O Lord give my dogs / the strength to continue on / and me the knowledge to survive. —Richard Burmeister, “The Musher’s Prayer” QAEY WILLIAMS HAS BEEN standing in line in front of the Fourth Avenue Theater in Anchorage since eight am. It is the first Saturday in March. She is armed with a folding chair, a thermos of cocoa, and a copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh. “And some romance novels,” she adds.
Qaey is prepared, and a good thing, too, since the Empty Bowl doesn’t open up for business until 11:30 a.m., two and a half hours away. I can hardly hear her over the yipping, yapping, and yelping of dogs.
In Alaska, the first Saturday in March is reserved for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, when two blocks of downtown Anchorage become the center of the mushing world. Having been a mushing fan since the days of George Attla and Dr. Roland Lombard, I never miss it.
I park on F near 9th and walk down to wedge my way into the crowd on the sidewalks of 4th Avenue, which between the curbs is closed to everyone except Iditarod mushers and their amazing dogs, mutts to the American Kennel Club, heroes to the rest of the world. It is even more crowded this year because of all the athletes in town for the Special Olympics. I hear Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian spoken all around me by excited young men and women dressed in brightly colored team uniforms.
The Iditarod, for those of you who have lived on the moon since 1973, or maybe even 1925, is the annual running of the Last Great Race, eleven hundred miles from Anchorage to Nome, commemorating the heroic 1925 run when teams of mushers relayed a life-saving vaccine to a diphtheria-stricken Nome.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.