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The Iditarod: The Most Exciting Race in the World

By Edited Jul 19, 2015 0 1
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.

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Comments

Jul 18, 2010 2:00pm
SledDogAction
For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race.

During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running. The Iditarod's chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he's going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

Margery Glickman
Director
Sled Dog Action Coalition, http://www.helpsleddogs.org
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