And they're off! The Iditarod Dog Sled Race starts in Anchorage.
As you might expect from someone who has been to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race for each of the past four years, Alisia Mangas has a passion for dogs. The 63-year-old AAA Member from Clearlake Oaks, Calif., can't seem to get enough of the AAA Sojourns "Alaska's Iditarod—The Last Great Race" tour, which allows guests to experience a portion of the 1,150-mile race.
"This is such a positive trip," she says. "The people are wonderful and gracious and take care of everything."
Among the many reasons she returns year after year: the variety of experiences. Thanks to the tour, she went snowmobiling for the first time at age 60. ("I had a roasted reindeer hot dog along the way," she says.) She also panned for gold at a mine she reached on snow- shoes. Other standout moments included this magical scene: "At Alyeska Resort, I rode on a dogsled with the beautiful Alaskan stars and moon lighting our way."
Mangas is complimentary about other aspects of the tour ("The resort has the most cozy rooms and comfortable beds I've ever experienced in a hotel!"). But above all, her true love is the dogs.
A serious pet lover who volunteers at an animal care and control facility and has worked with a northern-breed dog-rescue program, Mangas says Iditarod dogs are overjoyed at participating in the race.
"You can hear their excitement and see it in them," she says.
"I've had malamutes. They're northern-breed dogs bred to run and pull," Mangas continues. "I feel the best thing an owner can do is allow them to do what they're bred for."
One of the things that makes the Iditarod tour a joy for Mangas is knowing how well cared for the dogs are.
"The race dogs get thorough physicals to make sure they're healthy enough for the run," she says. Veterinarians and vet technicians, dozens of whom volunteer for every Iditarod, examine the dogs at numerous checkpoints. If a dog has a health issue, it's removed from the race.
One of the highlights of the tour is when guests meet four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser and visit his kennel. Buser, who sets an example for other breeders and mushers, has won the race's coveted Seppala Humanitarian Award four times for outstanding dog care throughout the event.
Mangas, too, is in good hands with her AAA Travel Counselor, Lynne Steidle. Although Mangas now lives three hours away from the Concord office where Steidle works, the loyal client continues to book travel through her. "I've been with Lynne about 15 years, and I like her as a person."
Steidle has arranged vacations for Mangas to the Disneyland® Resort and Yellowstone National Park, in addition to the Iditarod tours. "She does everything perfectly. Everything goes click, click, click on a trip," Mangas says.
The AAA Member plans to attend the Iditarod for a fifth time next February. "I think I'm addicted to it!" she says.
Photography courtesy of Smooth_O/Wikipedia
Please contact your AAA Travel Counselor or go to AAA.com/offices to find one near you.
This article was first published in September 2012 in Traveler. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.