There's good news and bad news for mushing fans this week. The bad news is that after the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race on March 7, mushers and dogs will be headed north to Fairbanks for the restart on Monday.
The good news is that the restart is in Fairbanks. Our neighbors in the "Northern Kingdom" of Fairbanks know how to do winter right. If you want to see the dogs start their gallop to Nome, you'll have a good time.
You're free to follow the convoy of pickups and trailers that will leave after the ceremonial start on the way to Fairbanks, but it's a long drive. Both Alaska Airlines and Ravn have plenty of flights. Consider taking the Alaska Railroad on Saturday morning, March 7. It leaves early in the morning, so you'll miss the ceremonial start. But it's an all-day chug north to Fairbanks on the train. Feel free to bring your own snacks on board. There are several places along the route where the engineers come to a stop so everyone can get a good photo of Denali, or Hurricane Gulch. Plus, you don't have to drive.
The Alaska Railroad has added some midweek departures to supplement its weekend-only winter service. Still, you would have to stay in Fairbanks until Wednesday to take the all-day train back to Anchorage. Otherwise, just fly home.
My first choice would be Pike's Waterfront Lodge, but it's sold out. And the Springhill Suites is getting full, too. I checked at the Westmark and they have a special $85 rate, plus double Alaska Airlines miles. Call 907-456-7722. The Wedgewood Resort, an extended-stay setup near Creamer's Field, is available for as little as $64 per night for a one-bedroom suite. Call 800-528-4916.
What to do
Aside from the main event on Monday morning, don't miss the World Ice Art Championships. It's especially striking to see the carved ice sculptures at night when they are all lit up.
Take a drive out to Chena Hot Springs for a warm dip in the pool. It's 60 miles from downtown, but it's a pretty drive. You also can get a tour of the Ice Museum. Be sure to have a signature appletini at the ice bar, served in a glass made of ice. Keep an eye out for resident ice carvers Steve and Heather Bryce. The couple carved all of the ice structures in the museum -- and they'll also have some carvings at the Ice Art Championships in town.
On Sunday, March 8, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is open. If you haven't visited, a trip to this museum will bring any auto enthusiast to tears. There is a Model A on skis and tracks. There are Cords. There are Auburns. There are Cadillacs. But there also are examples of some of the earliest cars in Alaska. Museum owner Tim Cerny has assembled a collection of more than 85 cars. It's worth the trip. If you're staying at the Wedgewood Resort, you'll get a 50 percent discount off admission.
Visit the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Set high on a hill overlooking Fairbanks, the museum building itself is striking. Inside, though, you'll find a comprehensive Alaska art collection, both modern and historic. One of my favorite parts of the museum is "The Place Where You Go To Listen." It was created by Grammy award-winning composer John Luther Adams. The room is sealed off from the rest of the museum, and there's a light and a sound to all of the natural forces. Don't miss it.
Where to eat
Lavelle's Bistro, in the lobby of the Spring Hill Suites downtown, is my favorite place to eat. Usually, I opt for a selection of small plates (like the mini-lamb chops) and wine by the glass.
Pike's Landing, next to Pike's Waterfront Lodge on the banks of the Chena River, serves a righteous mushroom-and-cheese burger that's about 8 inches tall. They do a great job.
The Cookie Jar serves breakfast all day. They make custom omelets but also serve up classic favorites such as French toast and biscuits and gravy.
So, beat the rush and make your plans to see the Iditarod restart in Fairbanks. Check with Explore Fairbanks for other ideas, restaurants and activities.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty-destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.