In odd years, 2019 among them, the Iditarod follows the southern route from Anchorage to Nome. That’s about 998 miles over what will hopefully be frozen and snowy Alaska.
The first Iditarod race was held in 1973, though the idea can be traced back to 1925. A diphtheria outbreak had hit the children of Nome and the needed antitoxin serum was in Anchorage and Seattle. Unfortunately, it was January. The two regional transit planes had been decommissioned for winter, so dogsled teams were the only possibility.
Officials immediately began coordinating state offices, local agencies, and a bunch of independent Alaskan mushers. After waiting for the serum to arrive from Seattle, it was placed on a northeast train to Nenana. They were already nearly seven days into the ordeal when the first dogsled team met the train. Traveling through darkness and temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero, a relay of 21 mushers and dog teams traveled a 674-mile route in five days. It was arduous, but seamless, and the dogs were celebrated as national heroes.
Today, the route from Anchorage to Nome is more direct, and a single musher and his or her team cover the entire distance. It remains as arduous as ever, with “seamless” being more of a myth than a goal. But these athletes–one human musher and usually 16 or so dogs per team–are undeterred.
In 2017, Mitch Seavey and his team set a blistering race record of 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 13 seconds.
Photo by Mike Kenney