It’s the first Saturday of a new Anchorage March; countless mushers patiently wait through the 40 degree calm to test their skill and commitment. It’s a warm day today, though knowledge of dangerous temperatures and frigid wind soon to come weighs heavily on those experienced in such matters.
This line is merely ceremonial; the actual race won’t begin until tomorrow. At 2:00 PM, the first teams will depart on their way to Nome, leaving in two minute intervals, until all of the teams have left. Though the fastest winning time (8 days, twenty hours) is held by a musher named Dallas Seavey, the race can last much longer (almost 14 days for the ‘red lantern’ winner in 2016).
What are these champions of the tundra racing for? Well, the prize has changed through the years, but the 2016 first place was no less than a $75,000 purse, though the top thirty placers are recognized.
The temperatures? Well, lows have been known to reach -20 degrees Fahrenheit. No one has yet died in this race, however temperatures plummeted to an unbelievable record low of -130 (with the wind chill) back in ’73. Thankfully, no one was caught without shelter.
Alaskan Iditarod – the Race Begins
An intimidating twenty two checkpoints lie ahead from Willow to the relative safety of Nome, approximately nine hundred and twenty two miles through some of the harshest terrain and unforgiving weather mother nature has to offer.
Over the Alaska Range and down the other side to the Kuskokwim River, into the interior and on to the mighty Yukon; a river highway takes Alaskan Iditarod teams west through the arctic tundra. The route encompasses large metropolitan areas and small native villages, drawing an enormous amount of attention annually.
What are the tools of the Alaskan Iditarod trade?
A team of twenty one highly trained and fiercely devoted Siberian Huskies stand ready to plow through any obstacle ahead, bred and conditioned for this sole purpose. To happily face gale- force winds and deadly negative temperatures, much more is required. A cold-weather sleeping bag, an axe, a pair of snowshoes, fuel, cooker and pot, and dog booties and harnesses are all required tools.
By ‘cold weather sleeping bag’ I don’t mean the 50 degree rated bags at your local convenience store; these things are often triple layered, and quite a bit heavier. All mushers carry methanol and a specialized cooker large enough to heat at least three gallons of water.
Do you think you have what it takes to match these champions of the tundra?