One of my favorite events each year is the Iditarod, the 1000-mile long sled dog race through the Alaskan wilderness. The 2012 edition of the race is set to get underway tomorrow with the ceremonial start taking place in Anchorage. At that start, 66 teams will parade down city streets before an enthusiastic crowd which will be mostly non-existant at the official start on Sunday, when they’ll take to the trail for the first time and begin the dash for Nome.
Billed as the “Last Great Race,” the Iditrod is never short on excitement and drama as some of the top mushers in the world go head-to-head across an always challenging course. The race commemorates a historic 1925 sled dog run in which teams raced to deliver medicine to combat a diphtheria epidemic that threatened the lives of many children in Nome. Now, many years later, it has become the most popular and famous sporting event in Alaska.
The course actually has two different routes which are used on alternating years in order to protect the trail. In even numbered years, like this one, the mushers take the Northern Route, which runs through Cripple, Ruby, Galena, Nulato, and Kaltag – checkpoints that aren’t on the Southern Route. The course is also slightly shorter this year due to a few changes in logistics. Instead of the usual 1049 mile length, this time out it will be a “mere” 975 miles instead.
This year’s field of racers is as deep as ever with some very familiar names competing for the top spot. Lance Mackey is back for another go of course, as is Jeff King. Both of those legendary mushers had talked about retirement after last year’s race, but it seems they can’t find anything better to do in Alaska in March. They’ll be challenged by Hugh Neff, who is coming off a great win at the Yukon Quest, and Dallas Seavey, one of the more promising young racers to emerge over the past few years.
Unlike other parts of the U.S., Alaska has had plenty of snow and ice this winter. That means the trail is going to be challenging, particularly out in the more remote areas. The lead teams will be forced to break trail much of the way, which can tire the dogs out, but considering the amount of experience in this field, I’d expect them to work well with one another – at least until Nome is in sight.
It should be another fun race to follow. Expect the winner to reach the finish line approximately 8 to 10 days after getting underway.
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