IDITAROD WEEK: Arm Wrestling Competition

When in Rome, do as the Romans.  When in Nome, do as the locals!  

The Arm Wrestling Competition at the Breakers Bar during Iditarod week is a mainstay event and a definite must-see.  The back of the bar is jam packed with arm wrestling hopefuls, dog mushers, locals, visitors, and plenty of Iditarod fans. 

Some of my friends and I were contestants, and four of us took home either first, second, or third place in different weight divisions.  This was my first time arm wrestling in a competition - and it definitely won't be my last.  It was so much fun that I'm already training for next year!

IDITAROD WEEK: Snowmachine Trip to Safety Checkpoint

The last checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail before the Finish Line in Nome is Safety.  During my Iditarod week-long vacation, some friends and I decided to load up the snowmachines and make the 22 mile trek to Safety. 

It was a sunny blue sky day with temperatures hovering above zero.  It didn't seem that cold.  I mean, Nome was definitely colder than Alabama, but certainly not as cold as, say, Antarctica.  Or so I thought.  Once we got going on the snowmachines and were driving 40 mph against the wind, I realized I had never been so cold in my life. 

I thought I was prepared for the elements.  I was wearing silk base layer pants and shirt, fleece bodysuit, two sweaters, yoga pants, snow pants, two pairs of knee-high wool socks, Sorel snow boots, down parka, windbreaker, balaclava head covering, snowmachine helmet, Etip gloves, mountaineering mitts with handwarmer packets, and my qiviut nachaq.  Y'all, to say it was not enough is an understatement.  When we made it to Cape Nome, the wind was blowing 30 mph - and it was beyond unbearable.  At this point, I started wondering if I would make it all the way to Safety - or if I would ever be warm again.

Along the trail, we passed dog team after dog team, all on their way to Nome.  My crew and I pulled over each time to shoot videos and photos.  After all, it's not everyday you have the opportunity to cheer on Iditarod teams while they're on the last leg of the Last Great Race on Earth. 

At one moment, I jumped off the snowmachine and positioned myself to get a shot of a visibly exhausted musher before his team led him out of frame.  In my frenzy to shoot an epic video, I removed my glove to better angle my camera.  I mean, who has time for pesky gloves when you're busy capturing the moment of man vs. nature?  Within seconds, my hand turned red, and my skin was starting to freeze before my very eyes.  I'll never pull a stunt like that again.  But I think the video below was a good tradeoff.

All smiles as we prep for the expedition.

Taking a short break on the frozen Bering Sea.

My crew and I were so eager - downright desperate actually - for the special warmth and hospitality found only at the Safety Roadhouse.  The building was packed with checkpoint gear, happy fans, convos around the woodstove, and charming bathroom signs like "Go Make Yellow Snow." 

The trip to Safety was by far the best experience of my entire Iditarod vacation and one of the more memorable moments of my life.  I'd do it all again in a heartbeat - even with the frost nipped hands and nose.

In front of the Safety Roadhouse.

Alaska parking lot.

Important guidelines for patrons.

The Safety Roadhouse also doubles at the Safety Checkpoint, last stop on the Iditarod Trail before Nome.

Velvet, the Pet Reindeer

When I first visited Nome in the summer of 2011, I was hanging out at the Safety Roadhouse and admiring all the junk on their walls.  There were thousands of tattered dollar bills, old Iditarod memorabilia, and this very interesting photo of a reindeer.  Camped out.  ON A COUCH.

A picture of the picture.

I soon learned that this was not just any couch-surfing semi-domesticated caribou.  This was Velvet, an actual pet reindeer in Nome!  Don't believe it?  See for yourself.

I had to see this big beautiful animal in the flesh.  So when I was in Nome earlier this month for Iditarod Week, we searched high and low.  Well, actually, we didn't have to go far.  You see, Velvet has her own fenced area at her owner's house near the Nome Recreation Center.  Her pad is decked out with decorative "Reindeer Crossing" signs and rope lighting that spells out "Velvet Eyes."  I can't imagine a more whimsical home for a pet reindeer.

Velvet is indeed very velvety.

IDITAROD WEEK: 3rd Annual Bering Sea Brew Festival

I'm not much of a beer drinker.  But give me an opportunity to celebrate the Iditarod, Alaskan-style, and I'm game.  This under-the-radar event, the Bering Sea Brew Fest, takes place way out on the frozen Bering Sea.  I can't imagine a more Alaskan location to day drink and hobnob with other eager Iditarod fans.

Fest-goers congregated near an under-the-ice mining tent.

Standing west of Nome, with the frozen solid Bering Sea in the background.

We were greeted with warm smiles and raised glasses.

A bundled up Kevin Burton, head brewer at Anchorage's Glacier Brewhouse, poured us some beers.  Talented fella!

Raspberry wheat from Glacier Brewhouse.  Yummo!

Autographing the brewfest banner.

Semi-frozen raspberry wheat beer.  The key is to drink fast before it freezes!