Man, Dog & Sled- Toughest Race On Earth

Posted

With some 1,000 miles of frozen landscape to conquer, Alaska’s annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is no ice-cream picnic.

Few sporting events claim extreme weather as a fundamental racing challenge. For 8-15 days or more, humans and canine contend with nature’s arctic fury. Blinding blizzards are common and gale force gusts can send wind chill temperatures to -100 F (-73 C).

Mushers are known to experience hallucinations induced by dehydration and sleep deprivation.

Kicking off in Anchorage, ending in Nome and depending on the year’s route, mushers work their dogs around the clock through roughly 20 checkpoints across open tundra and spruce forests.

By rule, rest is mandatory only three times, one 24 hour layover at a checkpoint of choice and two 8 hour stops at other predetermined locations.

Sled drivers start off with 12-16 of the preferred husky breeds but must finish the race with at least 5 in tow. Dogs are dropped off at checkpoints if they fatigue or become injured.

Over the years, a number of these ultramarathoners died on the trail, including from attacks by moose.

The self-proclaimed “Last Great Race” took off in 1973 as homage to Alaska’s indigenous heritage and mode of winter transport.

Dog teams delivered mail and supplies in the 19th century to remote mining towns on a main trail named after a river post- Haiditarod- or “distant place” in the Ingalik tongue.

The advent of the plane in the 1920’s and snowmobile in the 1960’s essentially killed the sled as a work vehicle.

Popular in northern countries, dog sledding had its shot at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid (1932) and in Oslo (1952) but failed to pick up traction. It remained a demonstration sport and never gained official event status.

But the popularity of the Iditarod launched interest in the canine snow pursuit and some of the races today read like NASCAR on ice: the Kobuk 440, the Kusko 300, the Klondike 300, and the Copper Basin 300.

In 2016, with his lead dogs Reef and Tide, Alaskan Dallas Seavey recorded the fastest ever Iditarod race time in 8 days 11:20:16. In comparison, the inaugural chase in 1973 was won in no less than 20 days.

The sponsorship purse is relatively low compared to mainstream professional sports. That year, Seavey took home $75,000 in cash winnings and a new pickup truck.

But at the finish line, the true champions are the four-legged athletes. Despite their specialty breed, these heroes brave life trudging and lugging at 5-12 mph across America’s biggest state.

Try accomplishing that feat on two legs.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

BASEBALL April 2, 2010  Former MLB pitcher Mike Cuellar dies at the age of 72. A 2x World Series champion and 4x All-Star, Cuellar started off with the Cincinnati Reds in 1959 and played for 5 teams, spending the most years with the Baltimore Orioles. He won the AL Cy Young award in his first season with the dynastic Orioles and was their starting pitcher at the 1969 World Series against the NY Mets. Cuellar closed his career with an ERA of 3.14 and 1,632 strikeouts.

20 years ago

BASKETBALL April 2, 2000  At the 19th Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship, the Connecticut Huskies defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 71-52. Led by their famed coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskies claimed their second national title. They would win another 9 championships and become the nation’s most successful women’s basketball program to date. The Connecticut ladies dispatched Penn State at the Semi-finals before taking on Tennessee for the crown.

30 years ago

GOLF April 8, 1990  Nick Faldo wins the 54th annual Masters Tournament held in Augusta, Georgia. Shooting a 278 (-10) and tying Raymond Floyd in the final round after the latter bogeyed on the 16th hole, Faldo emerged victorious in the playoff showdown. It was his second consecutive win at the Masters and third of what would be six career majors. Born in Herdforshire, England, Faldo turned pro in 1976 and has won more majors than any other modern European golfer.

40 years ago

OLYMPICS April 12, 1980 The U.S. Olympic committee announces their boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. A total of 66 countries chose not to attend the games due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, 80 other nations did agree to send their athletes to the first Olympics that were held in a communist country. Four years later, the Russians and their East European allies would follow-up with a boycott of the Los Angeles games.