the last great race

Growing up in Anchorage, the Iditarod was a big event every year.  We'd go downtown and watch the ceremonial start on 4th Ave, packed behind the fences cheering on mushers.  One year my dad's coworker mushed in the race and my Dad was a dog handler for his team so we got to hang out behind the scenes and went out to Willow for the restart.  When I was seven, my Dad and I had a hair-brained idea to serve the mushers espresso on the trail.  My parents had gotten into espresso in the mid-90s and bought an espresso machine to make coffee at home, and somehow we thought it would be fun to serve fancy espresso out on the most rugged of arctic races.  We picked Finger Lake as the checkpoint where we'd set up.  As the race progresses the mushers get more spread out, so picking a checkpoint early in the race meant that we'd get to offer all the mushers our services without having to be there for a week.  We had to have a clever "business" name (though we weren't charging any money to the mushers, and any tourists who wanted coffee paid on a donation basis), so we decided to call ourselves "Airborne Espresso" which was a riff of the air cargo airline, Airborne Express.  We thought it was pretty damn clever, but Airborne Express did not and forced us to change our name after the first year, so the subsequent years we went by "Idita-espresso."  Not quite as clever, but it did the job.

We flew out there to set up the day before mushers started arriving, pitched our tent, pulled all the espresso equipment and generator out of the plane, put up the table where we'd be slinging 'spro, and settled in for the night.  It'd frequently dip well below zero, so my dad had built an insulated box to surround the espresso machine so it could keep the water hot enough in the tank.  We lit up the kerosene stove in the tent and heated ourselves some beanie-weenies for dinner before settling in to sleep.  Depending on how fast the mushers were running some would get in to the checkpoint in the wee hours of the morning, so my Dad tracked the front runners and woke up early to catch the first mushers in.  I, on the other hand, have always been a night owl and a sleeper-in, so I usually missed the first few and dragged myself out of my sleeping bag much later.

After our first year, we learned that most mushers preferred hot chocolate, but were pretty flabbergasted at our offer of a vanilla latte or mocha.  Tourists, on the other hand, were huge fans of our fancy coffee, which was still a relatively new thing as the Starbucks craze hadn't quite taken hold just yet.  We were interviewed by the Anchorage Daily News and were on a few news stations.  Apparently a dad and daughter selling fancy espresso in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness wasn't too common.

We did this for a few years and it's still one of my favorite memories from childhood.  I was hoping to get out to Finger Lake again when I was up in Alaska for the Iditarod this year, but I wasn't able to swing it.  Maybe Dad and I can bring back Airborne Espresso now that Airborne Express doesn't exist anymore.  It sure would be fun to do it again, and there are still some mushers running that ran 20 years ago when we first started our crazy idita-espresso scheme.  And hey!  Now I can totally barista.  Back in the day I was on coffee delivery duty and my dad was the barista.  Maybe someday.

So many memories flashed back to me while shooting the teams whooshing past, through the trees.  I sat next to kids with dog booties clutched close, sacred treasures, watching teams go by and cheering on their favorite mushers.  They'd yell, "booties!" and the musher would toss a few booties their way, like candy from a parade float.  I realized that I still have my dog bootie treasures from when I was a kid, and I found them, squirreled away in storage, later that week.  Precious Iditarod memories forever preserved.  It was so special to see a whole new generation of kids experiencing the thrill of watching dog teams whizz by, a thousand miles to go.  Maybe someday I'll get to bring my kids to the Iditarod and they can start their own collection of dog booties.