During the gold booms in Juneau (1880), Klondike (1896), Nome (1898), and Fairbanks (1902), Alaskans need a reliable transportation option for the winters when the rivers were frozen. Natives of Alaska had mastered dog sled use long before the gold rushes happened, and this form of transportation was quickly adopted by the quartermasters of the towns. The military also used dog teams extensively during WWI during the winter months when roads were covered and rivers were frozen.
The Iditarod Race was born March 3, 1973 when historians wanted to keep the dog sledding history of Alaska alive. The rich history of the sport was embraced by Alaskans and the fame of the race has reached the entire globe. Mushers and spectators come from around the globe to witness “The Last Great Race”. It has been a long held dream of mine to witness this race after reading the book Balto as a young girl. This past Sunday, my dream was realized. I was standing on the frozen Willow Lake watching the dog teams take off 🙂
History of the Iditarod:
But the sled dogs had one last taste of glory in early 1925 when a diphtheria epidemic (one of several devastating epidemics to sweep Alaska in the first part of the century) threatened isolated, icebound Nome. The nearest serum was in Anchorage and the first thought was to fly it to Nome. However, the only pilot in the Territory considered capable of braving the unpredictable weather was Carl Ben Eielson, who was on a trip in the Lower 48 and was not available.
Instead, a Pony Express-type relay of dog teams was quickly organized. The serum was loaded on the newly completed Alaska Railroad and rushed to Nenana, where the first musher took it westward down the frozen Tanana River to the Yukon. Every village along the route offered its best team and driver for its leg to speed the serum toward Nome. The critical leg across the treacherous Norton Sound ice from Shaktoolik to Golovin was taken by Leonhard Seppala, the territory’s premier musher, and his lead dog Togo. Gunnar Kaasen drove the final two legs into Nome behind his lead dog Balto, through a blizzard hurling 80 mph winds.
The serum arrived in time to prevent the epidemic and save hundreds of lives. The 20 mushers had covered almost 700 miles in little more than 127 hours (about six days) in temperatures that rarely rose above 40° below zero and winds sometimes strong enough to blow over dogs and sleds. The serum run received worldwide press coverage and the mushers received special gold medals. A statue of Balto, one of the heroic lead dogs, was erected a year later in New York’s Central Park (it’s still there).
Today, ‘Togo’ resides at Iditarod Headquarters in the museum to remind people of Togo’s incredible feat. There is also a statue of Balto at Headquarters.
Facts from the 2013 race:
- There are 64 dog teams this year.
- There is a 2 minute gap in-between team starts.
- There are an average of 16 dogs per team.
- The best dog for the race averages 30-40 pounds, and the AKC husky is too big 😉
- Sled dogs are a generally a mutt mixed with small huskies.
- The shortest race time was 9 days, the longest race time was 32 days.
- There are 2 routes for the race, a northern and southern route. This gives the small towns in rural Alaska a break from race fans every other year.
- Being an odd year, there are 27 checkpoints.
*Update: Winner of the 2013 Iditarod Race is Mitch Seavey, run in 9 days 7 hours 32 minutes 56 seconds.
Each year a teacher is sent on the trail to blog about her experience and serve as the classroom educator for the race. This year , and you can read about her experiences here.
We are insiders of the Iditarod this year, thanks to our school Matsu Central. Here is an image of the racers via their GPS tracker Monday, March 11, 8:18am Alaska Time. The musher have been on the trail for 8 days.
These are the videos and pictures we took while ‘tailgating’ near the end of the chute.