Alaska News

Huslia hospitality, warmth has Iditarod mushers wanting to return

HUSLIA -- As school children ran around the dog lot here asking for autographs or pictures from the half-dozen mushers that had pulled in to the halfway point of the race, the mushers themselves seemed a little star-struck.

While children ran around with the Huslia pennants and clipboards searching for autographs, so did some of the mushers. Ken Anderson carried around a Huslia sweatshirt that had been signed by Rose Ambrose, sister of the late George Attla, the champion dog driver known as the "Huslia Husler." Ambrose appeared in the film "Spirit of the Wind," a film feature film documenting Attla's life.

"I know all of your lines by heart," Anderson told Ambrose after posing for a picture with her in the Huslia tribal hall. The film is a favorite of the veteran Fairbanks musher, who said he's seen the it at least 15 times.

Earlier in the day, as Anderson worked on his broken sled brake, he couldn't help but be in awe of the village that was working hard to roll out the red carpet for mushers and visitors alike.

"We might never come here again," he said. "You have to 24 in Huslia."

Veteran Willow racer DeeDee Jonrowe seemed revitalized as she walked through the dog yard, chatting with friends, signing autographs and posing for photographs. When she started mushing in 1980 she raced along side some of the Huslia greats like George Attla and Warner Vent. In the checkpoint Friday she was told she was the first woman in the Iditarod to ever race in to the village. That acknowledgement, plus the history of the place, which included posters of the famous Huslia mushers lining the wall of the tribal hall, was humbling to the 30-time Iditarod finisher.

"It is an honor," she said of the warm welcome. "You go in that tribal hall and you see who the people are and the history of Huslia and you go, 'wow, they think I'm like that?' It's the coolest thing."

As volunteers grilled hot dogs on giant grills in sub-zero temperatures, Jonrowe couldn't get over how happy everyone in the checkpoint seemed to be. Everyone seemed to be involved with the race some how. School was let out for the day and volunteers brought seemingly endless pots of stew and trays of roast moose for mushers and other visitors to help themselves to.

"How often to do you get to go some place and everyone is just flat out happy?" she said. "I would encourage Iditarod to think about altering the route sometimes to encourage this kind of pride in its history."

Jonrowe wasn't alone in that thought. Many Huslia residents declared they would happy for the race to come back in 2017.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.