Iditarod puppies (remember to click on photos to expand them)

100_4186Because of lack of snow in Willow, Alaska, this year’s Iditarod race officially starts in Fairbanks today March 9.  After a ceremonial start in Anchorage, the 42 year-old race used to start in Wasilla just to the north of Anchorage.  It also was moved to Fairbanks in 2003 for lack of snow, and in 2008 it was shifted to Willow, a little further north of Wasilla.

Officially called the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the first more than 1000-mile race from Anchorage (the ceremonial start) to Nome began March 3, 1973.  The teams average 16 dogs, which means over a thousand dogs leave the start (with two-minute spacing).

Sled dog Kennel

Sled dog Kennel

Sled dogs were long used by natives for transport.  They became both popular and essential to miners in the 1880s, and the Iditarod trail (with its branches) was one of the main routes.  One of the most famous events in Alaskan history was the transport of diphtheria serum from Anchorage to Nome in 1925 when an epidemic threatened the city, especially the children.  A relay of twenty mushers took the serum 674 miles from Nenana to Nome in just five and a half days.  A 25-mile race in 1967 commemorated this historic event.  But the race did not catch the imagination of dog sledders or the public until 1973 when the longer event was created to test both mushers and their dogs.

Jeff King, four-time champ

Jeff King, four-time champ

In 1985 Libby Riddles was the first woman to win, and the race really began to get national and world-wide attention when Susan Butcher won three times in 1986, 1987 and 1980.  She won again in 1990.

Mushers made a living on the trail from the 1880s to the 1920s, but today it is a sport.  Today they have to support themselves and their dogs in other ways. Jeff  King, set a record in 1993, won again  in 1996, 1998 and again in 2006 at age 50.  He is one of six to win four races (Rick Swenson, an early racer, won his fifth in 1991).

Exercise Merry-go-round

Exercise Merry-go-round

We visited King’s home in 2008.  He is a showman.  He is an author.  And he adds to his income by entertaining tourists at his kennel just outside Denali National Park.

When one gets off the bus, one is handed a puppy.  Later we were informed it is part of the puppy’s training.  Training to run with and against other dogs in fierce winter conditions is important.  They might face sub-zero temperatures.  They might face wind chill as much as one hundred degrees below Fahrenheit.  They might face a moose — moose also find walking on a cleared trail easier than walking in deep snow.  But one of their biggest challenges is facing hoards of enthusiastic race fans, especially at the ceremonial start.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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2 Responses to Iditarod puppies (remember to click on photos to expand them)

  1. leggypeggy says:

    Great post. Have you ever read ‘Winterdance’ by GAry Paulsen? A wonderful story about him running the Iditarod.


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