And the Iditarod Begins!

The Last Great Race on Earth

I love this race.  I have followed this annual dog sled race off and on since it began in 1973.  More on than off, but college, small kids, and cable TV issues interfered here and there.  Thank heavens for the internet!

I enjoy watching all the mushers and their dogs, but I  sorely miss Susan Butcher who died in 2006 after battling leukemia.  I do have two other favorite women mushers I keep track of, though,  Aliy Zirkle and DeeDee Jonrowe.  Here are a couple of quick videos:

For those of you unfamiliar with the Iditarod, The Last Great Race on Earth, here are some quickie facts:

  •  Normally the Iditarod is run from Anchorage, Alaska (Which is actually the ceremonial start.  The official start is in Willow just outside Anchorage.) to Nome, Alaska.  The Iditarod is around 1000 miles.  It differs a little between the Northern Route (run in even years) and the Southern Route (run in odd years).  Except this year!!! This year due to lack of snow in the lower part of Alaska, they moved the start to Fairbanks! That means that they’re going straight across the middle of Alaska.  All the checkpoints below Ruby have been eliminated.  Added are Fairbanks, Nenana, Manley, Tanana, and between Galena and Koyukuk they added Huslia.  So the mileage is roughly the same as normal years.  But minus some of the more difficult parts of the mountain ranges.
  •  More than 50 mushers enter each year.  This year there are 78. Only experienced mushers can participate and must have completed three smaller races in order to qualify.  No one convicted of animal neglect is allowed to participate.  If the Iditarod Trail Committee feels a musher is unfit before or during the race, they will not be allowed to compete.  And, yes, they have yanked mushers out in the middle of the race.
  •  There are 26 checkpoints on the Northern Route and 27 checkpoints on the Southern Route.  All mushers must check in to these checkpoints in order.  This year there are only 20 checkpoints.  This is a problem for the mushers as the distance between some of the checkpoints is quite long.  This means carrying more gear and food than usual and spending more time resting in the rough on the trail. This will be harder on the dogs.  The lack of the more difficult sections in the mountains should help balance this out.
  •  All mushers start the race with 16 dogs on the tow line.  With 78 teams this year that’s 1,248 dogs on the trail.  They must finish the race with no less than 6 dogs.
  •  Mushers are allowed to drop dogs at the various checkpoints but must check in with all the same dogs they left the previous checkpoint with.  If you lose a dog out on the trail, you’re done.
  •  Vet checks are required for the dogs before the race and they are also inspected when a musher stops to rest at the checkpoints.  Any dogs that do not pass the pre-race vet check are not allowed to start.  Dogs not in good shape at the checkpoints are not allowed to continue. Like with human athletes, no performance enhancing drugs are allowed.  If you want to know all that’s required, read this article:
  •  During the race the mushers are required to take one 24 hour layover anywhere on the trail, one 8 hour layover along the Yukon River (a difficult and often nasty portion of the race), and one 8 hour layover at White Mountain, just before the last hard haul into Nome.
  •  Dogs burn about 5,000 calories a day.  This along with the need for regular hydration means that the mushers must stop regularly along the trail to feed and water their dogs.  This entails building a fire and melting snow for water.  The mushers are required to carry a pot that holds no less than three gallons of water, but it still takes a serious chunk of time to get the dogs fed and watered.  Did you know you can burn snow?  You have to add water to the pot to avoid this.
  • The fastest winning time is 8 days, 18 hours, 46 min., 39 sec.
  •  In Nome, at the start of the race, a lantern known as the “Widow’s Lamp” is lit and hung on the Burled Arch. This lantern remains lit until the last musher arrives safely in Nome, which takes anywhere from 13 days to thirty. The last musher is awarded the Red Lantern award, which is, in fact, a red lantern with a plaque on it.  Here’s an article about the fact that this year there are 5 returning red lantern recipients.

Well, so much for a few facts.  I love this race and could go on and on.  Here are some links if you want to follow the race:

The official website Iditarod   I like to read the news stories here as they often include local cultural and historical facts.  But this is the place to go to find out where everyone is on the trail.  And they have musher profiles.  Just click on “Race Center”.  They occasionally  have some videos you can watch even if you haven’t paid to be an “Insider”.

The second site is the Alaska Dispatch News:    You do not have to subscribe in order to read articles and watch videos.  And they also have a map and standings listed as well.

Just one more tidbit!  You may occasionally hear them comment that someone’s running with a single leader.  “What’s that?” you say.  When the going gets tough, the mushers put their tough guy lone wolf type leader on a single lead out in front of the rest of the dogs.  This is the dog that gets the job done and prefers doing it alone.  “Quit” isn’t in their vocabulary.  They not only help “marshal the troops”, so to speak, they also have to have an instinct for the trail.  Knowing the best line of travel and where the trail is in a white out situation is invaluable to the whole team.  It takes a lot out of them being out in front on their own, but when it’s nasty, that’s where they prefer to be.  A good lead dog is priceless.

Nome, here they come!

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