Monday, January 6, 2014

Iditarod Facts!

Alaska's history is filled with stories of its colorful past including the Native history, Russian culture, the gold rush era, and the early days of living in the "Last Frontier." However, one of the most unique icons of Alaska is Dog Mushing. Even today, residents still get asked if they mush to work!" The most famous event to result from this mushing history is the Iditarod - a 1,049 mile race from Anchorage to Nome. At Alaska Stock Images, you will find a wide variety of Alaska photos including dramatic Iditarod Photos. To find more pictures of Alaska or photos of the Iditarod, visit our search page.

Before the Iditarod race existed, dog mushing was simply a mode of transportation. In a country that is snow-filled and ice-covered more months out of the year than it is summer, mushing was an efficient mode of travel. Never was this clearer than in 1925 when a case of diphtheria broke out in Nome, Alaska. The only serum available was located in Anchorage. Although airplanes were considered, the only two available had been dismantled for the winter in Fairbanks. The decision was made to send the serum from Anchorage by rail as far as it could go which was Nenana. From their began the famous relay of mushers who brought the serum to Nome in about one weeks time using the already well established route known as the Iditarod. The longest stretch of the run was by Leonard Seppala who left Nome to meet the serum in Shaktoolik. He then turned around and passed in on to Charlie Olsen in Golovin. Having traveled a total of 260 miles in -30 degree temperatures, Seppala earned himself a place in the history books.

The idea of having a sled dog race to commemorate the life-saving serum run was first conceived by Dorothy G. Page in 1964 while working on a committee for the 1967 Alaska Centennial. Dorothy presented the idea to Joe Redington Sr. รข€“ a well known musher in the Knik area. With incessant promotion from Page and Redington, the first Iditarod race was held in 1967 with a purse of $25,000 and was a mere 27 miles long. By 1973, with the help from Alaska's National Guard, the entire historic trail had been cleared and the first 1,000 plus mile race was held. In 1983 that the official "start" was moved to Anchorage with a second "re-start" in Wasilla on the following day. The Iditarod race alternates each year between two routes - the northern and southern. This allows both sections of the historic trail to be utilized as well as provide the small villages equal opportunity on both routes to participate in the race. Although the most recognized and famous distance of the race is 1,049 miles, the actual distance varies each year and is in excess of 1,100 miles on odd numbered years using the southern route.

Although the Iditarod Race Committee has an annual budget of nearly two million dollars, the event relies heavily upon volunteers. The volunteers help on everything from sewing the thousands of dog booties to being checkers along the 20 plus checkpoints along the trail. The "Iditarod Airforce" is an all-volunteer fleet of pilots and their planes that shuttle supplies, veterinarians, other volunteers, food and even dogs to various locations along the trail. Volunteer veterinarians from across the nation and sometimes the world volunteer their time to participate. Volunteer trail breakers with their snow-machines keep the trail clear and marked for the mushers. The "logistics" staff in Anchorage is often made up of retired volunteers from the lower 48 who want to experience their little piece of the race and provide much assistance to keeping the most current information available to the public by answering phones and updating the Iditarod website. The "Official Iditarod Photographer," Jeff Schultz, has also volunteered his time for well over 20 years in pursuit of the ultimate documentation of the Last Great Race.

Although the Iditarod is a trek into the wilderness and is often a personal challenge as much as a race, the rules and regulations set forth by the Iditarod Committee are strict and designed to keep the dogs and mushers safe. Each musher and team must adhere to the following: Carry at all times a cold weather sleeping bag of at least 5 lbs, ax, snowshoes, eight booties for each dog (that's about 128 booties per musher and over 8,000 booties used for all teams!!), cooker and cookpot, three bottles of Heet (fuel), and 8 lbs of emergency food beyond the normal amount needed for the dogs. Dogs are examined regularly along the trail for signs of fatigue, illness, or injury. The dogs dine like kings during the race, wolfing down 5,000 calories or more each day. Their food includes lots of protein and fat. Some mushers make their own concoctions from ingredients like fish, hamburger, beef, horse meat, lamb, beaver, moose, caribou, and sometimes even seal meat.

A musher may start with as many as 16 dogs and must finish with at least five - none of which can be "added" to the team after the beginning of the race. Food, hay, and other supplies for dogs and mushers are shipped out to each checkpoint in advance, but it is entirely up to the musher to prepare, cook, and take care of his team. Any outside assistance other than in an emergency will disqualify a musher. An extensive list of rules (download PDF document) designed to provide a fair and safe race for both mushers and dogs are posted each year to the Iditarod website.

Regardless of the weather or trail conditions, the race always goes on. In 2003 when trail conditions were so bad due to an unseasonably warm winter, the race start was simply moved to Fairbanks - a first in the history of the race. This is another example of the long standing spirit of the race...regardless of what mother nature throws at you, the pioneering and adventurous spirit prevails. With vast amounts of unsettled space, treacherous conditions, and extreme temperatures, the Iditarod is a race only possible in Alaska!

As recently as 2009, in celebration of Alaska's 50th Anniversary of Statehood, the Iditarod was featured on the US Postal Service stamp honoring Alaska's Statehood. The photo taken by Jeff Schultz is of alpenglow colors reflecting off the mountains found in the Rainy Pass area with DeeDee Jonrowe mushing her way to Nome.

Recalling the many times she and Jeff Schultz have traveled the Iditarod trail together DeeDee remarked, "It is humbling to be part of the image chosen to represent Alaska as the U.S. Postage Service recognizes our beautiful states 50th birthday. I have been blessed to live my dreams for over a quarter of a century combining my love of my dogs, my passion for this beautiful state, and to experience adventure beyond my wildest imagination. Thanks to Jeff Schultz's god-given talent for capturing that on film, I now have the honor to celebrate this through this stamp."

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