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03102013-3What do you love to do on a bitterly cold March day? Hit the slopes and then warm yourself by the fireplace? Perhaps skip the slopes and just snuggle up inside? Do you rig up your huskies and spend over a week sledding across Alaska’s frozen boonies? For a small fraternity of intrepid outdoorsy adventurers, this challenge is the height of fun. For the rest of us, fair-weather adventurers, it is surely a captivating feat of endurance touched by, perhaps, a little bit of lunacy. One that the vast majority of us will never undertake but maybe wish we could.

03102013-1Mushers took to their sleds on March 3 for the official restart of the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The 66 men and women entrants and their dogs will travel over 900 miles from the ceremonial start in Anchorage and the official restart in Willow across Alaska’s tundra to the finish line in Nome.  Follow their route and progress from the warmth and comfort of an indoor berth. Along the way, discover how the race is run, who is racing this year, and the history of the Last Great Race on Earth.

The Last Great Race on Earth—

03102013-5The Iditarod, sometimes called ‘Alaska’s Superbowl’, was founded to mark Alaska’s centennial. It was conceived to celebrate and preserve Alaska’s traditions, geography, and history. Alaska, the United States’ 49th state, is a state with uncommon natural beauty, a rich history, and unique ecological systems. The capital, Juneau, can only be reached by sea or sky. Nearly half of all Alaskans live in Anchorage. Most of Alaska is uninhabited by people; more animals than people live in Alaska. Dogsleds—and the trails they traveled—were once the primary mode of transportation from one remote Alaskan town to another. Even the race’s name is linked to Alaskan history. Iditarod, Alaska was a hub during Alaska’s mining glory days. Today, it is a ghost town that serves as mid-point along the southern trail route. Sleds, mushing, and sled dog racing are an integral part of Alaska’s history. So, too, is the Iditarod Trail. Put these all together and you get the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an active celebration of Alaskan history.

03102013-2Like all sports, the Iditarod has rules about who may enter, and when, where, and how they may travel. The first step in understanding the Iditarod is to become familiar with its guidelines: Who and what makes up an Iditarod team? If driving sleep-deprived on a sled across a frozen landscape sounds risky, it is because it is. Some of the most common hazards may surprise you. In addition to rules, every sport has its traditions and trivia; the Iditarod is no different. The first musher to reach Iditarod receives $3,000 in gold pieces, fitting for an historic mining town. The first to reach An

03102013-7Approximately midway through the race, the Iditarod Trail splits into a northern route and a southern route. The path taken depends upon the year. Take a bird’s-eye view of both routes. Scroll down to the list of checkpoints along this year’s southern route and click on a couple to read detailed descriptions of the geography traveled by the teams. Visit the Alaska Dispatch for a closer view of the trail.

03102013-8So, who are the 66 men and women who began the race this year in Anchorage? Many of them are native Alaskans; however, people from across the United States, as well as Canada and even Jamaica were drawn to try this feat of endurance. (More people have climbed Mt. Everest than entered the Iditarod.) View the leader board and then select five mushers’ profiles to read in-depth. (Click on their name to read a biography.) Who is the toughest musher in this year’s field of racers? The Alaska Dispatch nominates five for that honor. This year’s racers include many veterans, including some who hold Iditarod records. Re-visit the leader board to check on their progress and to monitor whether new records will be set.            

There is strategy involved in running the Iditarod: when to rest, which dogs to run, weather conditions, and how to pack. Visit the Alaska Dispatch Iditarod coverage and find a couple articles to read that highlight strategy. Hear from analysts Bruce Lee and Joe Runyan (an Iditarod champion) about the strategies they have observed this year. It may help to view the trail map as you consider strategy. Of course weather is always a factor during the Iditarod.

Do you wonder what life on the Trail is like? View the current weather conditions for trail checkpoints. Peak into a night camp and at photos from the Race.

A Musher’s Best Friend—

031020130-6Mushers receive much of the attention during the race but none of the people who race could do it without their team of dogs. Sled dogs are not a pure breed; however, there are key characteristics and conditions that create successful sled dogs. Each rider can begin with a team of up to 16 racing dogs. Just like a baseball or football team, each position on the team serves a different function.

Riders and dogs often have close relationships. Mushers use special musher's vocabulary to communicate with their dogs and each other. Some dogs become famous beyond their sport. One of the most famous sled dogs was Balto, who helped save Nome from a diphtheria epidemic.

03102013-4Some, for example PETA members, believe sled dogs are inherently mistreated. However, mushers and Iditarod organizers take pride in the care they give their dogs. Straw—lots of straw—helps keep the dogs comfortable at the checkpoints. A team of over 30 veterinarians volunteer to tend to the dogs along the route.