Iditarod 2018 Willow Restart

Despite living just a half hour away for the past several years, I had never been to the Willow restart of the Iditarod.  But after attending the ceremonial start the day before to work a tent for my full-time employer I was excited to see the action in a more natural setting.  The Hubs and I arrived super early to set up before the crowds arrived and were greeted with single digit temps and freezing fog.  Luckily, the fog burned off and the sun came out to create a wonderful Alaskan winter day!

The restart takes place on a frozen lake, so the area is wide open.  I took a break from working our tent – which you can see off to the right of the start line in the picture above to enjoy the festivities and get some photos.  As you can see it was there was a BIG crowd.  It’s basically an Alaskan tailgate party in the middle of winter.

The view from the hill where the lake’s shoreline is, allowed us to see the mushers as they headed down the beginning of the trail lined with supporters.  The crowds continued across the massive lake and into the trees beyond.  Many also have cabins on the surrounding lakes, which the trail crosses and would go out to cheer on the mushers as they go by in those areas too.  This vantage point also gave us a good look at the musher’s lot where the teams were preparing for their turn at the start line.

I headed down to the corner of the mushers’ lot to watch the behind the scenes action and had the perfect view to see the teams up close as they approached the staging lane for the start line.  One by one, the teams lined up as the event staff directed them through the process.

Then the next stop was the start line, where the teams would leave every two minutes.  This time they no longer had an Iditarider or drag sled like they did at the ceremonial start so the sleds are lighter  and it takes all of the handlers to keep the teams from heading straight out onto the trail as they approach the starting line.

I was able to get several great shots of the mushers too.  Their smiles show just how much they love this sport and their teams.  Some led their teams in and others managed the sled while their handlers directed the dogs, but they were all excited.

Once they were in the shoot it was time to focus on the final preparations, check their dogs and enjoy last moments with family before they begin the 1,049 mile trek to Nome over the next several days.

The dogs were just as excited to head out as they had been the day before.  We all swore they knew how to count as they bolted off the line each time the countdown ended for the next team heading out.

Although the crowd on the other side of the starting line was wall-to-wall I was able to squeeze in toward the end to get a few shots of the final mushers as they headed out.

Several stopped to give their dogs a final motivation for the race ahead and thank them for their part on the team.

Many had final hugs and handshakes from family and supporters, while others gave quick interviews or posed for a photo with fans before the final countdown began.

And of course there were several high fives with their handlers as they headed out on this epic journey.

Then it was down to the last musher, who wore a ‘cat in the hat’ hat in celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  He paused to honor his team getting down on their level and bowing to them.

Then he was off on the “Last Great Race” with a big thumbs up and snow already gathering around his feet.

It will take the teams approximately 8-9 days to complete the entire route.  You can check out each musher’s current standings and location on the Iditarod’s website.  I wish them all a safe and successful race!

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Iditarod 2018 Ceremonial Start

The 2018 Iditarod began this past weekend and I got to be right in the midst of it!  Known as “The Last Great Race” it celebrates the teams who organized during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic to rush serum to Nome to save lives.

The company I work for is a sponsor and had a tent near the starting line where we were doing give aways.  The area we were in required an access badge and when I was able to take breaks from working at the tent I could go into the ‘chute’ where the teams were staged right behind the start line.   The teams would line up on the street to await their turn to begin the race.

Several of the mushers led their teams in from the front, rather than riding in on the sled.

Then they’d check over their team and equipment to ensure everything was as it should be.

And a few would stop to have conversations with their dogs, pose for photos for fans and enjoy the moment with their family members who were nearby to cheer them on.

Each team had a group of handlers to help guide the dogs into position.  Sled dogs are born and trained to run, so they are VERY high energy and once they are in the harness they have a single mind focus.  It takes several people to keep them in position as they move up through the staging lanes.  It’s also helpful to signal down the line in all the celebration so the mushers or helpers on the sled know when to set the brake and release it as the line moves.

Many of these handlers have worked with the mushers for months prior to the race and know the dogs personally.  That familiarity can be a calming aspect for the dogs as they anticipate the start of the race.

And of course a few rubs while they wait are always welcome too!

And some just want a hug before they hit the course. 🙂  One of the mushers is a correctional officer when not running the trail and several of his handlers had a fun message on the back of their gear that said “You think your job is tough?  Correctional officers run the Iditarod to relax.”

The anticipation gets heavy and the dogs get louder with excitement as the iconic start line comes into view.  At this point of the race every musher has an Iditarider on their sled.  Usually this person has won the opportunity to ride the ceremonial start in a contest or charity auction.  The money raised is used to offset expenses of the race and provides each musher who finishes the race after the top 20 – who receive cash prize winnings – with $1,049 to help get their teams home.

There is also a secondary sled, or “drag sled” behind each team’s main sled.  This extra sled is meant to slow down the dogs because they are so excited to run and the course is lined with spectators and this helps keep everyone safe.  Each sled is configured differently based on how that musher likes to carry on the trail.  The dogs are so ready to run that they literally jump up and down while waiting for their turn at the starting line.

And often look back at the sled as if to say “Why aren’t we going?!”

While the dogs may not enjoy the waiting it does provide a perfect opportunity to get some closeup shots of them and their expressions.  Each has their own unique coloring and personalities.  Some are young and just waiting on the signal to go, while others are veterans and have a calm but alert stance.

Some were so eager to get going that they were jumping over each other to trade sides because they couldn’t move forward!

And some were providing a touch of reassurance to their team mate.

And then the announcer would say it’s time and they would be off!  The musher waves to the fans, with their Iditarider aboard for a once in a lifetime experience and the dogs do what they love to do.

The teams run 11 miles through Anchorage for the ceremonial start with fans along many stretches of those trails to cheer them on.  The next day, they restart the race in Willow, about an hour and a half away.  This is when they begin the full trek to Nome and their race times officially start.  I got to go to that portion of the race as well and will share that tomorrow!  In the meantime, visit the Iditarod website to learn more about the race and the mushers competing this year.

A Day in Girdwood, Alaska

I recently had a few days off from my full-time job and booked a photography client for an elopement in Girdwood during that time.  Since that’s a 2 hour drive from our home we decided to make it into a little day trip to celebrate holidays.  We stopped in Anchorage on the way down to take care of a few quick errands and then stopped a local eatery in Indian, AK called Froth and Forage for brunch. They specialize in organic, locally-sourced meals so they had a great menu and cozy atmosphere.

The elopement came next and was done in an open field with amazing views near Alyeska Resort.  The temps were nearing single digits, so after the ceremony we all headed to the hotel to warm up for a bit and do a few more photos there.  Once I wrapped up with the bride and groom the Hubs and I hung out at the hotel enjoying the big couches around the cozy fireplace and pretty views of the grounds and tram up the hill out the window.

The moose above the fireplace kept us company along with skiers and snowboarders there to enjoy the mountain’s activities.

The hotel was decorated for Christmas and the snowy trees covered in lights created the perfect mountain retreat winter wonderland feeling.

After relaxing for a while, we headed to the infamous Double Musky Inn for dinner.  It’s the local hot spot for fine dining in this sleepy ski town and while the Hubs has been there several times, this was my first visit.

Like most buildings in Alaska the exterior is simple and deceiving of what you’ll find inside.  The impressive wine cellar is on display behind a window as you enter the building and head toward the restaurant.

As you turn the corner into the dining room there’s a completely different feel.  A collection of random items hang from the rafters and a hodge-podge of signs cover every inch of the walls.

We got a table in the solarium, where I had a great view of the bar area.  It too had an eclectic variety of decorations including several well recognized flags across the ceiling.

I ordered the Redout Volcano cocktail, which had a fun hint of coconut.  I enjoyed sipping it watching the candle light flicker against the massive stained glass window our table sat against.

The Double Musky’s menu is based on cajun specialties, which started with jalapeno bread that came with our salads.

We decided to try the cajun stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and were stunned at how big they were.  We each only tried one so we could leave room for our meals, knowing the portions are always generous at this venue.

While the Hubs went with the Musky’s classic peppercorn steak, I selected the crab stuffed halibut with baked potato and it didn’t disappoint.  It was flaky and moist, with just the right amount of spice to the sauce.

Both of us only made a dent in our entrees before we were full, but we had to try the creme brulee for dessert so we split it.  It too was delicious and just the right mix of crunch on the top and smooth inside.

Rather than order another cocktail when I finished my meal I opted to go with a hot chocolate, which the waiter added chocolate sauce drizzle to.  It was a great way to warm up before we headed back out to the cold for the drive home.

While it was only a short get-away, I’m glad we were able to squeeze it in and spend a little quality time together.  Although I will admit I slept a good portion of the ride home while the Hubs drove thanks to a content and full belly! 🙂

Merry Christmas on the Porch!

As promised in my last post, I’m sharing the festive decorations on our porch today!  I’m really enjoying styling the little vintage cart we picked up at the junk show in Washington for each season.

It’s just the right size for this little awkward corner on our porch and is the perfect start to each season’s look.  Luckily it’s also well protected in this spot so I don’t have to worry about it too much.

For Christmas, I continued our winter theme with frosty trees, white lanterns, a Christmas sign I picked up at the Alaska Chick’s Market, Rusty the reindeer and a larger tree that I DIY’ed to fit in the crock we picked up on the same trip we got the cart.

I added the antique sled I’ve had for a while to the corner of the set-up.  I may still add a bow or wreath to the sled, but if not it looks nice just as it is.  It had that thick paint job when I found it, so I may strip it down to see what lies beneath one day.

If you’re wondering how I made the tree in the crock, here’s a little behind-the-scenes.  It’s a tomato cage wrapped in garlands and a strand of lights.  I didn’t do a step-by-step for this project since I’ve seen them all over the web and it was so simple that I did it while watching a movie with the Hubs! (Hence the crappy cell phone pics! But at least I got it done before Christmas!)  Just tie the three stake feet at the bottom together to form the point of the top of the tree and start wrapping the garland from there toward the bottom – or what used to be the top when it was used as a tomato cage.

I can say having twine or wire handy to tie off the end and beginning of each garland so they stay in place, and to buy more garland than you think  you’ll need.  This one took four 12′ garlands and I still didn’t make it all the way to the bottom of the cage.

I think it turned out quite pretty and the extra part of the cage at the bottom was perfect to anchor it into the crock so that it’s very stable.  I may be making more of these next year to add trees in the bedrooms!  Have you made a tree from a tomato cage?  If so, I’d love to see it for inspiration for next year’s decorating! 🙂

A Fur Rendezvous Birthday

The Hub’s birthday was this past Saturday and although we hadn’t planned to celebrate since we bought concert tickets for later in the year as our joint birthday/Christmas/anniversary gifts I had a last minute work obligation come up that required I help with an event at the annual Fur Rendezvous the same day so we made a mini celebration of it.  Locally known as Fur Rondy, this 2-week long festival centers around everything winter and Alaskan with dogsled races, snow sculptures and other unique activities.  The ceremonial start of the world famous Iditarod is also held during this time and we were able to catch several of the mushers starting the course as we arrived and made our way to lunch before my work event.

Although I’ve here for 4 years now, this is the first time I’ve been able to attend the ceremonial start so it was a fun experience for me to watch the teams go by and cheer them on.  The first musher we saw was #61, Michael Baker. Each musher has an Iditarider on their sled during this portion of the race.  These passengers bid in an auction to win these unique perspectives which come with traditions of their own.

The ceremonial course is 11 miles on Anchorage streets and park trails – and most of it is lined with crowds.  It’s a very different scene than the rest of the race.  The second musher we saw was #62, Nathan Schroeder.  As you can see the trail on the city streets is well prepared and maintained during the event with trail workers along the entire route ready to remove debris and other hazards.

We walked down along the course and eventually had to cross over to the other side of the street.  Here’s how the trail looks to those going down it.

Jason Mackey, #64 was the next musher to come down the trail after we crossed over to this side.  He was a good example of how the musher also has to be athletic and use his body to control the sled.

2011 Champion John Baker, #65 came by next.  Although I had a good vantage point from the sidewalk I was sure jealous of the guy crouched down along the snow berm with his camera.  He was part of the official Iditarod crew which is why he was allowed to be so close to the action.  I’m going to have to research how I might join that crew!

The last musher we saw was Anna Berrington – one of a handful of female mushers in the male dominated field.

We couldn’t stick around to watch the remaining seven mushers because we had a lunch reservation at Club Paris around the corner.  This was another first for me, although the Hubs has been here many times during his Alaskan tours.  I chose the Alaskan Cordon Blue sandwich which was a Cordon Blue made with halibut instead of chicken.  It was prepared just right, keeping the halibut moist and flaky.  The Hubs had teriyaki Tri-Tips, which I sampled and deemed to be even better than my choice.  We ended the meal with creme brulee for desert.  I added strawberry puree to mine while the Hubs enjoyed his plain.

After lunch I headed over to my work event while the Hubs went to the fur auction.  I don’t have any photos from the fur auction, but you can probably imagine how the scene looked – auctioneers, bidders yelling and furs being shown off.  Although not the same kind of fur, I spotted this beautiful bear statue with amazing painted on northern light colored fur as I made my way to my event.

The event I was assisting with was called Running with the Critters.  It’s a new event this year and gives children a chance to experience something similar to the Running of the Reindeer.  Mascots from all over Alaska came out to play the ‘critters’ and while some ran with the crowd, most lined up down the street to cheer on the runners and give them high-fives as they ran past.  There were several really cute critters, including an otter and our own Peri Winkle the purple moose!

After the run Peri met part of the Fur Rondy Royalty just out side of the new Hard Rock Cafe.  He was a big hit with tourists and locals and had to pause numerous times to oblige the photo requests.

Once Peri was done with his event I stuck around to watch the Running of the Reindeer.  Similar to Spain’s running with the bulls – but with an Alaskan twist – the event raises money for Toys for Tots.  The reindeer were led from their holding pen at the end of the track up to the starting line.

Several stayed behind in the pen, both to encourage the other reindeer to come back to the herd and to wait their turn for the second heat.

Several of the reindeer sported sponsors coats.  I think a few of the reindeer got their sizes mixed up because a few were more snug than the others. 🙂

This reindeer had apparently already been pretty rowdy and was missing one of it’s antlers, which gave it a lopsided appearance.

And some just wanted to show off for the crowd even while waiting in the pen.  Isn’t he just beautiful?!

As you can see there was quite a large crowd, so I wasn’t able to get up close to the barricade when the race started but I did spot the runners as they made their way down the street.

The reindeer tend to run in small groups so the runners have to be on the lookout for them to make sure they stay out of the way of their antlers, which are sharp and pointed this time of year.

It was a bit of a scramble when they did get back to the pen as the handlers had to get their lead ropes back on and most of the reindeer were not much interested in that.

It’s become tradition to create funny costumes for the event and some get a bit outlandish.  I’m pretty sure the reindeer don’t much care about what the runners wear and are more interested in getting back to their herd mates.  This year someone ran as T-Rex, which was pretty hysterical to watch because apparently he’s not used to that much action and had to take a breather at the end of the course!

Another runner decided the finish line was a good spot for a snow angel.  Mario and the nearby clown didn’t seem much impressed.

About that time one of the reindeer went rogue and decided to make a break for freedom.  He seemed more interested in searching for something to nibble on, which is good for him because one of the runners turned back to catch a close up of the reindeer in a fur-speedo.  Thank goodness there were additional layers along with that choice of attire!

The rebel reindeer eluded capture for several minutes as the handlers tried to herd him back to the pen, so finally one decided to follow the old adage of grabbing him by the horns and wrestling him down until they could get him back on a lead.  The reindeer wasn’t hurt, just a bit disgruntled at no longer being free to roam the street.

It had been a long day and we still had a long drive home so we called it quits and headed for the truck.  On the way we saw the carnival area which was in full swing on this clear and chilly day.

It was a fun day with lots of fun things to see.  The Hubs enjoyed celebrating his birthday with a bit of Alaskan flair, so we might just have to consider doing something similar again next year!

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Talkeetna in the Winter

7My photography MeetUp group recently got together to explore Talkeetna, AK.  Although I’d been past the turn off for this little town many times on our trips to Denali, I hadn’t yet stopped in to check it out so this was the perfect opportunity to do just that.  We met up at the Roadhouse for breakfast and socializing first.  It was in the negative temps outside so the warm interior with yummy handmade specialties was a great way to start the visit.  There was a small bakery selection in the display cases and a variety of specialty syrups and sauces above.

abfThe staff pulled out several of the trays so I could get a better look at the massive options from specialty cinnamon rolls, to meat pies and unique Alaskan items such as “Rudy in a Parka” – which was an oversized version of a pig in a blanket but with reindeer sausage.  That’s what I chose to try and was very satisfied with it.

cdeAs we sat and ate one of the group members who comes to Talkeetna a lot told us about the history of the area and how the Roadhouse becomes a gateway for visitors from around the globe who have come to summit Denali.  During the summer months she said it’s not uncommon to have a variety of nationalities in this small room swapping tales, creating music and interacting.  Around the room there are flags for teams who have successfully summited the mountain and photos of some as well.

1234In one corner monies from around the world have been posted, sandwiched between terrain maps, team flags and more photos of successful climbers.
5And on the far wall was this interesting cuckoo clock.  I wasn’t able to get the history on the piece but imagine it arrived as a gift from a foreign visitor many years ago.
6With a full belly for warmth I bundled up and headed out in to the frigid temps to capture a few more of Talkeetna’s quirks.  I loved the textures of the old building and signs next to the smooth icicles hanging from the roof line.

89Across the street was a pizza place with eclectic artwork.  I can easily envision this place in the summer with dread headed servers taking patrons orders on the patio. A few more steps down the street was the beer garden of Denali Brewing which I’m sure is also another hot spot during the summer tourist season.

1011In the center of town – which was literally right next door to the brewing building on the main street – was the Fairview Inn.  It seems to be the major hotel in town.  I didn’t venture inside but the rules sign out front did make me smile because it’s definitely not something you’d see many other places.

1213Across from the Fairview Inn was Nagley’s Store, which looked like it had been pulled right out of a scene from Northern Exposure.  This is the towns general store for all your basic goods.  While the sign on the front of the building seemed relatively new, the two on the side of the building quickly reminded you that this place has been around for a long, long time.

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Next door to the general store was this little stand.  I’m assuming it’s a vendor booth during the tourist season but during the winter it’s a collection of local wildlife bones and antlers.14There were several signs around town describing early pioneer life and how Talkeetna was settled as a trading post.

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There were also some interesting art displays including this one that was above a house with several salmon inspired designs.  I got the sense that there’s a strong artist community here, which makes sense because the surrounding scenery is quite inspiring.  21

There were also a handful of historic cabins and homes that were preserved with signage describing how they were significant to the history of the town.1920Due to the extreme cold I didn’t stick around to read all the signs or investigate any of the sights in depth.  Instead I wandered the side street just off the main road taking in the sights and identifying spots I’d like to come back to check out in the warmer months.  But the snow and ice did have a special beauty to it as it clung to the buildings.

1718At the end of the main road I spotted this establishment, which I assumed was another brewery type vendor.  I just loved the Alaskan signage and door handle.  Next door was another historic cabin in need of a bit of restoration.

2224I stopped back into the Roadhouse to warm up since I could no longer feel my fingers and learned that the group planned to head over to the park at the end of the main road to see where the rivers met and the landscape opened up to views of the mountains.  This was obviously the main snow machine trail in town and access to nearby hunting areas.

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As we reached the riverbed I heard the train whistle nearby so I hurried down the trail and caught the train just as it made it’s way across one of the trestle bridges.25As I returned to the group who had set up to photograph the mountains I saw that one of the members had ventured out into the snow drifts where her shoe had gotten stuck and frozen in place!  Like most photographers, her primary concern was handing over her camera for safekeeping, then the group leader helped dig her out.
2627Once she was safely in the vehicle warming back up I got a few shots of the mountains, including Denali, which graced us with a fairly clear vantage.  The clear day made the panoramic view amazing.

2829panoI had to get back to town for an appointment that afternoon so I bid farewell to the group and headed back toward the highway.  Along the way I remembered to stop at a viewpoint I’d spotted on my way into town which gave another great view of the range and The Great One.

3132I’m pretty sure the Hubs and I will be back this spring or summer to explore a bit more when everything is open and I’d like to try the zipline through the trees at the edge of town.  I’ll be sure to share that adventure here when I do! 🙂Save

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Christmas Decor Tour

With everything going on this year I didn’t get to decorate for Christmas until last week, so I kept things simple and classic with items that can transition into January without feeling too Christmasy. If you’ve been around the blog for a while you know I decorate with reindeer and name my favorites.  Max and Milo ended up in the same spots they had last year while big man Woody is still out in the yard guarding the rain garden. Holly and Rudy travel with me in my truck and little Fink is on my desk at work again this year.  Here’s where the others are hanging out this season.

In the entryway I used a new lighted garland with Red & Flint.  Woodland Santa watches over them as they play in the lights and Rusty my metal reindeer welcomes from the corner.

Entry

I’m loving the new garland, especially at night when it looks lovely.

EntryNight

Across from the entry dresser is Moe, one of my favorite reindeers with his knotted needs and big ‘ol feet.

EntryMoe

Around the corner Gus holds down the bench with a noel pillow and fur throw.  He has a great vantage point of the tree from this spot.

EntryBench

In the family room little Noel met her twin (thanks to a thrift store find back in the fall at just $4) and they teamed up to build a little snowman between the new pretty sparkly trees I bought at a favorite local boutique shop called Vintage Joy during their 40% off holiday sale.  They look great next to our new rustic mantel with birch candles.

Family

Handsome Sebastian stays warm next to the candle on the side table with a little frosty garnish to munch on.

SideTable

Between the family and dining room our Willow Tree Nativity set is displayed atop the curio cabinet with this amazing barnwood star I picked up at a local craft bazaar for just $28 and two little simple trees that were at the same bazaar for just $3 each.  I realized after I edited the photo that the star was a little crooked and fixed it but didn’t want to retake the photo so just ignore that ok?  Next year I’d like to add to the wise men and angel to the set and may finally get around to making a creche like this one for it, but for now I like how the simple piece of wood elevates Mary & Joseph and ties in with the star.

Nativity

I struggled with the dining room buffet for a few days but finally settled on this lantern and rustic box filled with greenery and twinkling lights.  Simple yet festive and a perfect compliment to the centerpiece on the table, which I already shared.

Dining

I had planned to clip Christmas cards on the windmill, but we haven’t gotten it installed yet, so I used the same concept on my metal wall art next to the back door.  I think it worked pretty well.

CardDisplay

So that’s my decorating for this year.  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!