By Phillip Manning
Last Sunday, September 23rd, Talkeetna played host to an Iditarod reunion for alumni spanning the first ten years of the race. While the flooding last weekend displaced many of the events scheduled at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar, the former mushers and volunteers, already known for their resilience to uncooperative weather, persevered and held a special gathering on the evening of Sunday, September 23rd. Attendees made the trip from all over Alaska, despite the rain, for Sunday’s dinner and program. Many others had planned to attend, but were unable to make the trip due to road closures and other travel difficulties. Still, the spirit of the event was not dampened.
Among the attendees were several contributors to a collaborative memoir, titled Iditarod: The First Ten Years. The project has multiple goals, but serves largely as a means for these veterans of “The Last Great Race” to commit their long-told stories to paper. There will inevitably be many stories from former mushers detailing the hardships, camaraderie, and pioneering spirit of the early years of the Iditarod. Tales range from the difficulty of organizing and promoting the original race to the saga of the Timberland sponsorship. While some of the tales of nostalgia from Sunday will undoubtedly make it into the book, many of the speakers emphasized that one of the major goals of the publication will be to highlight the contributions of the multitudes of volunteers who made the race possible. The book is currently over 750 pages long, and while an exact release date is uncertain, the group managing its writing hopes to have hard copies by the start of the 2014 race.
In addition to presentations around the book, Sunday’s gathering served as the vehicle for a surprise 80th birthday party for former musher Dick Mackey. When the Iditarod-themed cake was brought from the back of the room, the veteran mushers seized on the opportunity to hold an impromptu roast of the former champion. Mackey took it all in stride, thanking his old friends while fighting off tears. During his own remarks, he emphasized the almost familial bonds between all of those who had participated in the first ten runnings of the Iditarod. The evening’s events concluded with the presentation of a signed original Iditarod poster to Mackey by artist and musher John Van Zyle.