An annual tradition beginning on the first Saturday of March, the Iditarod represents a culmination of Alaskan history and tradition. The first Iditarod race occurred in 1973 as a way to preserve the sport of dog sled racing while simultaneously commemorating the critical role mushing played in a diphtheria epidemic in 1925. When children in Nome fell ill with the deadly disease, teams of sled dogs rushed a vital serum all the way from Anchorage. Running a course similar to the trail these merciful mushers followed almost a century ago, modern mushers and their teams face hundreds of miles of rugged terrain, harsh weather, and even moose attacks!
The frigid journey from Anchorage from Nome takes over a week to complete. Current record-holder, Mitch Seavey, completed the course in 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 13 seconds. However, the Iditarod trail has taken up to thirty-two days to for some mushers to traverse. Following time-honored tradition, the Iditarod Trail Committee lights the Widow’s Lantern, a tribute to the guiding lights of roadhouses on the original mail supply trail, in Nome on the morning of the first Sunday of March. The lantern is not extinguished until every musher has crossed the finish line.
The true stars of the show, the sled dogs, prove themselves world-class athletes, the canine equivalents to Olympians. Before the race commences, these ambitious animals must undergo a slough safety precautions, including blood work, ECG examinations, and microchipping. Although unorthodox musher John Suter included poodles in his sled teams decades ago, modern mushers typically rely on three key breeds: the Siberian husky, the Alaskan Husky, and the Alaskan malamute.
While many racing fans are unable to make a pilgrimage to Alaska to witness the Iditarod firsthand, there are still a multitude of ways to stay engaged during the Last Great Race on Earth! Stay tuned to your local news station as most media providers cover the event, and be sure to explore Iditarod.com, the official website of this historic race.