Iditarod: Taking On The Last Frontier

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Iditarod 2010 (Photos by Frank Kovalchek)

Branded as “The Last Great Race,” dozens of dog sled teams will take to the icy Alaskan terrain in the 45th annual Iditarod next month.

Mushers and their dog teams traverse nearly 1,000 miles of frozen tundra, dense forests and shorelines, below freezing temperatures, blinding winds, periods of total darkness, treacherous climbs, two mountain ranges and hazardous overflow, which occurs when the ice becomes too thick and the water has nowhere to go, pushing up and over the ice. Crossing it is extremely dangerous.

While a majority of the mushers and their teams, including 12-16 dogs each, are from Alaska, this year’s race has drawn participation from teams in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Canada, as well as from across the globe, from Norway, Sweden, France, England, Czech Republic and Hungary. This year, 75 mushers and their teams are registered to compete on March 4. Seventeen of this year’s competitors are women; 58 teams are veteran mushers; 17 of those registered are new to the competition. Mushers hail from a large cross section of society too: fishermen, doctors, lawyers, miners, artists and Alaskan Native Indians, each with a varied reason for going the distance.

One rookie musher this year is Peter Reuter, 54, of Bloomingdale, NY, in the Adirondack Mountains. Reuter has been a musher since he was 18 years old. He moved to Alaska in 2012.

“I am running Iditarod for the challenge and joy of running 1,000 miles with incredible dogs through amazing terrain,” said Reuter.

Historically, the Iditarod Trail was a trail that connected a location approximately 50 miles (80 km) north of Seward, Alaska, where the Alaska Railroad ended, through Iditarod, AK, and then to Nome, AK. Mail and supplies went in; gold came out, all by way of dog sleds. The trail was once about 1,150 miles long.

New Yorkers may recognize the mention of the historical trail, as memorialized by the statue of Balto the Siberian Husky in Central Park. In 1925, a diphtheria outbreak had been diagnosed in Nome, AK. The Iditarod Trail was the only way in to deliver 300,000 units of antitoxin serum, flown in from Seattle, to save the lives of countless children. Musher Gunner Kaasen along with his dog team led by Balto completed the final leg to Nome.

The first Iditarod race for sport started in 1973. It will take many of the top teams more than 10 days to complete the race, no small feat. Now mush!

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