32 - Johnsons Crossing, Yukon

Interesting Facts about the Iditarod Dog Sled Race


The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, more commonly known as The Iditarod, is an annual long-distance (1,000mile) sled dog race run in early March. It travels from Anchorage to Nome, entirely within the US state of Alaska. Mushers and a team of between 12 and 14 dogs cover the distance in 8–15 days or more. The course record being set by Mitch Seavey in 2017 at 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds.

The Iditarod began in 1973 as an event to test the best sled dog mushers and teams but evolved into today's highly competitive race. A ceremonial start occurs in the city of Anchorage and is followed by the official restart in Willow, a city 80 miles north of Anchorage. The restart was originally in Wasilla through to 2007, but due to too little snow, the restart has been at Willow since 2008.

The trail runs from Willow up the Rainy Pass of the Alaska Range into the sparsely populated interior, and then along the shore of the Bering Sea, finally reaching Nome in western Alaska.

The most famous event in the history of Alaskan mushing is the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the "Great Race of Mercy." It occurred when a large diphtheria epidemic threatened Nome. Because Nome's supply of antitoxin had expired, Dr. Curtis Welch sent out telegrams seeking a fresh supply of antitoxin. The nearest antitoxin was found to be in Anchorage, nearly one thousand miles away. To get the antitoxin to Nome, sled dogs had to be used for part of the journey, as planes could not be used and ships would be too slow. Governor Scott Bone approved a safe route and the 20-pound cylinder of serum was sent by train 298 miles from the southern port of Seward to Nenana, where just before midnight on January 27, it was passed to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the package 674 miles from Nenana to Nome. The dogs ran in relays an average of 31 miles each.

One of Seppala's workers, Norwegian musher Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balto, arrived on Front Street in Nome on February 2 at 5:30 a.m., just five and a half days later. The two became media celebrities, and a statue of Balto was erected in Central Park in New York City in 1925, where it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions.

The trail is composed of two routes: a northern route, which is run on even-numbered years, and a southern route, which is run on odd-numbered years. Both follow the same trail 352 miles, from Anchorage to Ophir, where they diverge and then rejoin at Kaltag, 346 miles from Nome. The race used the northern route until 1977, when the southern route was added to distribute the impact of the event on the small villages in the area, none of which have more than a few hundred inhabitants. Passing through the historic town of Iditarod was a secondary benefit. 

Starting in 1984, all dogs are examined by veterinarians/nurses before the start of the race, who check teeth, eyes, tonsils, heart, lungs, joints, and genitals; they look for signs of illegal drugs, improperly healed wounds, and pregnancy. All dogs are identified and tracked by microchip implants and collar tags. On the trails, volunteer veterinarians examine each dog's heart, hydration, appetite, attitude, weight, lungs, and joints at all of the checkpoints, and look for signs of foot and shoulder injuries, respiration problems, dehydration, diarrhea, and exhaustion. Mushers are not allowed to administer drugs that mask the signs of injury, including stimulants, muscle relaxants, sedatives, anti-inflammatories, and anabolic steroids. 

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