We wait at the end of the race

The dogs maintain quite a pace

The great atmosphere

With wet t-shirts and beer

And workshops on qiviut lace.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. Right now I’m in Nome, Alaska.

A carnival atmosphere has descended on Nome. Yesterday after work, Les (a long time friend, and colleague who graduated from my residency program shortly after I did) and I walked downtown to meet up with Bethany, who has been working at Pingo’s, a café on Bering Avenue that seats, at most, 14.

The Iditarod race commemorates the relay that brought life-saving diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925. Winter mail at the time moved, if not by rail, by dog sleds driven by contract mushers. Public health officials pressed the teams into service.

Hollywood fiction could not possibly hold a candle to the drama and pitfalls of the real story. A surgeon stumbled onto a batch of serum in a closet in the railroad hospital in Anchorage. The wind destroyed the telegraph, mushers got their signals mixed up and almost missed each other on the trail. A howling gust blew a sled over, spilling the precious package into the snow, and retrieved only at the cost of frostbitten fingers. The last leg took a dangerous shortcut across sea ice.

Three years later, air service started in Alaska, snow machines came in the ’60s and the dog team ceased to function as a commercial mode of transportation when the US Mail stopped the last contract in the 70’s, about the same time the Iditarod started. Now, about a hundred teams set out on a 1000 mile race each year in March.

The route changes year to year depending on weather but the distance stays remarkably constant The first competition came through in three weeks, the top mushers are now finishing in 9 days.

Nome sees its most intense tourist business during Iditarod week. The schools close and the locals don’t even try to eat in restaurants. People have to look both ways before crossing the street. We suspect the airlines bring in extra flights.

We walked from Pingo’s to the Lutheran Church for their fundraising soup supper. Where else would a menu include soups such as reindeer sausage gumbo, moose, caribou, musk ox, and chicken curry, served with roll and butter and dessert?

As eclectic as the church menu, the week’s events include, among others, a qiviut lace knitting workshop, Native Olympics, the screening of The Spirit of the Wind (a musher’s movie), the music groups Acoustic Oosic and Bering Strait Jacket, a seal/walrus lecture, a fur hat making demo, the I-did-a-beer-run race, meet and greet the mushers, a musk-ox slide show, a reindeer grill out, a qiviut processing and spinning workshop, a seal skin sewing demo, a lecture on the original serum run, a reindeer herding talk, a sled dog pulls its weight and twice its weight competition, and wet t-shirt/wet buns contests.

We chowed down on moose soup and reindeer gumbo, and a brilliant 9-year-old, with whom I had had a writer-to-writer talk in clinic, came over to say hi.

Outside, we walked under clear skies with temperatures hovering around zero, and relished the warmth.


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