The Dog Journal

Adventures:

Iditarod Sled Race:

A Grueling Test of Endurance in the Alaskan Wilderness

The Dog Journal June/July 2023

Email
Facebook
LinkedIn
Twitter
Print

The Iditarod sled race is a grueling and challenging long-distance dog sled race that takes place in Alaska, covering over 1,000 miles of treacherous terrain from Anchorage to Nome. The race is named after the Iditarod Trail, a historic dog sled trail that was used to transport supplies and mail during Alaska’s early days. Mushers and their teams of sled dogs face extreme weather conditions, rugged mountain ranges, frozen rivers, and harsh wilderness along the way, making the Iditarod one of the most difficult endurance races in the world. The race is held annually in March and is a celebrated event in Alaskan culture, attracting participants and spectators from around the world. This is part one of a series of continued articles about this race, written by none other than Matt Snader, the founder of Lancaster Puppies.

Iditarod 51

The Iditarod is the world famous dogsled race to Nome, which happens every year in March. The route runs from Anchorage to Nome, covering almost one thousand miles across the middle of Alaska. Actually, the race doesn’t really start until Willow, as the Anchorage start is simply ceremonial, and is more like a parade, with spectators lining the streets. Mushers come through in several minute intervals, giving out high fives and waving to fans. After the run through Anchorage, all the teams are loaded up and transported to Willow, where the real race starts the following day at Deshka Landing. The Iditarod has been called “Alaska’s NASCAR,” but it really is much more down to earth and personable. You can meet any of the mushers in person throughout the year, and if you live in Alaska, you might even run into them at the grocery store. Although many of the mushers do come from out of state, and even some come in from other countries to compete! 

Dog mushing is one of the few, and maybe only, professional sport in which men and women compete directly against each other. This is in part because the real athletes are the dogs. In 1985 Libby Riddles won the Iditarod, becoming the first woman to do so. Since then many woman have won, with Susan Butcher winning three consecutive times, in 1986, 1987, 1988, and then a forth time in 1990. Even though the dogs are the real athletes, the mushers contributions can’t be minimized, as they put a lot of sweat and effort into the race. The mushers are the first to get up, the last to eat, and the last to sleep. There are regular veterinary checkpoints throughout the race, making sure the dogs are kept in good health.

Dog-sledding with huskies

This year the Iditarod turned 51 years old, with the first race occurring in 1973. There were several things about this year’s Iditarod that made it stand out. First, this was the first “normal” Iditarod since COVID. In 2020, I was in McGrath, Alaska, watching the dogsled teams Adventures come through. I was working on my book, 1,000 Miles on the Iditarod Trail, at the time. Suddenly, the whole world seemed to turn upside down, and I couldn’t even fly out of McGrath! We had to hire an airline charter just to get home. While the race continued on, all the extra events were canceled and Nome basically turned into a locked down ghost town. The following year, 2021, the Iditarod was turned into a big loop, called the “Gold Loop Trail,” due to Native villages in western Alaska not wanting mushers and staff to be present in or near their villages. The 2022 Iditarod was almost back to normal, with the regular route, but still had a bunch of restrictions. Finally, the 2023 Iditarod was once again just the normal dogsled race without all kinds of extra nonsense.

A second occurrence that made the Iditarod special was a member of the Redington family won the race, for the first time ever. Joe Redington, Sr, is called the “Father of the Iditarod.” An avid musher, Joe watched with alarm as dogsleds started to be quickly replaced by snowmachines (also known as snowmobiles, to you lower 48’ers). Despite airplanes reaching wide use in Alaska by the 1950’s, dogsleds continued to be prevalent. The “iron dog” started to become widespread by the 1960’s, and dog mushing started to quickly fall by the wayside. Why would people abandon their dogsleds for snowmachines? I can tell you from experience that driving a snowmachine is much simpler than housing the fourteen dogs needed for a full race team. Although even a team of six dogs can propel a dog sled along just fine. Training dogs, feeding dogs, and caring for dogs is a lot of hard work. You can’t just park the dog team under a tarp for the summer. Dedicated mushers will almost live in their dog kennel, and it is a lifestyle, not a hobby. 

 

Joe Redington loved dogs, particularly Alaskan huskies. He realized that organizing races was probably the only way to keep mushing alive in Alaska. His first attempts at setting up races were short runs, which took place in 1967 and 1969. Joe soon realized that the only way to keep this going was to have a very long race, every year, around which the mushing community could organize. His dream of a long sled dog race became reality in 1973, with the first Iditarod. Dorothy G. Page also worked with Joe to make this happen, and is widely credited as being instrumental as well. 

Joe Redington did run in the race he helped created, a total of 19 times. He placed 5th several times. His family continued the tradition, with several of his sons and grandsons racing. The Redingtons often placed very well, breaking into the top 10 slots, but never securing first place. Joe Redington Sr, passed away in 1999, leaving his family to carry on the Iditarod racing tradition. In 2018 I watched with interest as Ray Redington Jr put up a good fight, and ended up finishing fourth place. Several times I talked with Ray Redington Jr on the phone, as we had discussed some sponsorship options with him. However, he hasn’t run the Iditarod since 2018, although I believe he will give it another shot. He offered to take me moose hunting, on dogsled! Sadly, I have yet to take him up on that offer, due to scheduling conflicts. I’m not sure how serious he was with that offer, but if he was serious, I might take him up on it! 

This year, 2023, I noticed the only Redington running was Ryan Redington, who is a brother to Ray. I decided to root for him, and watched as he did very well during the first half of the race. Leading the race doesn’t mean too much though, as anything can happen. I was excited and happy for Ray when I saw he pulled into Nome first, shortly after noon on March 14.

I had traveled the Iditarod trail several times by snowmachine, kept track online, visited many Iditarod checkpoints, but I had never watched the ceremonial start of the race in Anchorage. Finally, this year, on March 4, our family traveled to Anchorage to watch. We decided not to go to the official starting line, as we couldn’t get very close and would have had to watch from the second story of a parking garage. Instead, we found a street crossing (one of many) and decided to wait there. The race started at 10 AM, but it wasn’t until about 10:30 till the first team came by.

The mushers came by, generally, in order by their bib numbers. I got to high five Ryan Redington, which I thought was pretty neat. Several mushers stopped their teams right in front of us, and let us pet their dogs, which illustrates one thing I really like about the Iditarod. It is a family friendly event, and the people are generally likable sorts, and the overall atmosphere is very good. Most people don’t plan a trip to Alaska in March, but if you do, make sure to come visit the first week of March! As another bonus, this is also a great time to see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, so you can come watch the Iditarod start, and then head up to Fairbanks for a few days. You can also watch the Iditarod online, at Iditarod. com. Because the race often takes up to two weeks to finish, and covers 1,000 miles, this is the most practical way to follow along anyway. The Iditarod website also has interviews with the mushers, updates on trail conditions, and a plethora of other interesting tidbits. So there you have it, you don’t need to travel to Alaska to watch the Iditarod, but if you do, it’s the best seat in the house!

Looking For More To Read?

Email
Facebook
LinkedIn
Twitter
Print

The Right Fit: Collies

With their striking intelligence and undeniable charm, have long held a special place in the hearts of dog enthusiasts worldwide. These remarkable herding dogs, known for their elegant appearance and unwavering loyalty, are much more than just a pretty face. Collies have a rich history as working dogs, initially bred in the rugged Scottish Highlands for their herding prowess.

Customer Care: The Changing Landscape

If you wanted to sell your puppies on a listing marketplace, the process used to be simple. You needed a picture of the puppy, a generic description, and your phone number. Then you waited for calls and usually sold your puppies within a week or two.

Powered By MemberPress WooCommerce Plus Integration