Iditarod, the world famous trail sled dog race, kicked off amidst much fanfare from downtown Anchorage, last Saturday. Now in its 38th year, the race attracted 71 teams comprising of a musher (sled dog team leader) and a crew of between 12-16 dogs.
This 'last great race on Earth' as it is often called, involves trekking across 1,150 miles of the harshest, most pristine terrain on the planet, that testing the endurance of both man and beast, as they conquer jagged mountains, frozen rivers and dense forests in below freezing temperatures and often against blinding winds.
Amongst the participants this year, is defending champion and three-time winner, Lance Mackey, who hopes to become the first person to win the race for four consecutive years. Also competing is the record holder, Rick Swenson, who has won the race five of the twenty years he has competed.
The competitors pass through 25 checkpoints during the journey, which ranges anywhere from 11-16 days, depending on the speed. While it always takes place on the historic Iditarod trail, from Anchorage to Nome . the route alternates between even and odd years. This year, the competitors will be passing through Finger Lake and Rainy Pass, before going over the Alaska Range and down to the other side of the Kuskokwim River.
As in all sports, the team is only as good as its individual members, which in this case means the selection of strong dependable dogs. While there are several sled dog breeds that can be used, the most commonly used are purebreds like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, both known for their endurance and speed.
The most important member of the team is the leader. Also important are wheel dogs, the workhorses that help pull the sled out of the snow. Other positions include 'point' and 'swing' dogs.
Every competitor has a winning strategy - some feed their dogs a special diet, while others run only during the night, preferring to rest during the day. Whether they come in 1st or 71st, they are all welcomed into Nome, with the same amount of excitement and enthusiasm. To read more about this amazing race and track the 2010 leaders check out www.iditarod.com.
sources: iditarod.com, latimes.com/blog