Takotna offers Iditarod racers Norwegian welcome
It’s an Alaskan race that has become an international race-- this year, four countries are represented in the Iditarod. But only one of them has its own checkpoint.
Norway is clearly the crowd favorite in Takotna, where a banner overhead reads "Go Norway" and locals light logs they call "Norwegian candles" when the first musher comes in.
Every year, the town of about 55 residents hosts nearly a dozen young Norwegians who help the Iditarod teams steer their dogs into a resting spot at the checkpoint.
This year, there are three Norwegians competing in the race.
"A big welcome to all of them," said Lene Bekkevolb, a Norwegian dog handler who traveled to Alaska for the first time this year.
"It's an exciting sport and we like to keep up with it and see familiar faces on the other side of the globe, I guess," added Martin Gismervik, who's helped for the past several years. "We do some of it back home, and we like to support our local mushers."
One of those local mushers is 31-year-old Joar Ulsom, whose father, Gunnar Ulsom, flew from Norway to Alaska to see him in Takotna.
Ulsom was planning to give his son a hug at the checkpoint but didn't get the chance.
Joar Ulsom breezed through early Wednesday morning with little time to talk to anyone. Though disappointed, Gunnar says Joar’s got his eyes on the prize.
"He’s looking forward to taking a shower and go out for a beer or something like that-- eat a good meal," Gunnar said.
Musher Lars Monsen, 61, is also from Norway.
"It's really a great place to come for a Norwegian, that’s for sure," Monsen said of Takotna, adding that he's proud but not surprised to see so many young Norwegians in Alaska.
"This is where dreams are created. Seeing all these great mushers up close, it has to do something to you," Monsen said.
While it may be nearly 4000 miles away, Takotna feels a lot like Norway, at least for a few days.
Canada and Sweden, along with the U.S., are the other countries represented in the race this year.
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