Trailgate party helps usher in Iditarod

Casey Grove

As Iditarod dog teams left downtown for the trees of Chester Creek, some of the more picky fans had their viewing spots staked out. Ellen Frank watched from a bridge over the creek, then ran toward the trail as her hero, Lance Mackey, mushed closer. Frank wore a Comeback Kennels sweatshirt, and Mackey stopped his team to take a picture with her.

"He said he had to get a picture with me again," Frank said. "I live just right there, three minutes away, and there's hardly anybody here. Downtown you can't high-five. Right here, I can always high-five 'em.

"He does this for me every year," Frank said. "He always stops and gets a picture with me, because he loves it that I have his shirt."

Also on the bridge was David O'Brien, a longtime fan of the quieter Chester Creek viewing spot.

"I used to live in the apartment building, just over there, when I first came to Alaska, and that's how I discovered this place. I've been coming here ever since. That was like 20 years ago," O'Brien said. "This is just a hidden jewel. It's just an absolutely fabulous place to come see it, it's really pretty, and it's not very crowded. So I really like it."

A full-on party -- Trailgate, organizers called it -- was in swing at Davenport Field near Airport Heights. A DJ played dance tunes. Women, and some men, danced. Bartenders working from behind a sculpted-snow bar handed out canned beer, filled cups from kegs and mixed Bloody Marys. Someone was grilling hotdogs, and volunteers walked through the crowd of about 250 people handing them out.

And all of it was free, thanks to a group of friends calling themselves Make Anchorage Cool (they have a website, but it's still pretty sparse).

When Lance Mackey mushed past, he grabbed a beer from an outstretched hand, but dropped it. So he stopped his team to get another. Other mushers snatched hot dogs, and all of them were the recipients of numerous high-fives from the party crowd.

"I feel like these guys are our rock stars, our Alaska rock stars," party-goer Niki Berhow said. "This is so Alaskan. I mean, how many places do you go where people stand outside for hours on end for something like this?"

An organizer, Emily Fehrenbacher, took donations to help cover the cost of the event. What started as a gathering of 10 or 15 friends grew over the last several years, she said.

"It just became more and more popular, and it got to the point where we were just like, 'Well, we should just make this a huge party,' " she said. "I feel like a lot of things in Anchorage are for people who come here from other places and not for the people who actually live here."

About a hundred yards away, Anchorage police officers Mark Wells and Gary Winborg stood in the sun watching the dog teams pass the party.

"They're partying here and having a good time, but they're not causing any real problems," Wells said. "They actually got a permit for their alcohol."

Among the beverages being served was a mix of bourbon and peppermint schnapps, which people squirted into their mouths with a needle-less syringe. It was in a container labeled "Diphtheria serum."

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.