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Whassup with Wasilla

Wasilla, Alaska.

A Nash on display at the Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry in Wasilla. (Sue Frause)

The day after a former Miss Wasilla was picked by Sen. John McCain as his running mate, I realized I’d been there. In 2004, I went to Alaska to see the start of the Iditarod. That’s the grueling 1,150-mile sled dog race that starts in south central Alaska and ends in Nome on the Bering Sea. Often referred to as “The Last Great Race on Earth,” it takes anywhere from 10-17 days for the teams of 12-16 dogs and their mushers.

The day before the actual race is the ceremonial start in Anchorage. And for years, the real start took place the following day in Wasilla, 45 miles from Anchorage. But 2002 was the last year Wasilla hosted the Iditarod start. Suburban sprawl and warming winters forced the move to Willow, 30 miles north. Although Wasilla remains the headquarters for the Iditarod and home of the Iditarod Trail Committee, thousands of people no longer swarm to the city the first weekend in March.

I didn’t spend much time in Wasilla, except for a visit to the Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry. Although located in the beautiful Mat-Su Valley, the impression that I came away with was a town of too many big-box stores — and more are on the way. Wasilla is now on the national stage, and the tourism folks are obviously thrilled. Not to mention Gov. Sarah Palin’s hometown friends and fans and the rest of the Alaskans who are Sarah supporters. Now, if she could just figure out exactly what the vice president does every day. I think Joe Biden’s got that one covered.

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