ANCHORAGE - Anyone anywhere can call a number to reach the nerve center of the Iditarod. The race is headquartered at the Millennium Hotel in Spenard. (Just call the hotel at 243-2300 and ask for the Iditarod call room.)
There, volunteers track race statistics, organize logistics for drop points, and field questions from all over the world.
Tuesday was Judi Hussain's first day as a volunteer. She said a news story about the late musher Susan Butcher first piqued her interest in mushing. "I've followed it actively since."
She's visiting from California for the race. Erin McLarnon, communications director for the race, said a lot of people spend their vacations volunteering. The Iditarod doesn't provide lodging, but she says they try to keep volunteers fed.
Richard Wenrich is going on 15 years as a volunteer. He said he's met a lot of people through the experience. He likes following the race, but wouldn't want to run it.
He said fielding questions can be interesting. One person called saying they'd heard that this race would be the last Iditarod. "I bet you got confused with our slogan," he told them, "the Last Great Race.”
Joy Marx came from Louisiana. She's been following the race online for three years. "I wanted to be involved since I had been involved from afar," she said. "And get a different feel. I wanted to learn and be a part of [it]."
She updated callers on race results and sometimes took messages for "musher-grams." Those are notes that people can leave mushers. Volunteers take messages, and then they're flown to the checkpoints. One volunteer described them on the phone as a sort of telegram.
These volunteers are just a few of the thousand-plus people that signed up to help out this year. McLarnon said last year volunteers logged a total of 50,000 hours to keep the race running smoothly. "It's for the love of the dog and the mystique of Alaska," she said. She talked about how rare it is for someone to actually mush dogs.
For these volunteers, helping with the race is their own way of experiencing the Last Great Race.