text and images by Kelly Tebo
My experience working the finish of the Iditarod Trail Sled Race this year was unforgettable. From the moment I arrived in Alaska, my life was consumed by the Iditarod. Due to weather, I ended up getting stuck on an airplane for seven hours in Kotzebue, Alaska. I sat next to an interesting person who was also trying to get to Nome after a vacation in California. He had been living in Nome for three years and told me all about it. We ended up reconnecting and forming a friendship in Nome. That is the cool thing about the Iditarod — you develop friendships with people that will last forever. You really do meet the coolest people volunteering on the Iditarod.
So, since weather did not allow us to get to Nome initially, the very next day we flew two different charters, the first to Unalakleet, Alaska and from there to Nome. Because the mushers were not yet finishing, I had two days in Nome to set up the dog yard and the finish line. I had two days before we expected our 2019 Iditarod Champion.
In this time I did a little sight-seeing and relaxing. When the champion rolled in around 3 in the morning on my third day there, it was an emotional and exciting experience (see accompanying video).
It was the first time an Alaskan native has won the Iditarod. The streets were flooded with locals and tourists and I will always remember seeing the look on all the fan faces as the musher’s lantern first came into view on main street.
The photo / video album below includes video of the first-place sled hitting the finish line at 3 a.m.
After the first-place finisher came in, mushers slowly began trickling in 24 hours a day. Shifts were long and tiresome. It was myself and one other veterinary technician trying to split up 24 hours in a day. Our job was to assist the doctor in examining all the dogs as they came in and take care of any other dogs that had been flown or barged to Nome that had been dropped from the race due to health concerns.
In 72 hours, I slept six hours. My last shift before I shipped out back to Anchorage was 30 hours straight!
We do it because we love it. The dogs are the most amazing athletes on the planet. These dogs are truly extraordinary! I spent seven days in Nome, met tons of great people, made new friends, and reconnected with old friends. When I was able to sleep, I slept on a concrete floor in a church, and I lived in bunny boots and bibs. AND I LOVED IT!
This was my third year volunteering on the Iditarod and I can’t wait to go back.