What’s on your Bucket List?  You know, that place you’d like to see or thing you’d like to do – if you had the time, money, ability, or possibility.

  • Taking a Quilting cruise
  • Climbing Machu Pico
  • Going Deep Sea fishing
  • Touring the Holy Land
  • Trying Hang Gliding
  • Writing a Recipe Book
  • Seeing the Northern Lights
  • Volunteering at a Wildlife Center, Food Bank, or Senior Shuttle
  • Teaching English as a Second Language
  • Volunteering for a humanitarian cause.
I made it!

A year ago, March, 2022, my top-of-the-list “Bucket” item was realized: to be at the Finish line of the most famous sled dog race in the world, the nearly 1,000 mile “Last Great Race,” otherwise known as the “Iditarod,” which starts in Anchorage and culminates at Nome, Alaska, along the Bering Sea.

On March 15, at 3:45 am, I received a call that a team was approaching Nome. In anticipation, I stumbled around my hotel room, pulling on wool socks and thick boots. I didn’t want to miss a thing. How much time did I have?

After flying all day on three different flights, I’d made it into Nome at 6:15 pm the day before. For two years, I’d calculated when I needed to arrive.  Now I was here, relieved that the winning team hadn’t shown up. I just needed to get to the finish line, the place under the Burled Arch on Front Street by the Covenant Church.

The Covenant Church’s Iditarod tradition is to open its doors to the public for the first musher’s arrival. Several large screens track the mushers’ positions on maps, and groups of parka and boot-wearing folks stand with eyes fixed on the information, while savoring homemade cinnamon rolls oozing with frosting and letting coffee or hot chocolate steam onto their faces.

When the screen indicated that the first musher was two miles out of Nome, I zipped up my parka, snugged up my fleece scarf, and pushed handwarmers into my gloves; then I left the warmth of the building for a chilly 3 degrees to squeeze as close as possible to the Arch. In the darkness, I could see the musher’s headlamp shining the way towards all of us excited welcomers. At 5:38 am, after 8 days, 14 hours, 38 minutes, and 43 seconds, Brent Sass glided under the Arch! The first words I heard him say were, “I’m so tired.”

I could not even imagine. Brent arrived with 11 of the 14 dogs he’d started with.

He’d carried in his sled one sleeping bag, an ax, one pair of snowshoes, eight booties per dog, one cooker, and a pot for dog food. He’d made one mandatory 24-hour rest stop and two 8-hour stops. Before eating or resting, he had fed the dogs and put straw down for them to snuggle into. The veterinarians along the way had checked his dogs regularly.

This race was the first Iditarod win for the Minnesota native, who in 1998 had moved to Alaska to attend the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and had joined the cross-country ski team, which then led to sled dog racing. With this win he’d earned $51,798.  

A friend from above the Arctic Circle had joined me in Nome. She owned 22 sled dogs and competed in intervillage sprint races where she’d placed first, second, and third competition. She knew about racing. She knew about dogs. She knew about snow conditions. And, she enjoyed a cup of good coffee.

I stayed four days in Nome.  The sun struggled up at 9:19 am and disappeared slowly over the frozen sea at 9:03 pm. Ice sculptures, a craft fair, and slippery walks around the village with ice underfoot added to the experience.  

Iditarod 2022 is over. The memories remain vivid. I won’t be repeating that “chilly” Bucket List item. But I can follow Brent Sass and this team every day on his FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/WildandFreeMushing.

And, I’ve been tracking the 2023 race at http://iditarod.com. The winner already pulled into Nome — Ryan Redington, with 6 of the 14 dogs he’d started with. Only 6 dogs pulled with him to the finish line! Ryan, age 40, is the grandson of Joe Redington Sr., known as the Father of the Iditarod, who started the Iditarod in 1973. Joe completed 17 Iditarods and at age 80, was the honorary musher in the 1997 race. How proud he’d be to see his grandson win the 2023 Iditarod!

What’s next on my list? Hmm…probably something else in Alaska.  Meanwhile, see how you can achieve that “someday I’m going to…”