Sled Dogs

Perhaps the most exciting event in Alaska, the Iditarod is a race of over 1150 miles that takes place over 10 to 17 days. Each participant, called a "musher," uses 12-16 dogs to cover that terrain as quickly and safely as possible. Deemed the "Last Great Race on Earth," the Iditarod has captured worldwide attention due to its intensity and difficulty. Indeed, you'll not participate in a more difficult task should you undertake this one!

The trail on which the race occurs has a great history in Alaska. Once a mail and supply route, it now has become an historic trail. It goes from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik inward to the west coast, all the way up to Nome. Always these trails were taken by dogsled. When an epidemic struck Nome in 1925, the trail became the life-saving means of bringing necessary medical supplies to the otherwise isolated town.

Each musher has a different approach to tackling the wild terrain. The race begins in Anchorage and then either follows the original Iditarod Trail or sequed through different parts of Alaska. As the mushers race, they will feed their dogs along the way so that the dogs get less tired. Some run in the daylight to see better, while others choose the less popular night to wend their way through the course.

The rules have stipulated regulations which each entrant must follow. For example, a musher must have the following mandatory equipment: an arctic parka, a heavy sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, musher food, dog food and boots for each dog's feet to protect against cutting ice and hard packed snow injuries. The last ensures the safety of the dogs as well as their humane treatment.

Many mushers spend all year preparing for the Iditarod. Some can fit it into their full time commitments. It all depends on how dedicated they are to winning the race. Some are just in it to prove they can do it successfully, not caring about their results. They want to prove they have the skill and stamina to run the course, and, if they finish, they've done just that.

Some of the top names in Iditarod racing include Joe Reddington, Sr., who co-founded the race and is now known as its "father." Also, the first woman to win was Libby Riddles, in 1985, is most famous in Alaska. No one really expected her to win, you see.

Whether a person wins the race or comes in last, winning the "Red Lantern," he or she has proven it's possible to go the distance in this extremely challenging sport that takes place in the most insane of weather conditions.