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!