The next day we'll fly to the isolated race checkpoint at nearby Skwentna, where we'll witness the mushers readying themselves and the hundreds of dogs for the thousand miles of unforgiving wilderness ahead. We'll then return to the comfort of our wilderness homestead for a last relaxing night before heading back to Anchorage and lunch at the Iditarod headquarters.
This very special tour is for those that long to experience the real Alaska, and the reasons so many have chosen to call it home year around —from those that came for the gold rushes and decided not to leave, to those that still spurn the comforts of modern civilization for the adventure of frontier living. Offered only once a year, this incomparable tour by our company guarantees experiences that most will only read about...
Day 1: Our adventure starts at 9 AM, meeting at the Snowshoe Inn near downtown. Here we'll make a quick check of gear and distribute supplementary arctic wear. We'll then make a stop if necessary at a REI, an outdoor gear supplier if anyone decides that they might need additional items. Before we head out of town, we'll make a stop at the Regal Alaskan Hotel, the official headquarters of the Iditarod Race.
Located on the edge of Lake Hood, the world's largest seaplane base in summer and home to many that equip their planes with skis and operate from there in the winter. As things build toward the Race several days away, preparations are evident as the phone banks are installed, radio communications set up and of course the Official Iditarod Store doing a brisk business. Afterwards we'll head out of town hugging the edge of the Turnagain Arm, between the Chugach Mountains and the sea.
Crossing Turnagain Pass in the Kenai Mountains we'll take the 16 mile cutoff to the tiny end-of-the-road town of Hope. The oldest gold rush town in Alaska, (far older than Anchorage) this sleepy little village of 200 souls still has a definite frontier flavor with most of the buildings of log, from the old Social Hall still used for weddings and most town functions to the old church.
We'll overnight here in log cabins overlooking Bear Creek and after dinner have our first introduction to mushing, with a hands-on demonstration of dog harnessing and sled driving protocol by a local musher. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 2: After an early breakfast we'll head through the Kenai Mountains and along Cook Inlet to Homer, overlooking beautiful Kachemak Bay. At the end of East End Road is where we'll meet Lorraine Temple, proprietess of Outback Kachemak Kennels overlooking the Bay. Starting off with a "briefing" and some additional tips for the trail, we'll meet Lorraine's assistant mushers and the vocal crew out back, as ready to hit the trail as we are.
It takes a bit to load everything and ready the sleds, so you'll be pressed into service immediately, helping to harness the dogs and keep them from heading down the trail without us. Our gear will travel to the lodge on sleds pulled by snowmachine, or "iron dog" as they have come to be known, since in many places it is now a vital means of winter transport. Then with magnificent glacier views, it's over the snow covered muskeg and frozen lakes 18 miles to the remote lodge, taking turns driving the teams while the others glide along the trail in the sled basket. We'll warm up with a hot lunch before your next great experience (if inclined)- skijorring.
A swiss word representing the sport of cross country skiing by means other than gravity or sweat, our source of locomotion will be a dog each, tethered to a waist belt and pulling us along the trails on our skis (supplied). Its great fun and always very popular. Back to the lodge in late afternoon, its time to feed the staff, the dogs showing a mild enthusiasm as we repay them their day's labors. Most likely equally enthused ourselves after an active day, local delicacies will highlight the table of our "bush" feast. Later that evening the northern lights will surely see their way fit to give us a display. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 3: With a hearty breakfast in the belly, harnessing up the dogs begins to feel like a natural part of a day's routine (the Call of the Wild is not species specific...). Then it's off down the trail taking turns driving your own team as we snake through the Boxcar Hills, over Caribou Lake and further into the Caribou Hills. Exploring a glacial valley, we'll stop frequently to examine stories told by the animal tracks in the snow and some of the other seasonal phenomena that are hard to put into words when someone asks, incredulously, why one would enjoy winter.
Lunch is on the trail wherever the urge hits, before we mush our way back to the lodge. The rest of the afternoon is open to personal inclination, with some preferring to luxuriate in the lodge, while others haven't quite got their fill of skijorring. Dinner is once again a high point, after which the northern lights will have an opportunity to either top their previous night's performance, or make amends for a no-show. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 4: A send-off breakfast, possibly with local goodies will get us ready for the trail back... hitching up the teams and mushing giving you the thought that maybe you could easily get used to a life of... someday, maybe... After early afternoon goodbyes to new friends, both two and four-legged, we'll head back into Homer for lunch at a local funky eatery before retracing the road back to Hope. Dinner is at nearby Bear Creek Lodge before an evening briefing on the Iditarod itself via video, at the cabin on Bear Creek. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 5: Breakfast is early to hit the road and get to the Race start in downtown Anchorage. The start has an atmosphere all its own as literally thousands of dogs and people are crowded into a tiny area, all focused on the event that for many, is the experience of a lifetime. You'll have lots of vantage points for great pictures or just plain gawking. The perennial contenders have their own professional determination while many others are participating for the first time, though every one of the mushers, spouses, and handlers are concentrating on the grueling and perilous 1100 miles of wilderness ahead.
After watching the teams be released at two-minute intervals and going through several rolls of film, we'll lunch and head to Lake Hood, to board our bush ski-planes for the 70 mile trip to the remote homestead of Shan and Eric Johnson. Landing on skis on the river near their home, here you'll see how a family lives far from roads and the rest of the world --the kids traveling to the local school by boat in summer and snow machine in winter. Dinner is of course sumptuous, after exploring a bit about the neighborhood on snowshoes or skis. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 6: A great breakfast makes the morning leisurely, with plenty of time to wander the woods by snowshoe - or dog team if you can convince young Stacy Johnson (Junior Iditarod competitor) of your dog driving credentials. If the weather is clear, Mt. McKinley, North America's tallest mountain should give proof just to the north.
In the afternoon we'll busy about preparations for the evening's bonfire, as the dog teams race our direction. After dinner, we'll bundle up and head out by snow machine to a rendezvous on the Yentna River, which is the Iditarod Trail for this portion of the race.
Depending on trail conditions as to what time the first teams start coming through (we'll have a pretty good idea by CB radio report from other homesteaders down the river, the principal means of communication "in the neighborhood"), we'll hang about the bonfire until we see the bobbing headlamps of the first mushers, their teams much more businesslike after a day on the trail. Hopefully the northern lights will grace us and lead us back to our cozy homestead, with thoughts no doubt of those on the trail, the sled bag their only accommodations. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 7: After breakfast we'll bundle up and wait for pick-up by ski plane for the trip to Finger Lake, official checkpoint of the race. We'll locate some of the teams on the way by flying low, and then watch those arrive, having mushed all night the hundred and thirty overland miles. It is evident here the experience of each musher in their efficiency in checking each dog, feeding the team and bedding it down as well as themselves, in preparation for the days and days of sleepless trail ahead.
It is a scene that is difficult to put into words and one that will stay with you long after. Lunch is at the Finger Lake Lodge, doing their only winter business in this road less region. The afternoon holds our allotted flight back to Anchorage and civilization, though not without a different appreciation for the unique world of the arctic winter and the people and passions that are so much a part of it.
Stopping in at the Iditarod Headquarters for a musher update, your mind might wander to how, that while in so many ways the world has changed, in some ways and places it hasn't much at all. And now, though the trip is officially over, those staying the night might want to get together for a culminating dinner and do a bit of reminiscing... Includes: (B), (L).
Single departure each year. Single Supplement not available on this tour.
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