This Sunday, the Last Great Race - Iditarod - gets started on Willow Lake. It's a grand spectacle, as more than 700 dogs, nearly 80 mushers and thousands of race fans gather to kick off one of the most grueling events in the world.
The ceremonial start traditionally takes place in Anchorage the first Saturday of the month, and that holds true again this year, although snow is being brought from Fairbanks and the route is shortened to three miles instead of the customary 11, thanks to Mother Nature thinking it's the middle of May rather than the beginning of March. On Sunday, the teams are "on the clock," as the official start begins the race from Willow, where snow isn't a problem.
The Iditarod is rich in Alaska's history, and the celebration that surrounds the event is truly Alaskan. Generations ago, dog sleds were the primary mode of transportation in many of Alaska's rural villages. While technology has changed things and modern conveniences are more readily available, the sport of dog mushing is still alive and well.
The restart in Willow is a great opportunity to meet the mushers and see them up close and personal. But, you better plan ahead, as parking can be an issue. The Iditarod recently announced that shuttle buses will be transporting people from several Valley locations - Wasilla High School, the Curtis D. Menard Sports Center and Houston High School. Buses start at 11 a.m. and run every half hour (every 15 minutes from WHS). The buses will return from Willow at 4, 5 and 6 p.m. Tickets are just $2 per person.
Those driving to Willow themselves, there is a $10 charge for parking, and only limited number of spaces are available. One option for race viewing with ample parking is Deshka Landing - you'll see the mushers out on the trail, but not necessarily the starting line.
There is also an option to take a shuttle from Anchorage at the Anchorage Lakefront Hotel (formerly the Millennium hotel) at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. The cost is $20 for that transportation option. For more information and how to buy tickets, visit www.iditarod.com.
Don't miss out the chance to see Alaska's famous four-legged athletes this weekend!