The Iditarod, the world's longest dog sled race, starts on the first Saturday in March every year. Iditarod Trail is an old mail route, 1, 151 miles long, connecting Anchorage to Nome. The Iditarod celebrates loyalty, courage, and important role of sled dogs in the history and culture of Alaska and North Pole people.
For thousands of years, the Native Americans used dogs to move in search of food, trade, and communicate with others in the winter. When settlers began to arrive in Alaska, they too used sled dogs for delivering mail, food, and gold. The town of Nome lies on the Bering Sea Coast. In the winter of 1925 an epidemic of diphtheria hit the children of Nome.
Airplanes could not fly in the winter storms, no roads or railroads came close to Nome, and the sea was frozen. Eighteen teams and their mushers took turns to bring the medicine. Balto, the famous lead dog of the team, was honored for his work. A statue of Balto was placed in New York City's Central park.
With development came snowmobiles, airplanes, cars and railroads. The sled dogs were being neglected. This bothered many people. Joe Redington, Sr. decided to start the Iditarod race in 1973. Many people thought that the dogs would never make it to Nome. It took nearly 3 weeks to finish the race. Now, the losing team takes about 2 weeks to finish the race, while the winner finishes it within 10 days. Since then, the annual Iditarod race is a significant cultural event in the lives of the people of Alaska.
A team of 16 dogs and a musher (sled driver) make an Iditarod team. No help is allowed for the teams. Every musher must spend lot of time caring, and feeding the dogs. The musher must earn respect from the dogs, and the dogs will earn the musher's respect. In frigid Artic conditions they have to depend on each other to survive.
In the Iditarod race, men and women, young and old, all compete for the same prize. People from many nations participate in this race now. In 2003, Robert Sorlie of Norway was the first foreigner to become champion Iditarod. Everyone competes equally on the uninterrupted terrain of ice and frozen ground in the winter. Mushers help each other and for them the companionship of being on the trail is far more important than the competition. This race illustrates that when man co-operates with animals, even the hostile environment is liveable.