While vacationing in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania, we encountered what was possibly a once in a lifetime experience. It wasn’t the actual Last Great Race, but was a dog sled adventure run by an actual participant of the actual Iditarod. She, yes I said she, had competed in the race and was running this program as a way to raise money to compete again. Two of the dogs pictured here also ran the race.
The resort put us in touch with her and we had a great time meeting the dogs and learning about the Iditarod. The dogs wear booties, but it’s not as much to keep their feet warm as it is to protect their foot pads from the ice which can be very abrasive.
In case you don’t know, The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome. Mushers and a team of 12–16 dogs, of which at least 6 must be on the towline at the finish line, cover the distance in 9–15 days. 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. The current fastest winning time record was set in 2011 by John Baker with a time of 8 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes, and 39 seconds. As of 2012, Dallas Seavey is the youngest musher to win the race. Seavey is the third generation in his family to race. In the race were Mitch Seavey, Dallas’ father and 2004 race winner, and Dan Seavey, Dallas’ grandfather and one of the organizers of the first races.
Teams frequently race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause the wind chill to reach −100 °F (−73 °C). A ceremonial start occurs in the city of Anchorage and is followed by the official restart in Willow, a city in the south central region of the state. The restart was originally in Wasilla, but because of too little snow, the restart was permanently moved to Willow in 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 trail is through a harsh landscape of tundra and spruce forests, over hills and mountain passes, and across rivers. While the start in Anchorage is in the middle of a large urban center, most of the route passes through widely separated towns and villages, and small Athabaskan and Inupiat settlements. The Iditarod is regarded as a symbolic link to the early history of the state and is connected to many traditions commemorating the legacy of dog mushing.
The race is the most popular sporting event in Alaska, and the top mushers and their teams of dogs are local celebrities; this popularity is credited with the resurgence of recreational mushing in the state since the 1970s. While the yearly field of more than fifty mushers and about a thousand dogs is still largely Alaskan, competitors from fourteen countries have completed the event including the Swiss Martin Buser, who became the first international winner in 1992.
The Iditarod received more attention outside of the state after the 1985 victory of Libby Riddles, a long shot who became the first woman to win the race. Susan Butcher became the second woman to win the race and went on to dominate for five whole years.
About the Dogs Courtesy wikipedia
The original sled dogs were Inuit Sled Dogs bred by the Mahlemuit tribe and are one of the earliest domesticated breeds known. They were soon crossbred with Alaskan huskies, hounds, setters, spaniels, German shepherds, and wolves. As demand for dogs skyrocketed, a black market formed at the end of the 19th century which funneled large dogs of any breed to the gold rush. Siberian huskies were introduced in the early 20th century and became the most popular racing breed. The original dogs were chosen for strength and stamina, but modern racing dogs are all mixed-breed huskies bred for speed, tough feet, endurance, good attitude, and most importantly the desire to run. Dogs bred for long races weigh from 45 to 55 pounds (20–25 kg), and those bred for sprinting weigh 5 to 10 pounds (2.3–4.5 kg) less, but the best competitors of both types are interchangeable.
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. When mushers race through checkpoints, the dogs do not get physical exams. Mushers are not allowed to administer drugs that mask the signs of injury, including stimulants, muscle relaxants, sedatives, anti-inflammatories, and anabolic steroids. As of 2005[update], the Iditarod claims that no musher has been banned for giving drugs to dogs. However the Iditarod never reveals the results of tests on the dogs.
Each team is composed of twelve to sixteen dogs, and no more may be added during the race. At least six dogs must be in harness when crossing the finish line in Nome. Mushers keep a veterinary diary on the trail but are not required to have it signed by a veterinarian at each checkpoint. Dogs that become exhausted or injured may be carried in the sled’s “basket” to the next “dog-drop” site, where they are transported by the volunteer Iditarod Air Force to the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center at Eagle River where they are taken care of by prison inmates until picked up by handlers or family members, or they are flown to Nome for transport home.
The dogs are well-conditioned athletes. Training starts in late summer or early fall and intensifies between November and March; competitive teams run 2,000 miles (3,200 km) before the race. When there is no snow, dog drivers train using wheeled carts or all-terrain vehicles set in neutral. An Alaskan husky in the Iditarod will burn about 5,000 calories each day; on a body-weight basis this rate of caloric burn is 3.5 times that of a human Tour de France cyclist. Similarly the VO2 max (aerobic capacity) of a typical Iditarod dog is about 240 milligrams of oxygen per kilogram of body weight, which is about three times that of a human Olympic marathon runner.