Iditarod, Last Great Race on Earth


A new record has been set. Dallas Seavey has finished the Iditarod in the fastest time ever recorded at 8:13:4:9. Right now, teams of mushers and their dogs are still undergoing the grueling 1,112 mile (on even years) race across the Alaskan tundra. The annual Iditarod dogsled race is as famous as it is dangerous. Blistering gale force winds, temperatures as low as -100 F, wildlife, and horrific weather are only some of the challenges faced by the dogs and racers. Exhaustion and injury are common among participants. These teams must navigate the wilderness and reach their goal on paw and sled alone. When crossing the harshest environment known to man dedication and perseverance are the only things that keep many going forward.

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Teams of 12-16 dogs leave from the ceremonial starting point in downtown Anchorage on the first Saturday in March. The real start of the race is the following Sunday as the race clock starts when each team departs from Willow Lake.  From there, mushers are required to visit 23 additional checkpoints where the dogs and veterinary logs of each musher are checked by volunteer veterinarians. When reaching Nome, a minimum of 6 dogs are required to be on harness pulling the sled. No dogs may be added to the team that departs Anchorage. This has led to the withdrawal or disqualification of many mushers during the long history of the race.

 

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The Iditarod Trail runs from Anchorage to Nome. Crossing tundra, sparse forests, rivers and mountains, the trail has a long and storied history. Originally used by the native Eskimo Inupiat and Athabaskan tribes, the trail has also been used by Russian fur traders. In 1925, an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome saw teams of mushers carrying a cylinder of serum for the disease. A monument in Central Park stands to this day commemorating Balto, the lead dog of the final team led by Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen to carry the serum into Nome. The current incarnation of the race has been ongoing with only minor revisions since 1973.