I and The Iditarod
“The Last Great Race in America” and truly one of the most grueling endurance competitions on the planet. The race is over 1,000 miles long from Willow to Nome, Alaska with a ceremonial start in Anchorage. The course follows an old cargo and mail route used in the treacherous winters, before major highways and snowmobiles, by dog sled teams. The route was made famous by a dog named Balto who led a sled team to Nome from Anchorage in 1935. Diphtheria had spread throughout Nome and the nearest vaccine was in Anchorage and without an airplane or highway to get there It was up to a team of dogs to get the life saving vaccine to Nome. Three mushers shared and relayed the sled team to Nome with Balto courageously leading the team.
With the advent of snowmobiles the tradition of the dog sled team had dissipated, even with the native inhabitants. A group of people, including three mushers, wanted to bring back the tradition and “The Last Great Race in America” was born in 1973. The Iditarod, named after a town along the course, may not be well-known in the lower forty-eight states but in Alaska It’s the greatest sporting event in the state, their Super Bowl and the World Series rolled into one event.
Just imagine sledding through sub-zero temperatures and forging through deep snow, sometimes so soft you have to walk your dogs. All you have is your skill and perseverance and the dedication and intelligence of your dog team. At times the participants, or mushers, sleep in their sleds while the intuitive lead dogs navigate the team through the trails. To no surprise, the dogs are well nourished and nurtured throughout the event with the mushers performing most of their work during the rest stops and check points. No one other than the mushers are allowed to handle the dog team. Also, veterinarians exam the dogs to insure their safety at the check points. And then there’s the blizzards and sometimes white-out conditions that force many participants to withdraw from the race.
March 5th, 2015, I had the opportunity to do some mushing myself. I originally booked my dog sled expedition at a kennel near Anchorage but with the unseasonable warm temperature and low snowfall, I had to re-book my expedition to a much further kennel in Willow, Alaska, over two hours away from Anchorage. Sometimes the best laid plans are the ones you stumble upon. This was no ordinary kennel, It was the kennel of Dallas Seavey, three-time Iditarod winner and star of Ultimate Survivor Alaska. I gained more information about the Iditarod and dog sledding than what I know would have received at the other location where the flocks of tourist are rushed through the tour and the main focus is not to disturb the flow of tourist through the money-making machine. The Seavey kennel was filled with dogs specifically for the tourist and his A & B-teams. His B-team consists of the younger dogs and the future participants of the Iditarod while the A-team is made up of the current team of dogs that will compete with Dallas. Being so close, four days away, from the start date, Dallas wanted the A-team dogs to get some sled time so we were intrusted with helping keep the dogs in shape.
The dogs ran at half speed, careful not to endanger us, but I wish they were able to run at a higher pace to make the experience more exciting. Our route took us through a frozen and snow-filled marsh consistently flat and more of Christmas card landscape than a track, not sure if the dogs would agree. It was one of those experiences that is hard to describe in such a beautiful surrounding and so peaceful with the sound of the dogs exerting themselves through the snow along with the sled gliding over the powder are your only vibrations heard by your ear. Reef was the lead dog on my team and he performed as expected getting us back to the kennel in one piece. I’m sure Reef could have gotten us back blind folded.
March 18, 2015, Dallas Seavey finished first today and acquired his third Iditarod win with Reef and Hero by his side, his two lead dogs. I’d like to think my practice run helped prepare his dogs for the race. Dallas, in case you read this, you’re welcome.
for more articles on Alaska please see: Expedition Hobo in Alaska