Tom Bennett is our Curator at the Alaska Heritage Museum at Wells Fargo, in Anchorage. He has been involved with museums for 29 years as a Museum Attendant to Director.
Tom is involved is also involved with the Alaska Zoo and is currently a Board Member with the Alaska Museum of Natural History.
“Line out!” “Gee!””Haw!” “Let’s go!”
It’s that time of year in Alaska: The “Last Great Race” is on, and dog mushers from around the world are competing to be first with their team of dogs to across the finish line in Nome. This year, 71 dog teams (each with at least 12, no more than 16 working dogs) will traverse the 1,049 miles, (give or take a few), generally following the Iditarod National Historic Trail and battling whatever nature decides to hand them along the way.
Wells Fargo is proudly supporting this year’s Iditarod , as it has for 22 years.
The true champions of the “Last Great Race ” — to me at least — are the dogs. Definitely not household pets, these are lean, lanky, Olympic-quality, calorie-burning racers. That’s 10,000 calories a day, folks. The dogs train all year and get superb health care — they even get massages. (I’d take the massages. But I don’t think I can eat the equivalent of 50 cheeseburgers a day.)
Huskies are born to run. Running is their job, their play and their place in the sun. I know this because my folks had a Siberian Husky, who relished digging under the three-foot fence she could have leapt from a standing start, then would run around town looking for the dogcatcher because they were the only ones who might chase her. She would stand in the middle of the street waiting for them. They never once got within 20 feet of her.
Siberian Inupiaq brought their dogs, descendents of a mix of breeds including wolf, to Alaska more than a thousand years ago to provide transportation, pulling sleds across the snow and ice.
Dog teams have played an important historical role in Alaska, hauling for gold seekers stampeding to the Klondike, then on across Alaska as each new strike developed Dog teams sped serum to the people of Nome during the 1925 diphtheria outbreak. They have carried mail, food and gear to many points along the Iditarod trail….
The 1,000-mile Iditarod began in 1973 as an annual commemoration of the importance of sled dogs and their mushers in Alaska, and has since become an international event.
To help understand the undertaking of this amazing event, here are some statistics:
- Each musher provides 2,500 lbs of supplies, mostly dog food, distributed between 25 checkpoints along the trail. This year there are over 1,100 dogs to feed. Mushers strive to mix up 2,500 calories per pound of food. No burgers, though.
- It takes 9 to 12 days to run the Iditarod in weather that can be +40 to –60 anywhere along the trail. Lowest wind chill was in 1973 at –100.
- Veterinarians, all of whom are volunteers, fly from one checkpoint to the next as racers come and go.
- 8,000 to 10,000 people crowded the streets of Anchorage this year for the start.
- The oldest person to run the race was Norman Vaughan at age 86.
- In honor of this being Women’s History Month, 2 women have won the race: Susan Butcher four times, Libby Riddles once. This year’s field includes 17 women.
- Ellie Claus was the youngest woman to finish the race, at age 18. Dallas Seavey was the youngest man, also 18.
The Iditarod officially got underway this past Sunday, March 7, after a ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday. You can read more about it and follow updates and current standings right here. In the meantime, take a look at this video of AP’s coverage of the Ceremonial Run.