Most of us have heard of the Itidarod - a grueling race across Alaska for mushers and their team of dogs. The Iditarod is happening right now! But before you catch up on the events, you'll want some backstory to this epic journey.
Even after airplanes were invented, dogs in Alaska were used continually for local transportation and day-to-day work, especially in Native villages. Mushers and their dogs even played extremely important roles in World War II, helping Eskimo Scouts patrol the wilderness.
Even after the war, short and medium distance teams were common. When President Kennedy was announcing that the U.S. was putting a man on the moon, Alaskans were still using dogs! The abandonment of dogs only started coming when the "iron dog" (aka snowmobiles) started being used.
In 1964, the Wasilla-Knik Centennial Committee was formed to look into Alaska's historical events over the past century. 1967 marked a significant history, the 100th anniversary of Alaska being a U.S. Territory. Chairman of the Committee, Dorothy Page, suggested that a sled dog race take place over the historic Iditarod Trail. Joe Redington, a wanting to preserve the place of a historic gold rush and mail route, joined forces with Page to put together a new sprint sled dog race.
It took volunteers to clear the trail, and eventually, the Iditarod became a long-distance race. Redington, who came up with the idea of it being long distance, had a lot of discussion with mushers so that they could come up with the best and safest race. The U.S. Army helped clear more portions of the trail and with the support of the Nome Kennel Club, the race when all the way to Nome.
The winner of the first Iditarod was Dick Wilmarth, taking nearly three weeks to get to Nome.
Redington was passionate about this race to save the sled dog culture and Alaskan huskies, which were both fading out because of the introduction of snowmobiles. He also wanted to preserve the historical Iditarod Trail between Seward and Nome.
Since then, the Iditarod has become Alaska's best-known sporting event, despite financial ups and downs. Now, mushers receive thousands of dollars every year from corporate sponsors. The tradition of dog mushing is still well and alive.
Check out updates about this year's race as Iditarod's website. Happy mushing!