AMDS Outdoor Adventures - 03/03/01
by Ken Baehr
The Iditarod 2001 Sled Dog Race got off to a great start from downtown Anchorage Alaska, and Chuck and I got the opportunity to take the most unique ride of our snowmachining lives. It all started a couple of weeks ago when Mike and Sherry Underwood dropped by the store. Sherry has served for many years as the official in charge of the Iditarod Trail Guards. Her job is to co-ordinate the volunteers who station themselves along the trail to make sure it is clear of debris and people. The Iditarod Trail Committee works hard to make sure that neither people nor dogs are hurt as the dog teams race down the trail. Part of her job is to make a last minute run the length of the trail to make sure that all the volunteers are in place, and that the trail is properly marked and safe.
Sherry wanted to know if we could help her find two snowmachines to escort her on that run. I said to myself, "Hmmm, she wants me to be sitting at the starting line of the Last Great Race on my snowmachine in downtown Anchorage. She then wants me to ride the Iditarod trail with her to the finish line of the ceremonial start. Finally, I get to stay at the finish line as the world's finest dog mushers come in with their VIP riders. How fast can I say YES?"
Chuck, Sherry, & Ken at Iditarod Start
Chuck and I loaded up our machines, met Sherry at the staging area and towed our machines to the Sullivan Arena Parking lot. There we off-loaded my Summit 600 and my wife's Touring 500 LC. Since the Touring 500 had a two-up seat and a comfortable backrest, we decided that Chuck would drive it and take Sherry as his passenger. I would follow him as the 'backup guy" just in case we had to make an emergency run to get something needed for the trail. We started our engines, got onto the trail and drove the machines downtown where we parked under the starting banner to wait for the start of the race.
At exactly 9:15 Sherry signaled that it was time to go. We started our machines and headed up the trail. The sun was shining, the sky was azure blue, and the temperature was a crisp 15 degrees. It was really fun. Sherry started waving to all the spectators along the trail route, and they all waved back. As luck would have it, the Special Olympics were in town for the week. Many of the athletes lined the trail and waved enthusiastically as we passed by. Their bright team jackets added patches of yellow, green, blue and a host of other colors to the trail. Their presence made the whole event even more special than it already was. Soon we were out of the downtown area and found ourselves on one of the many hiking trails that weave throughout Anchorage. Today it was the Iditarod trail. I had walked these trails often in the summer with my wife, but I couldn't help being struck by how beautiful they were in winter with a coating of fresh white snow.
Ski-Doo Touring 500 along trail
As we rode along, Sherry would often stop to talk to a group of volunteers, reposition them for better visibility, or have them add a trail marker here or some orange tape there. She even had a bag full of earmuffs in her lap just in case a volunteer forgot theirs. She passed out several on the way. After a twelve-mile run we arrived at Campbell Airstrip, the ceremonial finish line. Chuck and I parked our machines at the finish line where they served as a trail markers for the incoming dog teams. Sherry joked that I now owned the most expensive fence post in the world.
We spent the rest of the day helping out as trail guards while we watched the mushers come in one by one. After a twelve-mile run, the dogs seemed disappointed that they had to quit. They were ready for a long run and really didn't want to stop. It took a couple of dog handlers and good driving by the mushers to keep things organized while the VIP riders were unloaded.
Sled Dog Team begins the Last Great Race!
Like I said in the beginning it was a great opportunity, and a great ride. I wrote in one of my journals a year or two ago that I as lucky to live in Alaska and lucky to be able to snowmachine here. Today was one of the days that remind me how true that really is. Today the Great Land, its people, its visitors and its Dog Mushers joined up to make it a day I will remember for many years to come.
~ Ken Baehr