Duchess Digest: On Location at the 2013 Iditarod Sled Dog Race
By Jill Brown
The Fur Rendezvous Winter Carnival in Alaska is considered by many to be the biggest and best winter carnival in the world. One of the highlights is the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage. This sled dog race is over 1,000 miles long and has been happening for several decades now, with a range of international Mushers (that’s what the men operating the dog sleds are called) winning over the years since it started. I was lucky enough to be at Fur Rendezvous and to attend the start on Saturday, March 2nd.
Watching the Iditarod was always a fond memory from my childhood, as thousands of local Alaskans line the streets to watch these dog sled teams take off through the city. And to see the excitement and energy of these dogs is amazing! They are insanely ready to run. One of the local dog sled enthusiasts told me from the sidelines that the dogs are fed somewhere close to 5,000 calories a day to keep enough fuel in their lean, performance bodies to run like they do. When you’re there in the streets with them, they are whining to go. Literally whining, and yelping and jumping to run the second they are slipped into their harnesses.
The Iditarod, like all things in life, is not without controversy though. There are many animal welfare organizations, for instance P.E.T.A., that feel dog-sledding is a cruel sport and in reality, dogs do sometimes die during the extreme conditions of the elements and exhaustion from racing. I mean this race is no joke. Most mushers finish in the nine to thirteen day range, and are crossing one thousand miles in barren conditions and below freezing temperatures, so you can see how humans and dogs alike are at risk. There are regular veterinarian stations across the villages of Alaska on the trail route for check-ups and dogs are “scratched” for their own safety regularly, but it’s still a risk for everyone involved.
From what I observed on location (albeit from the safety and warmth of the ceremonial start in Anchorage) the dogs are very well cared for and the crucial element of each musher’s team. All involved in the race seem concerned for their safety and for the preservation of this Alaskan, and now global, event and tradition. The race means a big happening for the remote and tiny Alaskan villages it travels through and signals an end to the long, intense winters of Alaska.
The official Iditarod start for 2013 was on Sunday, March 3rd, so you can follow the race’s progress for yourself in real time and decide what you think. It’s certainly a test of strength and stamina in a competition that is truly about man and dog vs. the nature of Alaska. It was an exciting experience to get to witness first hand.
Jill Brown is an Anchorage, Alaska based writer and blogger. She earned her Bachelors in Humanities and Sociology from USU and is the founder of “The Duchess Guide” a website dedicated to sharing the ups and downs of life in Alaska. For more on The Duchess Guide or Jill visit: http://theduchessguide.com/
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