Iditarod - The Last Great Race
March 25, 2013
I have always been fascinated by Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Race that is held every year. The race starts on the first Saturday in March and runs from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.
Depending on whether it is an even or odd year, the race is from 1049 miles to 1150 miles. On even years, the race takes a northern route, which is a little shorter than the southern route ran on the odd years.
Many thousands of dollars are awarded to the winning "mushers" (that is the name of the person who handles the dogs and sled). Other money prizes are also awarded for different things that happen along the race—like who reaches a certain check point first.
The Iditarod is a commemoration of an event that occurred in 1925 when there was an epidemic of diphtheria. But the race itself celebrates the memory of musher Leonhard Seppala and was patterned after races held in the early 1900s.
The first Iditarod race was March 3, 1973 and took the winners 20 days and 49 minutes to complete. A lot of the trail needed to be cleared as they traveled the course.
Nowadays, it only takes about 10 days to complete.
The word Iditarod is an Indian word meaning "distant place."
Mushers come from all over the world—14 foreign countries and 21 states in the USA.
The types of dogs used to race are Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. Dogs are much better to use for the race than horses because a dog can pull about twice their weight, pound for pound, than horses. Also, the dogs can eat the meat of dead animals easily found in the winter while horses require grain and hay, which would add to the weight to be hauled.
Most Iditarod’s have about 65 teams with 16 dogs each and are required to make 3 rests stops during the race: a 24 hour stop at any check point, an 8 hour stop at any check point along the Yukon River, and another 8 hour stop at White Mountain, which is the last stop before the finish line. Veterinarians are at each of the stops along the way to check the dogs’ health and welfare.
Joe Redington, who has been called the "Father of the Iditarod," had 2 important reasons for creating the sled dog race. He wanted to bring back the sled dog to Alaska and to get the Iditarod Trail declared as a National Historic Trail. Dogs had started to be replaced by snowmobiles. He said that snowmobiles may break down and people could freeze to death, but a sled dog will always keep you warm and get you there.
The Iditarod became a National Historic Trail in 1978.
In this year’s race, the news wasn’t about the oldest winner ever winning at 53 years of age, but of a race dog that went missing when their musher stopped to help another racer. May, the name of the lost dog, was found 7 days after she went missing. She was a lot thinner and had bloody paws but was otherwise okay.
Aren’t happy endings wonderful!
North Oak Branch