Iditarod--The Last Great Race Run By Great 2- and 4-Legged Athletes
One of the biggest, if not THE biggest, events here in Alaska is the Iditarod sled dog race. The Last Great Race, it pits man and his best friends against the elements of the Last Frontier. While the rest of us are snuggling close to our wood stoves or sitting comfortably in our easy chairs as the central heating kicks on, these brave and hearty men, women and dogs are traveling over 1,000 miles across some of the roughest terrain around, during some of the harshest weather.
About ten days ago, a field of 65 mushers, each with a team of 16 or so dogs, set out from Anchorage (well, Willow is the official start. Anchorage was a ceremonial start.) to Nome. Both human and canine athletes were prepared for anything the Alaska wilderness could throw at them. They hoped. Checkpoints, GPS, and aerial monitoring, veterinarians and doctors, assure that the teams are as safe as possible. Still, some ran into difficulties, a couple suffered broken equipment, and sadly some dogs were lost. More than a few mushers scratched, for various reasons, but at this writing nine are in Nome and another 40 are still making their way there.
The winner this year, Lance Mackey, took his third Iditarod Championship in a row. He joins the three-peat ranks of mushing legends Susan Butcher and Doug Swingley.
Lance and his team were the first into Nome, but all the men and women and dogs who set out are to be commended and respected for their toughness and spirit. Read some of the stories about sleds turning over and mushers smacking into trees and rocks. Of dogs getting tangled, of one that ran off in fright and was thankfully returned to his musher. Of the dogs that died and how the mushers grieved for lost friends. BTW, this is not the place to complain that dog sled racing is inhumane or cruel. A good musher treats his team with the utmost respect and care. They are his friends and his lifeline. Man and dog are truly teammates, and if you've ever seen an interview with a musher as he or she raves about the greatness of their dogs, or grieves at the loss of one, you will understand the heartfelt connection there.
So congratulations to Lance and his team, but the entire field, even those who scratched, deserve major kudos just for taking that first step onto the trail.