It all starts in Anchorage, on a seasonably miserable Friday night early in March with the snowplows hard at it. Having spent the previous five months removing the winter's snowfall from city streets, they were now busily putting it all back. Not long before dawn, their work was finished at last, and at an hour normally reserved for bored cops and only the most determined drunks, Fourth Avenue was hopping. Literally.
The city's main drag is alive with a cacophony of sound, color and motion, not to mention smell. There are, after all, upwards of 1,300 dogs in nearly 70 teams, all having arrived in the pre-dawn gloom and cold, preparing for the fabled Iditarod's start. In the cobalt half-light, each dog's bark takes physical form as think icy clouds, creating a noisy, low-level fog. And watch your step, okay. These animals are finely tuned, physically primed racing machines. House training is for those goofy little wiener dogs.
Alaska's famous, infamous and merely strange come out of the woodwork at race time. Some look like it's the first time they've seen anything but four cabin walls since Labor Day. And if that's not a dead animal on your head, you're just not there, my friend. We all line The Ave., standing knee deep in snow berms, clutching precious hot coffee and hollering like fools every two minutes as another team heads off. Then it's back to the hard work of trying to get feeling back into our toes.