The 2013 Iditarod Sled Dog Race Gets Underway Today!

The 2013 Iditarod sled dog race gets underway today in Anchorage, Alaska, where some of the best mushers in the world have gathered to take part in the 1000-mile journey that culminates in Nome. This morning, 66 mushers will set out from the starting line in front of a throng of cheering fans as part of the ceremonial start. The race will officially get underway tomorrow when the teams will restart in Willow and the competition truly begins.

This year marks the 40th running of the Iditarod, which is billed as “The Last Great Race.” The event was originally created to commemorate the famous 1925 dog sled run to Nome that delivered serum to fight off a deadly diphtheria epidemic just in the nick of time. It was during that run that musher Gunnar Kaasen, and his famous lead dog Balto, rose to fame.

Today, the Iditarod has grown to become the most popular sporting event in Alaska, drawing relatively large crowds (by Alaskan standards) on an annual basis. The mushers and their dogs are well known throughout the state and often find themselves local celebrities. Most of the competitors live and train in Alaska, but as the event has grown in popularity, mushers now come from all over the globe.

This year’s field is another deep one with a large number of possible contenders. Past champions such as Jeff King, Lance Mackey and John Baker should all be in the running, although last year’s winner Dallas Seavey seems to be the odds on favorite to win the race once again. With his victory in the 2012 event, Seavey became the youngest winner ever and he is looking to add to an already impressive resume.

A few weeks ago there was some concern about the condition of the trail, which lacked snow along certain sections. Since then, however, snow has been plentiful and the route is in top shape for the start of the race. As always, there are some areas that will be more challenging than others, but for the most part the teams should find good snow to run on.

You can follow the Iditarod over the next few weeks at the race’s official website.

[Photo Credit: Jeff Schultz/]

Summer Hotspot: Anchorage, Alaska

Summer months in North America open up a whole realm of possibilities for travel into higher latitudes. As the deep frost starts to fade and the rivers pick up speed, Alaska turns into a beautiful respite from the sultry weather in the contiguous 48 states.

Pick any reason to make the journey. The Pacific Northwest air that blankets all of southern Alaska is crisp and clean, a noticeable contrast from the city air in New York and Chicago. The landscape is dramatic with mountains soaring out of the dark blue Pacific, snow capped peaks lining the horizons and dark green conifers rolling through the valleys. Wildlife is everywhere, from the ambling moose wandering the fertile plains to the bears and goats dotting the mountain trails. It’s far enough away to feel like a different country yet is filled with the same old fast food and Walmart standbys that you know and trust at home.

If Alaska enjoyed the same weather year-round as it did in July it would be the nation’s most populous state. Instead, visitors enjoy big open spaces, friendly, relaxed residents and over 650,000 square miles of rugged beautiful landscape free of the hustle and stress of the lower 48. In short, Alaska is a blessing.

Considering these virtues, one would expect that the cost of travel to Alaska would be sky high, but surprisingly, ticket prices don’t go up that much over the summer months. Airfare varies from $450-$750 for passage through the summer months with Anchorage hosting the majority of inexpensive flights (though Fairbanks and Juneau can always surprise you).

The dirty little secret about airfare to Alaska isn’t the cost of the ticket though; it’s the cost of the mileage award. Most airlines batch Alaska in with the rest of North America (as well they should) when they calculate the cost of mileage tickets. This means that an economy ticket between Miami or San Diego and Anchorage can only cost 25,000 miles round trip – the same cost as a flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Compare the distance between those two flights and it’s easy to see the value.

[image courtesy Erin Drewitz]

The 2012 Iditarod sled dog race begins today!

The 2012 Iditarod sled dog race gets underway this morning with the ceremonial start taking place on the streets of Anchorage, Alaska. The annual event, dubbed the “Last Great Race,” pits some of the best mushers in the world against one another on a course that stretches for nearly a thousand miles across remote wilderness before eventually ending in Nome.

This morning the 66 men and women who have entered the competition will set out on the first leg of the race – an 11-mile run that ends at nearby Campbell Airstrip. From there they’ll pack up their dogs and sleds and be transported by motor vehicle to the town of Willow, where the race will officially get underway tomorrow. Ahead of them is a 975 mile course — which is slightly shorter than previous years — that will test both their physical and mental endurance.

Amongst the contenders for this year’s race are defending champ John Baker and Iditarod veteran Hugh Neff, who is coming off a big win at last month’s Yukon Quest. Legendary mushers Lance Mackey and Jeff King are back as well and both are always a threat to finish first in Nome. Former champ Mitch Seavey has returned for another run too, as has his 74-year old father Dan and 24-year old son Dallas.

The fastest sled dog team is expected to reach the finish line in approximately eight to ten days depending on weather and trail conditions. Unlike many of the lower 48 states, Alaska has actually had quite a bit of snow this year which could slow down some of the teams that will be breaking trail. Still, covering 975 miles of remote wilderness during winter in less than two week’s time is an impressive feat.

Good luck to all the competitors.

[Photo credit: Zeledi via WikiMedia]

Alaska’s ports of entry undergo major facelifts

Visitors returning to Alaska will notice some major changes at several airports across the state. Terminals in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks have undergone some dramatic changes recently that should make traveling through the major ports of entry go more smoothly.

The Juneau International Airport in the state capital has a newly renovated terminal with higher ceilings, more windows, better lights, a larger baggage terminal and more exit options. A light refracting awning was also installed to improve energy efficiency, and other weatherproofing measures such as new siding and the installation of heating coils in pedestrian walkways are now finished. The booth for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau was also relocated to be more accessible to travelers.

In Anchorage, the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport finished up the final touches on more than a decade of work last month. Recent renovations include adding more space for dining options (including local restaurants) and some other aesthetic touches. The airport also just welcomed service between Long Beach and Anchorage on JetBlue, the first new domestic passenger carrier to Anchorage in six years.

The Fairbanks International Airport (pictured above) also recently opened a brand new terminal. Improvements include new boarding gates, higher ceilings, more windows, a larger baggage terminal and curbside improvements. The old terminal was demolished to make way for the new one, which follows modern security standards and has six jet-bridges (up from the former five).

If you could nominate any airport in the U.S. for an upgrade, which one would it be? My personal choice would be Newark Liberty International Aiport, but I’m sure there are some airports in need of attention that I haven’t touched down at yet.

[Photo courtesy the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau]

Alaskan woman kicked by moose while trying to pet it

An Alaskan woman was given a harsh lesson last week when she was kicked by a moose after attempting to pet it. The moose was spotted in downtown Anchorage, where it was busy feeding on trees, when it reportedly wandered past the unidentified woman, who decided that it might be a good idea to reach out and pet the animal. The moose thought otherwise.

According to witnesses, the creature didn’t take too kindly to be touched, and kicked the woman, described as being in her 20’s, several times, including in the shoulder and chest. Although police and medics were called to the scene, the woman’s injuries were not serious enough to send her to the hospital. The moose appeared to be uninjured as well.

The unidentified young woman should count herself lucky. A moose can easily weigh in excess of 1000 pounds and can do a lot of damage to a person without actually trying. When agitated, they have been known to not only attack anyone standing too close, but also stomp them while they are on the ground. Fortunately in this case, the animal merely reacted to defend itself and moved on.

This story serves as an excellent reminder that when our travels take us into close proximity with wild animals, that we should remember that they are just that – wild! They have no qualms about protecting themselves, or their young, and they can be capable of doing a lot of damage to us puny humans. So the next time you pass a bit too close to a large animal in the wild, be sure to give it a wide berth. And what ever you do, don’t try to pet a moose, even if it is walking through town.

[Photo credit: John J. Mosesso via WikiMedia Commons]