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Student perspective: The Iditarod

March 30, 2011

Student perspective: The Iditarod

Editor’s note: PLU student Loren Liden headed up to Alaska to cover the Iditarod. The following is a reflection on her experience.

The Iditarod, a 1,000-mile dogsled race across the state of Alaska, finished Sunday, March 20. A remarkable feat of determination, the Iditarod has become Alaska’s two-week long celebration, beginning in Anchorage and ending in Nome. Though last year I covered the ceremonial start in Anchorage, this year I covered both the start and end of the race for, a website that brings news and analysis of the Iditarod to fans through blog posts, podcasts, Facebook and Twitter. The job of covering the race, quickly became an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

To begin my on-site coverage of the race, I trudged up and down 4th Avenue in the snow as the mercury sank to five below on Saturday, March 5. The sky was blue and the fans were out to glimpse their favorite musher and cheer them on their way. This ceremonial start is just for show, though. The real race begins farther north in Willow.

Unlike last year, on Sunday I went to Willow, to an Iditarod re-start party. The party gathered at Crystal Lake to commemorate this mark of Alaska’s history. When the time came, party guests donned sunglasses and snow boots and made their way to the trail to high-five their favorite musher. After soaking up the sun and mountains surrounding me in Willow, I headed home before returning shortly to Alaska.

I flew up to Nome about a week after I returned from Anchorage, and couldn’t believe the ocean of mountains, then a desert of ice and snow I saw out the airplane window. Northwestern Alaska had beauty I’d never known. We descended into Nome (population – 800), and then I was in the middle of the town’s “spring break,” or rather Iditarod break. Full of goofy small town events named for the race, Nome was relaxed and carefree, and full of people who loved Alaska and cared for each other.

I watched mushers cross the finish line, talked with the biggest names in mushing, celebrated with fans of all types, and soaked up Alaska’s history and culture. To witness and take part in such a communal celebration, such a testament of humanity and of the Great Alaskan Wild changed me. I want to strive like mushers do and celebrate like Alaskans — in reflection of the past, and in hope for the future.