Running to Nome; part 2

The experience of mushing down Front Street in Nome provides more stimuli than a musher or dogs have experienced since departing the starting line over a week ago. 

The dogs are inundated with smells, and not surprisingly, they try to make detours between the parallel-parked cars lining the street striped down the middle with a white carpet of snow. After nearly 1000 miles of picking out the best footing, the dogs often avoid the soft mushy snow, choosing the ease of running on clean asphalt. 

Earlier in the race, the thought of runner plastic being scrapped off the bottom of sled runners by the asphalt would have been like fingernails on a chalkboard, but now, with the finish just feet away, very little matters.

A ramp of snow guarded by protective security fencing funnels the team up to the Burled Arch. And through smiles, frostbitten cheeks and tears, the faces and comforting voice of friends and family emerge from the blur of activity and overwhelmed senses.

Like on the trail, personal needs take a backseat to attention to the dogs, as booties are removed and tossed to the children lining the chute and snacks are passed out. The moment is etched in my memory like it was yesterday. Starting with my leaders Colt and WSU, walking down the line hugging each dog, whispering my thanks to them and baptising their finish with my tears. They are the champions, each and every one, each and every time.

Race officials so patiently stand by, seeing this scene repeated 60+ times year after year; allowing mushers to bask in a moment that for some may never be repeated. Hugs, handshakes, congratulations and kisses are exchanged with family and friends. Like the dogs at the finish, the faces of those friends and mentors are locked in with memories of the race as they were all instrumental in making these memories possible. Final gear checks are made with the officials assuring all mandatory items are present; signatures and handshakes then ceremoniously bring a close to the race.

Clearing the chute for mushers still creating memories on the trail, teams are led to a dog lot barricaded by hulking connex trailers and lined with picket lines.  Airline kennels are prepped with straw and bowls are heaping with mixtures of kibble, meats, fat and broth. Once the dogs are all fed, massaged and tucked into bed, the mushers finally get the opportunity to pamper themselves in the metropolis of Nome.

As a musher, Nome is a totally different experience than as the tourist/dog handler. Instead of listening to stories from the trail and trying to imagine the places being waxed about, the stories became personal and intimate to only those who’d experienced the trail. Hot food prepared by a cook in a kitchen was suddenly a luxury-- as was a hot shower to cleanse miles of trail grime from trail-hardened skin. Exhaustion is to be expected, and a deep slumber is easily attained, however, habits of the trail often cut the rests short.

Cuts, bruises and frozen chunks of flesh each contain memories that cannot be replicated from the comfort of a recliner or a sofa while gazing at a television. 

Iditarod is more than standing on runners, more than putting booties and a harness on a dog, more than surviving at 50 below, more than 1000 miles. Iditarod is an epic journey, connecting mushers, dogs, communities and wilderness. Some epics are scrawled on the pages of a book, but for many mushers, their epics lie with their dogs, their sleds and a belt buckle unique to fewer than 1000 mushers.

Miss part 1? Read it here

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