Things are gearing up for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, starting this year on March 2, 2013. Excitement is almost palpable as food is being dropped, meetings are being held, and volunteers are signing up and preparing the trail for the Last Great Race. Mushers are readying their dogs, making final decisions on which dogs are running, and which are not, developing strategies, watching the weather, and double, triple checking equipment. Snow is in the forecast, with temperatures below freezing.
This race is steeped in history, being based on the famous serum run to Nome in 1925, as well as a preservation of the sledding history of Alaska. This year, there are over 60 teams heading out to challenge themselves and their dogs against the frozen landscape that makes up Alaska, several of them having competed in previous years.
There are many facets of the Iditarod. Preparations begin in November as trailbreakers begin preparing critical stretches of the trail. Part of the staggering logistics involved in coordinating the Iditarod include permits, police officers, paramedics, barricades, garbage trucks, buses, sound systems, public relations, food preparations and volunteers. All of this must come together smoothly to provide a less stressful atmosphere during the race.
A large contingent of volunteers support the race, from the trailbreakers who go in two days before the race to prepare the trail, to the veterinarians, dropped dog caretakers, communications, race officials and others. All are ready and willing to do their part to make sure that this year’s race runs smoothly and without any problems.
Mushers are choosing which dogs to run and which to leave behind. All must be sound and in excellent health in order to run this race. Any dog that the veterinarians believe may be unable to continue will be pulled without question, so the mushers work hard to make the right choice beforehand. The welfare of the dogs is paramount, and drivers are constantly watching their team for any sign of soreness or frailty.
Sleds and other equipment are gone over meticulously, as a break or tear can cost valuable time. Clothing is chosen to provide the best comfort and warmth, with layers being paramount.
Food for both the dogs and the mushers is also given much consideration. There is a wide spectrum of personal preferences and scientific opinions on the subject of nutrition. Each musher has developed a recipe for his or her dogs. Since each dog is expending a lot of energy, they can easily consume over 11,000 calories per day as well as a gallon of water during heavy exertion. Meat s on the menu include chicken, beef, game animals and fish, especially salmon.
The race begins in Anchorage. The first stop is Eagle River, where dogs and handlers are trucked to the next stop, Wasilla, for the restart. This is due to the open waters of the Knik and Matanuska Rivers and the lack of snow on the Palmer Hay Flats. After Wasilla, they race on to Knik and from Knik they are on to Yentna Station and beyond. In all, there are 27 check points that the mushers and teams go through, each with their own challenges, such as the narrow, treacherous trail through Happy Valley or the hairpin turns of Dalzell Gorge.
Followers of the Iditarod will find a lot of information in Mary Hood’s book, A Fan’s Guide to the Iditarod. The reader will find many stories of the musher’s adventures, from how Susan Butcher’s lead dog disobeyed her command but saved her life, to when Libby Riddle’s team left her and the sled behind because she forgot to hook up the sled. Details of each section of the trail are covered, as well as trail trivia and Iditarod traditions. Each facet of the Iditarod is covered in detail, so that the reader will be well prepared to watch and join in the excitement of the Last Great Race.
photos courtesy Sharon Anderson, 2011
SPRINGTIME IN CARCROSS, YUKON, CANADA, RESTING UNTIL THE NEXT BIG RACE.