Nome is amazing. It’s a grid of buildings that butts up against the Bering Sea and unlike most bush communities it boasts things like a movie theater, multiple bars, hotels, and restaurants, and even a Subway. For someone who’s spent multiple years in a town of about the same size but out in the
Aleutians, this was shocking. It has a true tourist infrastructure. The woman I’m renting a room from says the town plays host to birders all summer. I asked what they look for and she just shrugged. “Sea gulls, maybe? They’re always in the road looking at something. It’s annoying.” I chuckled. In most towns, the person mid-street with the binoculars is my mom. Now the tourists are in the road looking at teams of dogs running through on their way to the burled arches of the finish line.
The first place finish of the Iditarod was both exciting and anticlimactic. Everyone was thrilled that Dallas Seavey, the youngest winner ever and one who is considered to be quite the heartthrob, would soon be arriving, but thanks to the GPS system there wasn’t any sort of surprise or anticipation.
Nevertheless, crowds swarmed the chute. Dallas walked around shaking hands and posing for pictures like a practiced celebrity or politician. The crowds loved it. The ardor was not diminished when Aliy Zirkle pulled up in second place making cracks about wanting the truck and smelling too bad for anyone to be close to her. The cheers were almost louder for her than for Dallas.
The crowd was filled with a mix of locals who watch the race every year, volunteers from around the globe, and Idita-tourists. The tourists fly to different checkpoints along the trail then end with the festivities at Nome, basking in everything dog-related. Some are awed by the whole spectacle, inviting everyone to enjoy the experience with them. Others are slightly disturbed by the “rudimentary” bush. I’m just in envy of their private planes.
Nome is bustling. Though the community lacks the carnival rides of Fur Rondy, they do try to host as many Idita-events as possible. Tables of fur mittens, woodblock prints, and other local wares fill the church for arts and crafts fair and the fine arts show. The school is hosting a regional basketball tournament for adults. The bars encourage late night reveling at everything from arm wrestling matches to wet t-shirt contests. It’s a giant party, though not yet out of control. I wonder what it’s like at the banquet… Luckily, it’s hard to get lost when trying to get home through the grid of streets.