When Sen. Lisa Murkowski walks into her Capitol Hill office, her excitement level shoots up as she thinks about the huge dog sled race going on in her home state.
The Alaska Republican has been tracking all the Iditarod mushers (the men and women who drive the sleds) on a poster outside her office.
The Alaska tradition officially started in 1973, but the trail it follows dates back to the early 1900s, when it was a mail and supply route.
The 998-mile trail starts in Willow, and there are checkpoints along the way. The town of Iditarod is the halfway point.
Watch: Murkowski Monitors Iditarod From Afar After Attending Start
“This is a very historic trail. What I do, because I love this event so much — I want to keep track of where the mushers are and how they’re progressing — we put a leaderboard up, which lets you know where the front-runners are,” Murkowski said.
The senator was at the ceremonial start in Anchorage a week ago to see the mushers off. She said she sent off Mitch Seavey, who is 58 and became the oldest Iditarod winner ever last year.
“I was joking with Mitch at the starting line on Saturday, ‘Mitch, I’m always going for the old guys.’”
This year’s winner will be hearing from Murkowski, too.
“When they get to Safety (one stop before the end of the race in Nome) — you have to do a rest in Safety — we’re kind of tracking, ‘OK, who’s there? Do I have the cell numbers?’” she said.
“My only regret is I’m there at the start every year, I’ve only been able to be at the end once,” she said. “One of these days I want to be at both ends to not only send them off but to welcome them home.”
Being at the finish line is a bucket list item for some people, including Murkowski’s sister, who is there from Brazil. She was also at the start with the senator.
“I have people come up every year who say, ‘I could never have imagined that anything could be more exciting than this,’” Murkowski said.
She agrees: “You get with those dogs that are just yipping and howling, just jumping up and down. They’re ready to go, they’re waiting for the command and they’re uncontrollable with their excitement. They are like a little kid who’s been told, ‘We’re going to Disneyland.’”
While the mushers are tracked by name, the dogs are the real talent. At every checkpoint, volunteers tend to them.
“They don’t ask the mushers, ‘How are you doing?’” she said. “The great story about this race is how the dogs are cared for. You will not find a doctor along the way for any of your mushers, but you will [find] … like four vets at every checkpoint.”
On the trail, the mushers make sure their dogs are taken care of.
“You have dogs that are just pouring out their hearts for you. When you stop, the first thing you do is not make yourself a cup of tea to warm up.” Murkowski said. “Only when every one of your dogs is full and bedded down can you say, ‘I think I’m going to have a cup of tea.’”