February 15, 2019

Countdown to Iditarod 2019

Watching the countdown timer? 21 days from now Iditarod 2019 officially begins. Since the end of last year’s race, preparations for 2019 have begun. Yesterday, February 7, was straw drop day.

At Air Land Transportation, Anchorage, AK, roughly 50 very busy volunteers gathered to wrestle roughly 1,500 bales of straw (one bale of straw per musher per checkpoint PLUS extra for returning dogs) into place to be sent to Iditarod 2019 checkpoints.

Air Land Transportation donates the use of some trailers to bring the straw from Schultz Farm in Delta Junction, AK, and their facility for this and other annual events including food drop. They also then transport it to where it goes for the next leg of the journey to the trail. That may be Willow for Iditarod Air Force pilots to take out to the checkpoints on this side of the Alaska Range, or it may be to other carriers because it’s being shipped bypass mail through the U.S. Postal Service to checkpoints beyond the Alaska Range.

Coordinated by Jennifer Ambrose, the straw drop is quickly and efficiently done in one long day.

The facility smelled wonderfully of fresh straw and had a slight haze of dust in the air mixed in with the busy and energetic work of the volunteers.

So, what happens there? Straw bales are pulled off the trailer and passed to someone to take off the conveyor. Then the bales are bagged and secured by other volunteers” hands. Next, each bale is marked with a bypass mail tag if it’s going out that way, and stacked onto a pallet. Another volunteer wraps the entire pallet’s bales to keep them from moving around and coming off. A forklift puts the pallet on a scale where another volunteer marks and records its weight after which it’s taken off and put in the “ready to go” section.

 

So, who volunteers for this? Almost every person or group I talked to is a return volunteer for straw drop. Many also volunteer for multiple other positions during the race. When asked what inspired them to begin volunteering for the Iditarod, the general theme of the answer was that they wanted to be involved in the race because it is unique and an Alaskan icon.

Larry, a 35 year volunteer, began doing straw drop because starting in 1986, he had been on the post office side of the process handling the bypass mail; he wanted to help out on the other side of it. He said it used to be that every bypass envelope had to be individually marked for postage where now, an entire pallet is marked at once, although each bale does have a checkpoint identification envelope attached. He also works the phone room, mainly the midnight to 6 a.m. shift, and he supports folks having difficulties with accessing their Insider subscriptions. It’s clear in his smile and laughter that he loves these opportunities.

Chris, Dean, and Lucinda are three others that have decades of volunteer experience under their belts anywhere from volunteer registration desk, trail guard, and Willow restart work, to Iditarod Air Force support.
A large group of the volunteers was the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who are in Alaska for their 2 year mission trips.

The Iditarod Trail Committee is lucky and thankful for Air Land Transport, these and all volunteers, without whom, the race could not be run.