Guest Author - Dawn Engler
The Alaska Iditarod is known as the “Last Great Race”, only it really isn’t the last. It’s run every year, during the coldest, harshest part of Alaska’s winter. It is commonly thought that the race was modeled after the emergency diphtheria serum run to Nome Alaska in 1925. Actually it was started due to the decline in the use of the sled dogs. During the 1960’s, the snow machine was introduced to the people of the Alaska frontier. Slowly the sled dogs were being replaced by a machine. A machine that could break down, leaving someone stranded in the frigged arctic weather. A dog could keep you warm and a dog provided companionship. Also happening during the 1960’s was an interest in recognizing Alaska historical events and one of those was the Iditarod National Historical Trail. The trail was used to deliver the mail, gold, supplies and anything that needed moved during the winter months. Its importance was more than just historical, but also an Alaskan necessity.
So the push was on to re-introduce the dogs to the people of Alaska and around the world. There were two “short runs” held in 1967 and 1969. 56 miles each, with nine of those miles being part of the original Iditarod Trail, but the interest was not enough to hold. The organizers kept after the idea and one of them, Joe Redington, wanted to try a race over the entire Iditarod supply trail. In 1973, the first full Iditarod Race was held and it has been running ever since. There are two trails run, following the original trail routes. A northern route is run on even numbered years and a southern route on odd numbered years. Both trails average 1000 miles depending on changes made for weather, trail conditions, etc.
The Alaska Iditarod Race brings all kinds to its starting line. There are entrants from all over the globe with a maximum of 100. Average number of participants is between 60 and 80 mushers and roughly 20 percent of those never cross the finish line. Rick Swenson holds the record for the race with five wins. Only two women have ever won and Susan Butcher has four wins to her name. Not just anyone can participate. The rules documents are lengthy but actually quite interesting. For instance, to qualify, an entrant must have completed either a prior Iditarod Race, or the Yukon Quest Race, or completed two 300 mile qualifiers, plus another to total 750 miles. In other words, they want to be sure a musher can handle the length of this race! There is another whole list if the musher is a rookie. Once qualification is accepted, then each musher goes through all kinds of things to get to the actual starting line. There are meetings that must be attended or fines are levied. At the pre-race banquet, the musher pulls his own starting position. Miss the banquet, and they miss the race!
The Alaska Iditarod brings so much to the state including the mushers, the dogs, the hundreds of volunteers that man the checkpoints, cook, and donate. The celebration of the history of the Iditarod National Historical Trail, and the camaraderie between the teams, all point to an event that is worth way more than the purse of $550,000 split amongst those placing in the top 30.