Big Night In Bethel

My title is not sarcastic! I want to clear that up as I know I tend to strike that tone more often than not. I’m legitimately settling in to write a post about an activity-filled evening we had in Bethel on Friday.

There is a sled dog race in this part of Alaska known as the Kuskokwim 300. It’s a really big deal! Some people that raced in this race will race in the Iditarod, or have raced in – or even won – the Iditarod in the past. Not that the Iditarod should be the measuring stick for other sled dog races. I think the K300 is supposed to stand on its own.

Anyway, the race launched on Friday evening. We realized pretty late in the day that we should probably go to this big town event. I should note here that since the town is pretty low on snow this year, the whole race took place on the Kuskokwim river. We drove by after work to see what was being set up.

2015/01/img_0593.jpgNot much was happening yet, but that is a bunch of people sitting idly in the middle of a frozen river. My nightmare.

We decided that we would have dinner out in order to get back to watch the takeoff on time. This marked the second time we have actually gone OUT to eat since we moved here. We tried a restaurant called the Mud Hut and were pleasantly surprised. They don’t try to do everything with their menu like everything else around here does, AND it has a decent restaurant atmosphere. We might even go back sometime in the next six months. So, yeah, that added to the festive feeling of the evening.

After throwing on more winter clothes in the car we headed back toward the river. There had been a strong advisory from the K300 committee that people not actively racing should not park on the river this year due to the unseasonably warm weather. This advisory promptly caused people to get really defensive and aggressive about being told not to park on the ice because just who exactly has the authority to stop them?! I guess people don’t like to be told the ways they might accidentally kill themselves and others. Needless to say, we parked at a building near the bank and walked out, like most reasonable people did. The first thing you’ll notice about a sled dog race is the constant noise. Sled dogs never stop barking and yipping and shrieking. I’ll try to link some videos I took if I can.

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Despite my complete trepidation about walking out on ice it became obvious quickly that we wouldn’t be experiencing this appropriately if we didn’t head out to the start line. As we approached the river bank the lady in front of us told her kids to be careful at the edge. My brain was frantically wondering why, WHY? Here’s why.

2015/01/img_0595.jpgThat is supposed to be Rolo and me straddling the giant crack in the ice, but is instead a picture of my baby sticking her foot IN the crack in the ice. As everyone left the ice later that evening I watched some kids go through a slushy area near the bank and sink up to their ankles and calves. Glad I saw that after I had been standing in the middle of hundreds of trucks and people and dogs and sleds in the middle of the river for over an hour.

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They called up and started two dog teams at a time. Those dogs were so ready to go! I think if they had been given their head they would have just taken off and run straight through until they collapsed from total exhaustion. Most dog teams were hooked up to a snow machine riding behind their sled to hold them back until sometime beyond the crowds. It would have been awesome to see them really get to take off like they wanted to, but it was still interesting to watch them go. I understand that it was an extremely quick race due to high temps and the whole thing taking place on ice.
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After all the dog teams were off we waited a bit longer to see some fireworks. I hadn’t been too cold until we stood around waiting for the show to start. It was worth it. Everyone stood on the ice and we were just right underneath each blast. You would hear the initial bang, then the reverb bang off the ice, then one last PING off the big metal wall along the bank. There were times it really felt like the sound might be enough to crack the ice below us. Rosalind was so overcome with delight and mild terror that she kept shouting out with glee. And it turns out Sergio is extremely enthusiastic about fireworks too. It just took watching them in below freezing weather to realize that. I guess July 4th in the South was not the best place to gauge his stance on fireworks.

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The race ended this morning without our presence. It was such a quick race that the leader finished before 6 am. I believe a Bethelite won this year!
It was a really pleasant night. We won’t be making it to the Joe Martin Stage Race for the first time in Rosalind’s whole life, but I think the K300 is a more than adequate replacement for the time being.

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3 thoughts on “Big Night In Bethel

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