Monday, March 10, 2014
MARCH 10 A HISTORY OF THE IDITAROD DOG SLED RACE
One of our favorite sporting events of the year is in full-swing right now. The Iditarod Dog Sled race is nearing the final stretch! It's a close race between four-time champ Jeff King and newcomer Aily Zirkle. Not familiar with the Iditarod? It's a fabulous event, rich in history, steeped in tradition and filled with cuddly canines. To help you follow the action as well, here is a brief primer:
BALTO AND THE EPIDEMIC.
While the overland route to Nome had been used by the Inupiaq, Athabaskan and Russian peoples for centuries, it became famous in the year 1925. A diphtheria epidemic was wiping out native populations. The only antitoxins available were in far-off Anchorage and there were no planes available to get them. Governor Bone took swift action A 20 pound cylinder of serum would sent...by dog sled...to Nome.
Despite Balto's celebrity status, interest in dog sledding waned over the next fifty years. The Gold Mines of Iditarod were emptied. Also, bush-planes became the favored means of transport. The advent of snow mobiles in the 1960's further pushed the dog sleds out of relevance. However, all this changed in 1958, when a man named Joe Reddington moved to Alaska.
He bought a homestead near Flat Horn Lake. Part of his land included the over-grown route of the once-famous Iditarod Trail. Joe became enthralled with the stories of the past and decided to recreate it. In 1967, a 25-mile race between Wasilla and Kinick occurred with much fanfare. Although only a fraction of the original distance, it captured the hearts of many and Joe became known as the 'Father of the Iditarod."
Early setback plagued the race. The 1968 race was cancelled due to lack of snow, and numerous dogs died from moose attacks the next year. But international interest kept the spirit alive. Finally, in 1973, the route expanded to encompass the entire, original 1,049 miles from Anchorage to Nome. Dick Wilmath won this first installment, in 20 days, 49 minutes, and 41 seconds. While minor changes are made due to weather, right of passage and other issues, 95% of the route remains true to the original "Mission of Mercy."
We here at the DUNER BLOG love stats, so here are some Iditarod records. The fastest time belongs to John Baker. He accomplished the feat in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds. Rick Swenson holds the record for the most wins with 5. There are also records for the dogs as well. (They do all the work...you know!) Granite, Andy and Stormy are the only dogs to win the 'Golden Harness' three times. Also...the race isn't just for questionably sane men. In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the race. Susan Butcher is the only person to finish in either first or second place in five consecutive years.
Here a some interesting Iditarod factoids. Only Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are allowed to race. You cannot enter your Beagle or Chihuahua...The rules were changed in 1998 and Dog Boots were allowed. This pleased animal rights activists, but angered past winners, whose times would be easier to beat...The Red Lantern Award goes to the team that finishes last. The name refers to a red lantern that is lit when the race begins and not extinguished until its over. The longest time ever was 32.5 days.