The Running of the Reindeer! (PHOTOS)
For the past several years, I’ve shared pictures of the ceremonial start of the Iditarod. This year I thought I’d mix it up a little, and cover the event that happens just after the Iditarod starts. The last of the dogs and their mushers have headed down Anchorage’s historic 4th Avenue, and the snowy lane is ready for another kind of critter. Paws and wagging tails give way to hooves and antlers, as the Fur Rendezvous festival presents – The 6th Annual Running of the Reindeer!
I’d always wanted to see this event, but never made it until today. It was a glorious day – deep blue sky with temperatures hovering right at 32 degrees. I made sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare, so I could get a front row view. The reindeer were there early too, enclosed in a fenced in area in the middle of the road.
A couple designated reindeer handlers led their charges along the edge of the raceway so spectators could get pictures, and pet the guests of honor on their shaggy heads. I took advantage of the opportunity and gave this handsome fellow a nice pat. He seemed to be taking the day in stride, and enjoying the attention.
I walked up and down while the crowd was still thin to snap some pictures, and to warm up my feet which were starting to feel numb from standing still for so long. I must have heard at least a dozen different adorable toddler voices along the way say the exact same thing, “Mommy! Look! A reindeer!”
Music was blaring, and the streets were lined with smiling people. Coffee stands gave people the chance to warm their hands, and innards. At various points in my stroll down the Avenue, there would be clouds of delicious smelling smoke wafting across the sidewalks from food vendors selling….. (insert chord of horror here)
OK, that’s just wrong.
The walking wasn’t helping my frozen extremities, so I dodged in to a gift store to warm up. A greeter at the door gave me a string of what looked like Mardi Gras beads, only in the shape of little green fish. After a few minutes of admiring some souvenirs and waiting for the pins and needles to go away, I headed out again.
I got to the end of the street where the human runners were gathering. It was now a little less than an hour before the race, and many participants already had their bib numbers, and had taken their position. If there’s one thing you can count on from Alaskans when it comes to celebrations, they’ll take any excuse they can get to wear a costume. The only thing that surpasses the love of the costume for some crazy residents of Southcentral Alaska, is to wear as little as possible without becoming hypothermic.
The radio team of Bob & Mark were emceeing the event, and the Alaskan legend Hobo Jim was there with his guitar singing songs about the Iditarod, its founder Joe Reddington, and even one he’d written specifically for the Running of the Reindeer.
The Running of the Reindeer event is a fundraiser for Toys for Tots. There are many visitors to the state for the Iditarod sled dog race, and so this event had spectators, and participants from around the globe. The first group of runners had participants from New York, California, Washington DC, Florida, Mexico and Great Britain, just for starters.
Finally, the real stars of the day were led out of the pen, and down to the humans.
They’d be taken to the back of the pack, ready to join the runners after a 10 second head start for the two-legged ones.
Fur Rendezvous Princesses stopped to pose for pictures along the route.
Almost ready, there was a brief pause for the Pledge of Allegiance. Handlers and reindeer both stood respectfully, facing the flag.
After the spectators join the announcer in the countdown, they’re off!
They surge ahead, with only 10 seconds until the reindeer are let loose!
The first reindeer was spotted in the crowd!
And the rest followed.
After the first run, the crowd was offered accessories.
…which they accepted.
Three more waves of runners followed.
Some had to improvise on bib placement.
By this time my feet and fingers had frozen solid again, but taking a quick walk meant I lost my place. The crowd now was 6 or 7 deep, so I made my way back in the direction of my car, stopping at a local watering hole for an evening libation and some sweet chili peanut calamari. From my table next to the window overlooking 5th Avenue, I got to enjoy the happy faces of the crowd as they drifted back to their cars, and hotels. The official tally was about 15,000 spectators at the event, and the crowds were televised statewide for the first time in the event’s history.
Runners and reindeer undoubtedly slept well.