Not really a Thursday Trek this week. I thought I’d share information about the Iditarod for those of you wondering why I want to volunteer at the race next March. Enjoy.
The Alaska Iditarod has another name of the “Last Great Race;” only it isn’t the last. It’s run every year, during the some of the coldest, harshest days of Alaska’s winter. 1000 miles across a mountain range, through a gorge, across a burned out area, over frozen rivers, to the coast and through the wind, drifting snow, and with a great deal of stamina, a musher and dogs travel from Anchorage Alaska to Nome. The race’s beginning in 1973 took three weeks for the winner to travel this length. The fastest time was in 2014 with eight days, thirteen hours.
The trail was used to deliver the mail, gold, supplies and anything that needed to be moved during the winter months. Its importance was more than just historical, but also an Alaskan necessity. During the 1960’s, the snow machine was introduced to the people of the Alaska frontier. Slowly the machine replaced the sled dogs. A machine that could break down leaving someone stranded in the frigged arctic weather. A dog could keep you warm and a dog provided companionship. Also during the 1960’s was a rise in interest in recognizing Alaska historical events and places. One of those was the historic Iditarod Trail.
At this time, some folks wanted to re-introduce the dogs to the people of Alaska and around the world. There were two “short runs” held in 1967 and 1969. Fifty-six miles each, with nine of those miles being part of the original Iditarod Trail. The interest was not enough to keep the race going. The organizers kept the idea alive and one of them, Joe Redington, wanted to try holding a race over the entire Iditarod supply trail. In 1973, the first full Iditarod Race ran, and it has been running ever since. There is a northern route run in even numbered years and a southern route in odd numbered years. Both routes follow original trail paths and average 1000 miles depending on changes made for weather and overall conditions. In 2015, the race start moved from Anchorage/Willow to Fairbanks for lack of snow on the route.
The Alaska Iditarod Race brings entrants from all over the globe to its’starting line. The average number of participants is between sixty and eighty mushers with a maximum set at one hundred and some years twenty percent of those never cross the finish line. Rick Swenson holds the record for the race with five wins. Only two women have ever won, and one of them, Susan Butcher, has four wins to her name. I started watching Aliy Zirkle race in 2012, and she has just missed being the first under the Burled Arch in Nome every year since. She is the only woman who won the 1000 mile Yukon Quest and wants to win the Iditarod as an athlete. She’s not in it to be “the woman who…” Aliy and her husband Allen Moore run SP Kennels and I have been supporting them since I started to watch the Iditarod. They exhibit sportsmanship, love of the dogs, open communication with their fans and are just all-around great people. It is a total nail biter to watch the GPS tracking symbol move down the trail for eight-plus days! Go Aliy, Go Allen, Go Dogs!
The documents with rules for participation are lengthy but quite interesting. For instance, to qualify, an entrant must have completed either a past Iditarod Race, or the Yukon Quest Race, or completed two 300-mile qualifiers, plus another to total 750 miles. In other words, they want to be sure that a musher can handle the length of this race! There is another whole list to follow if the musher is a rookie. Once qualification is accepted, then each musher goes through numerous steps to get to the actual starting line. There are mandatory musher meetings, or they are fined. At the pre-race banquet, the musher pulls his starting position number. If musher misses the banquet, then they miss the race! There is a list of items a musher must carry with him at all times on the trail. These include dog booties, extra dog food, hatchet, fuel for cooking, sleeping bag, the vet check book for the dogs care, and promo material to be carried (like the mail in the old days). If a musher is missing any of these items, he/she is disqualified.
There are multiple requirements to ensure the optimum health of the dogs. Vet checks (including EKGs!) happen before the race and at every checkpoint along the trail. The dogs are observed or tended to directly by a vet. This ensures no funny business is going on. The interesting thing is the dogs are cared for better than the mushers that drive them. In more than one instance, I’ve heard the term, “it’s all about the dogs,” and it’s true. The mushers will feed and care for the dogs before they take a rest or eat themselves. Spend a bit of time following this race, and I think you will wonder if you care for your dog as well as some of these mushers.
The Alaska Iditarod brings much to the state including the mushers, and the dogs from all over the world. There are hundreds of volunteers that assist with media, communications, merchandise sales, dog watching, crowd control, maintaining the checkpoints, cook, and donating time to help wherever needed. This is where I’ve wanted to be for four years, and this is where I hope to be in 2016; volunteering for the Last Great Race. I would love to be a part of the celebration of the history of the Iditarod Trail. If you have a little spare change and can help me…Please click the purple button link to the right of this post. And thanks.
Thanks for reading!