Iditarod mushers race to Nome
The first of the Iditarod mushers rushed past the finish line in Nome on Tuesday, with Mitch Seavey placing first and breaking the previous record time. Seavey beat last year’s champion, his son Dallas Seavey, by 2 hours, fifteen minutes and 42 seconds.
The last musher to arrive in Nome, Cindy Abbott, sled past the checkpoint about 2 minutes before 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 18. For finishing last and concluding the race, Abbot will be this year’s Red Lantern recipient.
For the third time in Iditarod history, “the last great race” made its way to a Fairbanks starting line. The race, which normally makes its 1,049 mile journey to Nome from its start in Willow, just North of Anchorage, was rerouted due to a lack of snow.
“It won’t be the easiest with long stretches and camping in the cold, but our dogs are used to it,” said Cody Strathe, a two-time veteran of the Iditarod, as well as a Yukon Quest veteran. Strathe finished 30th this year.
Although it may be hard to believe that Alaska could ever have a shortage of snow, officials say that the amount of snow required to keep the trails safe can be as much as 3 feet in some areas, specifically along the Alaska Range where the rocky and mountainous terrain can be bumpy. The new route will avoid most of the Alaska Range and continue west from Fairbanks towards Nome.
Despite the apparent lack of snow along the Alaska Range, Linwood Fiedler, an Iditarod veteran of 25 years, says that this was an easier training year.
“Throughout the state we’ve had decent snow. Those challenges that we’ve had the last couple of years without any snow have not been there,” Fiedler said. Fiedler was the 20th musher to reach the final checkpoint in Nome this year.
In addition to the altered route, teams were allowed to bring cell phones with them for the first time in the race’s history. Although this has been a point of controversy among some mushers, the impetus for such action comes from last year’s race where two mushers were attacked by a man on snowmobile. Left injured and with one dog dead, the mushers had no way of contacting authorities for assistance.
This year’s race hosts mushing teams from 8 different countries, making up a total of 72 dog sled teams; 55 veteran mushers and 17 rookies.
Last year’s winner, 28-year-old Dallas Seavey, was a four-time Iditarod champion and finished the 2016 race in 8 days, eleven hours, twenty minutes and sixteen seconds. Seavey’s 2016 win broke his own personal record by almost two hours. This year, Mitch Seavey broke his son’s record, finishing the race in 8 days, 3 hours, forty minutes and thirteen seconds, according to the race’s website.
The Iditarod race began under the guidance and inspiration of Dorothy Page, chairman of the Wasilla-Knik Centennial Committee 1964 and Joe Reddington Sr. Page and Reddington wanted a way to preserve the sled dog culture and help save Alaskan Huskies, which were being “phased out” at the time due to the increasing popularity of snow machines.
The historic Iditarod trail, which ran from Seward to Nome, was the route for the gold rush, as well as most mail delivery. A portion of the trail was also used during the 1925 “Serum Run,” in which much-needed medical supplies were delivered via dog sleds to the town of Nome during the outbreak of diphtheria.