The Last Great Race

The 1049-mile* "Northern Route" of the Iditarod Trail. Photo Credit:

I’ve been a bit distracted this week, as I am every year during the beginning of March. I’ve been keeping up with the Iditarod, running right now across the great state of Alaska, checking FB updates not only from the Iditarod Trail Committee, but also from one of the mushers, Karen Ramstead, who runs an all-Siberian Husky team.

I was up WAY too late last night (Tuesday), but I got to see Dallas Seavey cross under the Burled Arch and into Iditarod History. At age 25, he is the youngest musher ever to win the Iditarod. Even cooler? His dad and grandpa couldn’t be at the finish line to welcome him in, because they were still out on the trail with their own teams!

Thanks to “animal rights” activists, Mushers, and the Iditarod in general, often suffer slings and arrows, painted as evil-rotten-horrible animal abusers. But you need only peruse the following stories to see how false that is.

The first is a story of Pat Moon from Chicago, who scratched from the race in Ruby because he was down to only 7 dogs (they start with sixteen). He is credited with saving the life of a local child. Twenty minutes after scratching from the race (“the dogs weren’t having any fun”), he was in the Ruby Checkpoint when the child’s mother came in looking for help. Her son had been sledding and crashed into a parked snow machine, splitting his head open. Moon is a trained EMT; he accompanied her to the house, where he stopped the bleeding and bandaged the wound until the child could receive further medical attention.

Another story comes from Dalzell Gorge (a passage between Rainy Pass and Rohn Checkpoints). “Mushing Mortician” Scott Janssen’s dogs were running just fine through the pass, when 9 year old Marshall collapsed. “He dropped,” said Janssen. Sobbing, Janssen held Marshall’s mouth closed, and breathed into his nose as he massaged the dog’s chest. “Come on, Dude, come back to me,” and a few minutes later, Marshall did. He rode in the Sled Bag to Rohn, where he was tended to by race vets and flown to Anchorage, where he is doing just fine. (Fair warning: the videos on both of those links will make you cry, unless you’re a heartless beast)

THIS is why I watch that race. The mushers are incredible, and their dogs are phenomenal. My dog is healthy and happy, thanks in part to lessons learned along that trail. If you’ve never followed it, I encourage you to do so. There’s still plenty of time to catch Iditafever… check out the Iditarod Website, pick a musher (or 30) from the Current Standings, do some math to figure when they’ll come into Nome, then click over to the NomeCam and see if you can catch their finish. Stick around and see who gets the Red Lantern. And while you’re watching, tune in to some Hobo Jim for a soundtrack…

*Ok, the Northern Route isn’t really 1049 miles this year. Because of some changes, including the location of the start of the race from Wasilla to Willow, as well as conditions along the rout, the race this year is 975 miles. ” ‘1,049 miles®’ has been a symbolic figure from the inception of the race to signify the 1,000 miles or more of race trail and the number 49 depicts Alaska as the 49th state.

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9 Responses to The Last Great Race

  1. Laura says:

    For the record, one of the Teams I’m tracking – Karen Ramstead and her Pretty Curly Tails – are crossing Norton Sound right now. They left out of Shaktoolik several hours ago, and we’re all on pins and needles waiting to hear of their safe arrival in Koyuk. Last we heard, the winds were 35 mph, and the windchill was -30. They are crossing ice, so it is absolutely brutal. Karen is traveling with another musher and team, so hopefully they will keep each other safe.

    The other musher I’m watching is Cim Smyth. I had dinner with him and a bunch of other mushers when I visited my friend, Jill, in AK. He is a really nice guy, and takes good care of his dogs. He is somewhere between Elim and Golovin.

  2. skl1 says:

    Sounds like fun. Nice test of stamina and wisdom.

  3. Laura says:

    Ok, guys, I forgot something important…. Iditamath

    They list the times in Military time. And Alaska is 3 hours BEHIND those of us who live on Central Standard Time. So I just checked Hugh Neff’s progress (Hugh is also running a team of Sibs). He left out of Safety, the last checkpoint of the race before the finish at Nome, at 17:44. So, doing Iditamath:

    17:44 = 5:44 pm in Normal Human Time in Alaska
    5:44 = 8:44pm in CST
    It has been taking around 3.5 hours to make the Safety-Nome run, so Neff should be pulling into Nome somewhere around Midnight tonight. I will likely not be up to refresh my Nomecam to see him.

    But I figured I’d tell you that, just in case you wanted to follow the race.

  4. Joy says:

    I used to be very interested in these races. For so many years we took our boys up to the North Shore where the John Beargrease race is held and there were many years we were there while it was going on and it’s so easy to get wrapped up in it. It’s so exciting once you start watching.

    Those dogs LOVE to run and they’re pampered beyond belief. I think this is really neat and I’m going to check it out more. I was really surprised in that video where some of the patches on that trail had no snow on them. Don’t you just imagine there being snow everywhere?

    Man, that’s SUCH a long way.

    • Laura says:

      They’ve had a TON of snow along most of the trail this year, but because of wind conditions, some parts of the trail get blown clear. But yeah, it is a shock when you see clear patches. Look at the NomeCam – it’s bizarre to see that strip of snow, surrounded by a completely clear street! Although this year you can see that they’ve had snow. Last year, it was totally clear in Nome, and they had to truck snow in for the teams to run on!

      I’ve heard of the Beargrease, but I’ve never gotten up there to see it. My friend used to talk about maybe participating in it, when she still lived down here, but she didn’t have a big enough team (at that point, she only had four dogs). By the time she had a team, she’d moved to AK, and there are SO many more opportunities for her up there. I totally would have volunteered to be her handler, though, if she’d done it when she was here! She took me for a ride once. OH that was so much fun! And eve better? She let me drive! That was so cool. And setting up the sled before we took off? We had to tie it to a big oak tree, to be able to keep the dogs from taking off without us. Zephyr was jumping a good three feet vertically, pulling against his harness, because he loved running so much. It’s a great sport!

      PS… one of “my” teams – Karen’s – lost contact last night, and that’s why everyone was so worried. She appeared to not be moving, and nobody knew why. When she checked into Koyuk, they found out why; she’d lost her GPS Tracker! Fshew! Musher and 13 PCT’s, all safe and sound, and resting for a bit after that nasty sea crossing.

  5. Nikki says:

    I don’t know much about the sport, but I’ve seen it on TV. We watch a show called Flying Wild Alaska, and they had an episode about the Iditarod. Those dogs looked so excited to be doing what they were doing. They couldn’t wait to go!

    As long as the dogs are loving it, well fed and watered I think it’s a great thing! It has to bring a lot of attention, and money to Alaska, I’m sure.

    • Laura says:

      The dogs DO love it. I watch the start online, and you can hear the dogs screaming and howling in their excitement. When they bring them to the line, they each have a handler, because they’re leaping against their harnesses and lines to *GO* already!!! And when you see pics of them, they’re all smiling.

      There are vets available at all of the checkpoints, and every musher is required to not only carry food for the dogs, but to have food shipped ahead to each checkpoint. And all mushers carry a little stove and bucket, so they can melt snow on the trail to water the dogs if they need it. They are also *required* to take one 24-hour rest, and one 8-hour rest during the race. The rests must be taken separately, and must be done at checkpoints. Often, the mushers will camp along the trail, as well, or take several-hour rests at the checkpoints along the way.

  6. Laura says:

    Oh, just crack me the heck up…

    Last night, when I went to bed, I and all of the other Karen Ramstead/Pretty Curly Tail (PCT) fans were holding our breath because the team was crossing the sometimes-treacherous Norton Sound pass between Shaktoolik and Koyuk. But we all went to bed, secure in her knowledge and experience, the dogs’ training and determination, and the knowledge that she was wearing a GPS Tracker (in case something horrible DID happen), and traveling with another musher/team.

    When our friend, Bet the Border Collie (karen’s dog, who regularly updates her blog and FB page) woke this morning, she had a terrible surprise. She checked the GPS tracking page, and there was Karen, adrift in the Sound!! Oh-holy-crap!!! But she quickly checked the standings and called friends, and found out that Karen and the Team were safely resting in Koyuk, and that they had become separated from the GPS tracker.

    Well, now that tracker has a FaceBook page!! I don’t know if Bet the Border Collie or the Iditarod Trail Committee set it up, but it’s there. And you can see the adventures that it is on. I suspect the committee on this one. Hilarious. And proves that they have an excellent sense of humor.

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