For the past several weeks I have featured an Iditarod musher on Monday. As this is the last week before the race starts, I decided it's time to feature the real stars of the race- The Sled Dogs!
Throughout history, the sled dog has been to Alaska what the horse was to the Lower 48.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race commemorates the most famous event in the history of Alaskan mushing, the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the "Great Race of Mercy". A diphtheria epidemic threatened Nome, especially the Inuit children who had no immunity to the "white man's disease", and the nearest quantity of antitoxin was in Anchorage. Since the two available planes were both dismantled and had never been flown in the winter, Governor Scott Bone approved a safer route.
The 20-pound (9 kg) cylinder of serum was sent by train 298 miles (480 km) from the southern port of Seward to Nenana, where it was passed just before midnight on January 27 to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the package 674 miles (1,085 km) from Nenana to Nome. In the serum delivery, the dogs ran in relays with no dog running over 100 miles.
The Norwegian 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 at Central Park in New York City in 1925, where it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions.
However, most mushers consider Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog Togo to be the true heroes of the run. Together they covered the most hazardous stretch of the route, and carried the serum further than any other team.
The Iditarod was the brainchild of Dorothy G. Page (the "Mother of the Iditarod"), who wanted to sponsor a sled dog race to honor mushers. With the support of Joe Redington, Sr. (the "Father of the Iditarod"), the first Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race was held in 1967 and covered 25 miles (40 km) near Anchorage. The purse of USD $25,000 attracted a field of 58 racers and the winner was Isaac Okleasik. The next race in 1968 was canceled due to lack of snow, and the small $1,000 purse in 1969 only drew 12 mushers. The race was originally called the Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race in honor of Leonhard Seppala. (thinkquest.org/)
Most of today's mushers agree that the dogs are the true heroes of the race. To most mushers it's all about being out there with your dogs, doing something that you love.
As far as treatment of Iditarod dogs, Deedee Jonrowe sums it up well in her book Iditarod Dreams, "I'm sure that the average Iditarod dog gets better care than 99 percent of the dogs in America...Iditarod dogs are fed the best food...They get regular feedings each day and regular exercise. As far as I'm concerned, my dogs are members of the family."
There are mushers out there who might never win a race. They may never take themselves too seriously either. But they will provide excellent care and love for their dogs, and enjoy being on the trail with an animal they consider their equal. That's the beauty of the sport.
The Southern snowstorm missed us in Northeast Georgia. We watched reports of the snow piling up in the Atlanta area, anxiously awaiting it's arrival here. We had a few snow showers and then it was over-POOH!!! I guess I'll just head "WAY UP THERE TO ALASKA" to see some snow.
In Memory of Klaus