Guest Author - Barb Conley
In March, mushers and their dog teams will spend 10 to 15 days traveling over 1,150 miles between Anchorage and Nome in frigid cold and possible storms, over frozen, mountainous, and isolated terrain while confronting environmental and wildlife dangers and enduring personal hardship to compete in the famous and extremely challenging Iditarod dog sled race.
In order to compete in the Iditarod, applicants must qualify by either successfully completing a previous Iditarod or by successfully completing two approved qualifying races totaling 500 miles in the 24 months prior to the start of the Iditarod. Three of those prequalifying races are held in California, Oregon and Washington during January.
The Siskiyou Sled Dog Races are held near Weed, a small historic lumber town in northern California in the shadow of the magnificently beautiful snow-laden, 14, 162 foot Mount Shasta. The race begins at the Deer Mountain Chuck Best Memorial Snowmobile Park off Highway 97, just NE of Weed. Twelve-dog teams will compete in a 220 mile Iditarod qualifying race through three national forests.
The Eagle Cap Extreme race is held in northeastern Oregon, six miles south of Joseph, a town famous for its world-class bronze foundries. The 200 mile, 12-dog team race starts at the Wallowa Lake State Park and runs through the Whitman National Forest.
The Cascade Quest Dog Sled Race 200-mile Iditarod qualifier for 10-16 dog teams runs through the Wenatchee National Forest near the charming Bavarian-like town of Leavenworth, in central Washington state.
Each of the host communities is passionate about dog sledding and provides a festive community event honoring the mushers and their dogs. Visitors have the opportunity to meet the mushers and see them work with their dogs, watch the dogs get their mandatory long distance event veterinary check, hear the dogs bark their eagerness to get started, view the race from various vantage points along the trail (via snow parks or trails depending on location) and participate in opening and closing award ceremonies.
In addition to the prequalifying Iditarod race, shorter races and sprints for a variety of dog teams and breeds are also held. Skijor sprints are held at the Siskiyou and Cascade Quest events. Skijor is an exhilarating combination of mushing and cross-country skiing where the skier is pulled by one dog or a team of up to three dogs at 20 to 30 miles per hour.
Food booths, souvenir T-shirts and so on, kids activities designed to teach about the sport and the dogs, celebratory dinner/dances, and more are offered.
If you love the wintery outdoors, these events are exciting entertainment and very memorable. Remember to dress warmly, take your snow shoes and/or cross-country skis and camera.
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