Sat March 17, 2012

Of Huskies And Sleds

It is the beginning of March and a quiet madness sweeps parts of our country that has nothing to do with basketball. Rather, it is all about dogs, sleds and the hearty men and women who brave whatever Mother Nature has in store for them.

Treking approximately 1,000 miles of desolate, unforgiving wilderness in Alaska. From its capitol, Anchorage, through its interior, and along its wind-swept coastline to reach Nome. The 40th running of The Iditarod sled dog race.

The "Iditarod Trail Song" by Alaska's Hobo Jim


On Saturday, March 3rd at 10 in the morning, 66 started the race in heavy snowfall (including three mushers from Colorado: William Pinkham of Glenwood Springs, Lachlan Clarke of Buena Vista, and Tom Thurston of Oak Creek). In the days to come, the drivers of the dogsled, or mushers, and their dog teams endure temperatures ranging from the ‘30’s to 50 below zero, whipping wind, bear, moose, and more.

Gary Baumgartner flying his PA12 over the Iditarod Trail and landing at Ravenwood Wilderness Outpost's Submarine Lake Iditarod Camp

As the race progresses, the mushers must fight sleep deprivation. They forgo their rest in order to tend to the needs and feeding of their dog team, which  number 16 or less as the race goes on.  Dogs that are dropped  or scratched for their safety are left at the one of the 25 check points along the trail to be whisked to Anchorage or one of the hubs by the all volunteer Iditarod Air Force.   Mushers scratch as well when they feel that they, their team, or their equipment can go no farther. However,  human or canine, just competing in this grueling race is indicative of a winner.

Western Coast of Alaska with Aliy Zirkle and the Iditarod sled dogs of SP Kennel

At 9:29 ADT Tuesday night, 24 year old Willow Alaska musher Dallas Seavey (son of 2004 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey), won the race in 9 days, 4 hours, 9 minutes, 26 seconds. He is the youngest ever to win what is called “The Last Great Race”. Two Rivers, Alaska musher, Aliy Zirkle finished an hour behind for 2nd place; but the race is far from over—at this writing (16:21 on Friday 3/16), 13 days into the race, 13  are still on the trail, though four teams  (including Pinkham)  just left the last checkpoint of Safety and can probably taste Front Street in Nome, 22 miles away.

John Baker arrived in Nome in 8 days 18 hours 46 minutes 39 seconds, a record finish in Iditarod 39

The Burled Arch on Front Street in Nome is the Iditarod’s finish line on which an illuminated red lantern hangs. Lit at the race’s beginning, the lantern is a reminder that there are still souls on the trail. The last musher who crosses the finish line is awarded the lantern after an official extinguishes its flame, signifying that all are safe and home. And so ends a race which has been known to take from 13 to 32 days... making a full court press minute by comparison.