Two couples put the mush in mushing at the Iditarod finish line Thursday. The terminus of the Anchorage-to-Nome sled dog race witnessed a wedding and a marriage proposal in quick order. Neither pair, it turned out, had an inkling of what the other was up to beneath the famed burled arch on Front Street.
Randy DeKuiper, a former Iditarod musher, and his fiancee, Christine Collard, both from Fremont, Mich., were married in an Iditarod wedding at noon. Jeff King, the 1998 winner, and race officials attended. Three-time champion Martin Buser was best man.
Within minutes of the ceremony's conclusion, rookie musher Zach Steer of Anchorage entered the chute, crossed under the arch, undid duct tape to remove a diamond ring carried for the entire race on the collar of his lead dog, and offered marriage to his sweetheart, Anjanette Knapp.
Whoever wasn't shocked was in tears, said Knapp and others who witnessed Steer's surprise proposal.
The two events created "an aura of love," said Collard, now Christine DeKuiper.
At least one other wedding has occurred at the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in its 26 years, a race official said, while a number of marriage proposals have been made along the 1,100-mile course.
The 50-year-old DeKuiper, who finished 31st in his only Iditarod, the 1977 event, proposed marriage to Christine, 47, at the starting line on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage when this year's race began, Christine said.
But it wasn't until three days ago, when they learned that Nome Mayor John Handeland could perform the ceremony, that Collard and DeKuiper knew they'd be exchanging vows at the finish line.
"I had to go order the cake and find flowers and a dress the next day," Christine said.
She wore a kuspuk, a traditional Eskimo dress, and seal mukluks, all made by local Natives. She also wore a beaver coat bought in Michigan, but made in Alaska, and a large marble fox hat.
Randy wore a "regular outdoors coat" punctuated by a boutonniere and a fox hat, she said.
The DeKuipers were still posing for pictures when the 24-year-old Steer crossed the line at 12:12 p.m., the 22nd musher and second rookie to complete this year's race.
His sled halted at the line, his dog team strung out beyond. Witnesses said that after checking in, Steer removed duct tape from the collar of Henry, his lead dog, unwrapped a plastic bag and undid a few staples.
Buser asked Steer what he had in his hand, Knapp said.
"Zach went, 'Oh, you'll see,' " said Knapp, who was now also crouching near Henry.
She said Steer got down on one knee and put this question to her: "Well, I spent a lot of time with my dogs, and I now want to spend a lot of time with you, like the rest of my life, so will you marry me?"
Both of their mothers happened to be there, as were Steer's two sisters. The effect was dramatic.
"I was in shock pretty much," said Knapp, 25. "Everybody around us was crying, but I couldn't cry because I was in shock."
Her answer? Yes. "No questions asked, I told him."
Friday, March 20, 1998
Copyright 1998 Anchorage Daily News