Reporter’s Notebook – McGrath – March 6, 2012

Photo by Anne Hillman, APRN Contributor

I feel like it’s my first day really on the trail. Sure, I flew to Finger Lake for a 20-minute stop yesterday, but the hurried visit didn’t have the same feeling to it. We rushed out so we wouldn’t get stuck in a snow storm and only briefly experienced the lines of dogs sleeping on hay as the mushers rested. Here, it’s a whole town that’s experiencing the Iditarod, maybe for better or for worse.

Photo by Anne Hillman, APRN Contributor

I flew in this morning with volunteers and other media. As I trudged down the snow-filled street with my excessively heavy pack, a group from KTUU let me stand on the runners of their truck to give me a lift to the school. Their car was completely stuffed with crew members and equipment. The halls of the school were lined with “Idit-Read” posters. Kids got to advance to the next check point after reading a certain number of pages. Some of the younger kids made placement markers with a picture of their face pasted on a musher and sled drawing.

When I settled in a bit I got a lift from the local radio guy to the checkpoint at the community center. The building is covered in signs with Iditarod history and posters made by students. Volunteers wander in and out and gossip about mushers and being on the trail. Others fill the café down the road which also houses the main hub for the Iditarod Air Force. Piles of equipment sit outside buildings and entry ways. The place screams “Iditarod in action.” But is that necessarily a good thing? Strangers fill the space, but do community members like it? Some must. They volunteer at the checkpoint, too, and others eagerly awaited the arrival of the first mushers, trying desperately to get their autographs.

Photo by Anne Hillman, APRN Contributor

One person, though, said that it was all a bit much. People are walking down the road making it hard to drive to work, and all in all it’s a nuisance. She thought community members felt more connected and involved when the mushers stayed at people’s houses. That all changed when some of the more competitive mushers became upset that some racers had better food or hotter water to wash with. Now the race organizers corral the mushers so everyone gets the same treatment. It’s more consistent but also more distant. Does it dampen the spirit of the race that commemorates saving a community, or does it help make the race more appealing for the top athletes that keep the sport alive? Of course, that said, every town has a curmudgeon in it…

I’d like to thank the school for opening up the building and letting me stay and work here. I also appreciate all the lifts people have given me. Some times saving a couple of minutes makes a big difference.

Anne Hillman is the healthy communities editor at Alaska Public Media and a host of Hometown, Alaska. Reach her at Read more about Anne here.

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