Tag Archives: anchorage

The Great Race of Mercy

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Ryan Redington comes into the village of Ruby, Alaska; Photo credit: ADN/Loren Holmes

Due to the coronavirus scare, about the only sporting event still taking place in the United States is the Iditarod sled dog race.  Interestingly, the Iditarod commemorates the 1925 Nome Serum Run.

 

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Known at the time as the Great Race of Mercy, the race against time stands alongside the Good Friday Earthquake as one of Alaska’s defining moments.

Curtis Welch was the only doctor in Nome in the autumn of 1924.  He had placed an order for diphtheria antitoxin, but it had not arrived by the time the port was entombed in winter ice.  In January of 1925, Welch had diagnosed the first case of diphtheria.

His pleading telegram to the outside world read as follows:

An epidemic of diphtheria is almost inevitable here STOP I am in urgent need of one million units of diphtheria antitoxin STOP Mail is only form of transportation STOP 

With the area population around 10,000, and close to 100% mortality rate, the situation was dire.  After the 1917 influenza, in which half the native population perished, time was of the essence.

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Nome, Alaska circa 1916

The mail route between Nenana and Nome was 674 miles.  The only diphtheria antitoxin was in Anchorage.  The antitoxin was put on the Alaska Railroad to Nenana and then hauled west by dogsled.  The rural Alaskan mail carriers were the best dog mushers in the State, and the vast majority were Athabaskan.  “Wild Bill” Shannon was the first musher to take the serum from Nenana.  The temperature was -50F when he left Nenana with a team of 11 dogs.  When Shannon reached the village of Minto at 3am, it was -60F, and Wild Bill was suffering from hypothermia and frostbite.

The serum went from relay team to relay team.  At times, the serum was brought into various roadhouses to warm up.  One musher at Manley Hot Springs had the roadhouse operator pour hot water over his hands so that they could be broken free of his sled’s handle bars.  It was -56F.

By January 30, a fifth death, and 27 cases of diphtheria had occurred in Nome.  Plans were made to fly serum in, but they were rejected by the Navy and experienced pilots because of the weather.  The relay went on.

Leonhard Seppala left Nome for Shaktoolik to take his place in the relay.  He faced gale force winds and -85F wind chill.  His lead dog Togo traveled 350 miles in total.

Henry Ivanoff’s team was tangled up with a reindeer.

Charlie Olson took the serum from Seppala, his team was blown off course by the winds. He passed the serum to Gunnar Kaasen in Bluff, AK.  Kaassen waited for the weather to improve, but it only became worse, so he set out into a nasty headwind.  His lead dog was Balto.  Kaassen could barely see the first two dogs in front of his sled because of the blowing snow, but Balto led the team through high drifts, river overflow and heavy winds.  At one point, a gust of wind flipped the sled.  The serum was thrown into the snow, and Kaassen’s hands were frostbit trying to recover the cylinder of serum.

In spite of the hardships, Kaassen reached Point Safety ahead of schedule.  The next man up, Ed Rohn, was sleeping, so Kaassen and his team led by Balto continued on.  They arrived in Nome at 5:30am.  The relay of dog teams traveled the 674 miles in 127-1/2 hours.  Not one vial of serum had been broken.

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Gunnar Kaassen and Balto

For the first time since the Last Great Race first ran, mushers this year are not being allowed into villages due to coronavirus concerns.  Checkpoints are in tents out on rivers away from communities.  Spectators have been told not to show up in Nome to cheer as teams cross under the famed burled arch on Front Street.

If nothing else, 1925 shows us how vital it is to step up and come together at a time of crisis.


Alaskan Heat Dome


A huge upper-level high pressure has parked itself over much of southern Alaska; Graphic credit: TropicalTidbits.com

Record breaking temps hit the southern part of Alaska on July 4th. A large high pressure dome has planted itself over the state, and is moving very slowly north and east. Several communities in the southern part of the state have seen all time record high temperature records broken. Fairbanks probably won’t be seeing any all time records broken, but we are going to see temps in the upper 80’s within a day or two as the high pressure moves into our area. Just what we need with all the fires around the area.

Broken records:

Anchorage Merrill Field: 90F
King Salmon: 89F
Kenai: 89F
Illiamna: 86F

These are all-time record highs for our coastal areas; The Anchorage Bowl had never recorded 90 degrees before. When one thinks of King Salmon, you picture wet, rainy, cool weather as you fish for salmon. The coast could be breaking records for the next 5-6 days, as the high pressure takes its time moving out of the area.


Cracks along the rails

Quake Update:


Cracks along the rails north of Anchorage; Photo credit: Alaska Railroad

The railroad between Anchorage and Fairbanks remains closed from the recent 7.0 earthquake. There are several sections like the photo above, with cracks that have developed along the rails. The cracks in the photo run 2-4 feet wide, and 200 feet long.

No timetable has been given to a return to rail traffic between Alaska’s two largest cities.

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The on-ramp seen around the globe:


Before/After Minnesota Blvd on-ramp; Photo credit: Alaska Tourism Board

The onramp from Minnesota Blvd to International Airport Road became Alaska’s most famous, with the photo of the SUV left stranded eight feet below grade.

I often make fun of Alaska’s DOT, but they have done a great job, by all accounts, getting Anchorage roads ready to handle traffic again. That interchange was rebuilt, repaved and lines painted in four days. Not bad, considering there was not an asphalt plant up & running at the time. A plant had to reopen, because everything was closed for the winter season.


Anchorage hit with 7.0 Quake


An onramp to International Airport Road from Minnesota Drive in Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage experienced quite the shaker at 8:29am Friday morning. The earthquake was initially pegged at a magnitude 6.6, but was quickly updated to a 7.0 by Friday afternoon.


A stranded SUV on the collapsed onramp

The earthquake was followed by an estimated 5.8 aftershock, and several smaller ones throughout the day on Friday. A tsunami warning was issued immediately for the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island and Cook Inlet. No tsunami developed, and the warning was called off less than two hours later.

Flights into Anchorage International Airport were being diverted to Juneau or Fairbanks. Departures from the Anchorage Airport began again at 11:30am.


Vine Road, just south of Wasilla, Alaska

The epicenter of the quake was 7 miles north of Anchorage, directly across the Knik Arm from Alaska’s largest city. Depth was at 27 miles. There are reports of road damage throughout the area, and several reports of damaged buildings. Residents have called in saying that the Glenn Highway has some sections of severe damage, although there is no official word on that yet. As of this writing, no casualties have been reported.

This is the largest earthquake to hit the Anchorage area, since a 7.1 in 2016. The Friday morning earthquake was much closer to Anchorage and the MatSu Valley, so damage is expected to be higher than 2016.

As of Friday afternoon, Alaska has experienced 43,926 earthquakes in 2018.

Photos credit: Anchorage Daily News


Alaska Ends Holdout

And then there was one…

An era will officially come to an end in Alaska, as the final two Blockbuster Video stores will close by the end of August.

Alaska is currently home to two of the final three Blockbusters in the United States, with a store in both Anchorage and Fairbanks. The two stores have the same owner, and are still making a profit, but with the profits in continual decline and the leases up at both locations, ownership has decided to close down.


Blockbuster Video, Fairbanks, Alaska

In 2013, the state still had 13 Blockbuster locations, but that has dwindled to the final two holdouts over the last five years.

Both locations will open at noon on Tuesday with an inventory sale that will last through the month of August.

With the closing of the two Alaska stores, the last Blockbuster in the U.S. is in Bend, Oregon.


The Alaska Railroad

Anchorage Depot AKRR
Anchorage Depot

While in Anchorage, we took a tour of the Anchorage Depot of the Alaska Railroad. Founded in 1902, the Alaska RR first hit the rails in 1914. Today, the railroad is owned & operated by the State of Alaska.

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Inside the Anchorage Depot

The rails extend from the south eastern towns of Whittier and Seward, through Denali National Park, and north to Fairbanks and Eielson A.F.B. The main line has 470 miles of track.

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Alaska RR train getting ready to leave the station. Probably the Glacier Discovery run.

The Alaska Railroad is one of the last flag-stop routes in the country. The Hurricane Turn run allows any passenger to get on or off the train along the route. Just wave a white flag at the engineer, preferably while not standing on the rail.

AK RR cars

In 2015, the Alaska RR hauled 4.29 million tons of freight, and carried 475,034 passengers.


Bear on the run

A black bear led Anchorage police officers on a high speed gallop through downtown the other night. It took 3-1/2 hours to corral the male bruin in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

The 200 pound black bear was tranquilized by Alaska Fish & Game officials, and then released outside of the city at “an undisclosed location”.

According to Fish & Game spokesman, Ken Marsh, “It found itself downtown and probably was a little confused. He was doing his bear thing, and before he knew it he was in the city.”

The above video was posted by the Anchorage Police Department on their Facebook page.


Kincaid Park

Kincade Park trail

A beautiful day on Friday in Anchorage. So I headed out to the 1500 acre Kincaid Park to walk some of its 30 miles worth of trails. From Kincaid, one can take the Coastal Trail, which ventures 11 miles north to downtown Anchorage, hugging the coastline.


Anchortown

The Sleeping Lady
“The Sleeping Lady” across Cook Inlet

Down in the Big City of Anchorage for the start of the hockey season.


Slushy Start

Ceremonial Iditarod start
Photo credit: Erik Hill/ADN

The ceremonial start to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race took place in an extremely slushy and very brown Anchorage today. Snow had to be trucked into town and a slim trail formed on Fourth Avenue for the 78 mushers and their teams, who attempted to get to Wasilla. The temperature was above freezing for the start, and quickly rose to 40 debs. One Canadian musher, Brian Wilmshurst, decided to head out in shorts. That’s the right attitude!

2015 Iditarod start - Anch
Photo credit: Bob Hallinen/ADN

Mushers will now load up into their trucks and drive the 360 miles to Fairbanks for the official restart on Monday. We do have more snow, and we received a welcomed snowfall this weekend, but even the Fairbanks start has it’s warm-weather related challenges. In 2003, the last time Fairbanks held the start for The Last Great Race, the teams left for Nome from the Chena River just downstream from downtown. The thin river ice in 2015 will have the mushers take off from the road system heading overland.

The total purse for this year’s Iditarod is $725,100 with the winner of the race getting $70,000, before dog food.