I had made early on.  I didn't know too much about Dogsledding and Mushing in those days, being a City Boy from the Lower 48.  I did know a little, I had heard of Susan Butcher, who won the race 4 times but who sadly died young of Cancer a few years back.  As the years passed here, I became more and more a fan of this sport and the race for a few reasons.

The first is that in my youth I was a big Sports Fan, and I was an athlete myself before I became a Cripple.  The second is that I grew up in Brasil in the 60's, the time Pele was in his prime and playing "Futbol" ("soccer" here in the FSoA"), and in the late 1960s when I returned from Brasil after my parent's divorce it was the time of the "Miracle Mets" with the likes of Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan on the pitching staff, Joe Namath and the New York Jets and the New York Knicks with the team of Willis Reed, Dave Debusherre, Bill Bradley, Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Earl "the Pearl" Monroe, with Phil "Action" Jackso as the 6th man who came in off the bench to play either Center or Forward when one of the starters needed a break or got injured or in foul trouble.  All of those teams won Championships in the 60s and 70s, it was a great time to be a New York Sports Fan.

Image result for idimiracle mets win world series   Image result for joe namath wins super bowl   Image result for willis reed bill bradley win nba championship

Image result for nadia comaneci perfect 10 olympics By the 1990s though, I became disenchanted with the Big Money and Corruption in all these sports, and I stopped following them  I was following closely at the time my own sport of Gymnastics, where I had become a high level coach over the years.  I had regular contact with all the big names in the sport, people like Bela Karolyi, Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, Bart Connor, Tim Dagget and many others.  However, quite recently in the last 2 years a massive scandal broke out when it was revealed the national Team Doctor Larry Nasser had been serially abusing many gymnasts over the years, and it was covered up.  The whole episode was so sordid and disgusting I quit following gymnastics also.

The love of sports is still there in me though, and something had to take its place, and that something is the Iditarod and Dog Mushing.  Now I am a rabid fan of the sport, and when the Iditarod rolls around each year at the beginning of March, for 2-3 weeks I get "March Madness", and just about everything else stops except following the daily updates from the trail, which now come to you via GPS and Video from every rest area along the way if you are a premium member and supporter of the Iditarod, which I am.  It's worse than being a Super Bowl addict because that event gets done within a few hours of heavy beer drinking. This one takes 8-11 days or so depending on trail conditions.

Attending the Musher's Banquet this year I had a few goals, to get some good Pics for this Blog and also to get an interview with at least one of my favorite Mushers.  I met these goals, and also met others I didn't know I had before the Banquet.  I couldn't have gone at all without the accompaniment of my Cripple Helper, a young woman who I employ to help me with a variety of tasks these days that have become too difficult for me to attempt by myself, such as going to a big function like this in Anchorage.  She arrived at my digs slightly late, and then I had to go over with her all the camera equipment, because in large part she would have to function as my Hands, Legs and Viewfinder Eyes for this Adventure and be shooting the pics and vids herself.  She's not an experienced photographer, not even at the amateur level.  She did quite well though overall.

So we got to Anchorage a good hour behind schedule, and then we screwed up on where the Dena'ina Convention Center actually was. so instead of arriving at my planned time of 3:15-3:30 PM to set up for the 4PM start, we finally got registered and into the hall at around 4:15.  We got right to work though, I sent her off with a camera to photograph some of the Mushers who were signing autographs and I parked my crippled butt near an empty table where the Musher hadn't yet shown up to get more camera equipment ready for use.  Here's some of the pics she got touring through the hall:




Photo Credit: KH, SUN Foundation

I got my Interview with one of the true Legends of the sport, Martin Buser.  Martin has run in 35 prior Iditarods, and won it 4 times, putting him up there with other 4 time winners like Susan Butcher and Mitch Seavey.  He's a transplant from Switzerland, where he initially got into mushing before moving to Alaska and pursuing the sport as a competitor.  Martin is getting a little long in the tooth now at 65, but he is still competitive finishing regularly in the Top 10 and challenging for the lead.  Martin isn't in this just to keep participating, he still wants to WIN.

Our interview went around 1:30 and we recorded a Part 2 at the end, but there was too much noise as people were leaving the hall to go downstairs to the Banquet Room.  The noise in Part 1 is also pretty loud, but you can make out what he is saying in this part.

Video Credit: KH, SUN Foundation

We headed downstairs for the Banquet at 6PM, and I really wasn't expecting much from the food in this, Banquet food is never all that great.  When you are cooking for 100 and more people and don't have a huge staff of line chefs to do various tasks, it's more along the line of Cafeteria Food, just usually with classier ingredients.  This proved to be true in this case also, although I was pleasantly surprised because considering the sheer SIZE of this Banquet, it was pretty good.

Photo Credit: RE, SUN Foundation

Unfortunately I didn't get to eat too much of it due to my depressed appetite.  I had intended to take home a To-Go box, but they have a rule at the Convention Center that no food leaves the building.  So most of my plate went to the Compost Heap.  KH finished her plate though, and the couple of bites I did have of the Steak, Potatoes and Green Beans were pretty good.  I didn't go to the Banquet for the food anyhow, although when you pay that much money for a meal you do want to eat a decent portion of it.

Where this portion of the celebration of Mushing totally exceeded my expatations was in the people we had sttting with us at the table, a totally random selection out of the 500 of so people who were there.  It was the biggest Banquet by far that I have ever attended.  The biggest I ever attended that I remember was a Wedding for one of our rich relatives on my mom's side of the family, that had around 200-300 people I think.  KH said she had been to Banquets as big, in the Military where she grew up as a Military Brat and later in California in Wrestling which she took up as a sport while they were stationed there.  Here is about half the crowd from one side of the room, our table was about smack dab in the middle:

Photo Credit: KH, SUN Foundation

What was remarkable here was out of this huge crowd of people we got some really interesting people with some interests quite similar to my own and to the goals of the SUN Foundation.  It was a real case of synchronicity in action.  Sitting next to me to my left were two older folks with VAST experience here in Alaska, they were around for the Big Quake in '64, a 9.0 which makes our recent 7.0 look like a Sunday Picnic.  The fellow had several careers, among them he was (and still is) a Pilot, and he also became a real estate developer in the 80's and built energy efficient Domed Berm Homes, one of which he still lives in to this day.  Here are some of the Snapshots they showed me during dinner:

Photo Credit: RE, SUN Foundation

The Black guy you see in the photos was a Jamaican Dogsledder!  That's right up there in wild & crazy with the Jamaican Bobsled Team that competed in the Olympics.

Here's a photo of his house:

Photo Credit: RE, SUN Foundation

We exchanged contact information and I am hoping to go visit with them in the next couple of weeks to get a full interview as well as photos and a walking (well, hobbling in my case) tour of the house.

Sitting to their left was another older couple who hailed from Washington.  As it turns out, these people run a Non-Profit Corporation like SUN that concerns itslef with housing and feeding the Homeless!  WOWZA!  Is that synchronicity or what?  The main difference between their non-profit and ours is theirs is highly successful and well funded.  I also exchanged contact information with them and will be getting in touch with them to see who they use for their Grant Writers and hopefully engaging them for SUN as well.  I also hope to visit with them in WA as well, since they are real close to where my Tombstone is currently in the final stages of being assembled before shipping out to its Final Resting Place in Springfield, MO.

So the dinner portion of the Banquet actually turned out to be the highlight of the occasion, despite the fairly average food, most of which I did not get to eat.  It was the PEOPLE we met there that really made the occasion special, both the Mushers and the supporters and fans of the sport.  These are by and large genuinely kind and caring people, not only do they love and care for the dogs they train (and they brought the breed back from near extinction after the invention of snow machines and bush planes), they care for other people and the environment as well.  They are self-reliant people who will brave hardship and loneliness, exactly the kind of people you want in your community when SHTF Day arrives.

To finish here for today, here are some vids of a recap of last year's Iditarod won by Joar Leifset Ulsom a transplanted Norwegian, along with some fan video of the Ceremonial Start yeasterday in Anchorage.  The Big Show gets underway today in Willow at 2PM Alaska Time, about 9 hours from now.  You can be sure I wil be following it 24/7 for the entire duration of the race, and reporting on it Inside the Diner.  Check in there if you want to find out the latest about what is going on out on the trail.





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