In downtown Anchorage, Alaska on Saturday, The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began, as it always begins: on the first Saturday in March.
Shortly before the race, a ribbon-cutting ceremony is held under the flags representing the home countries and states of all competitors in the race. The first musher departs at 10:00 a.m. The race will last approximately 9 days. The following video shows footage of this year’s ceremony.
Thank-you YouTube Channel Wochit News for this newsworthy video.
The race’s namesake is the Iditarod Trail, which was designated as one of the first four US National Historic Trails in 1978. The trail in turn is named for the town of Iditarod, which was an Athabaskan village before becoming the center of the Inland Empire’s Iditarod Mining District in 1910, and then becoming a ghost town at the end of the local gold rush. The name Iditarod may be derived from the Athabaskan haiditarod, meaning “far distant place”.
The Iditarod race began as a tribute to the most famous event in the history of Alaskan mushing: the 1925 Serum Run to Nome, also known as the “Great Race of Mercy.” A diphtheria epidemic threatened Nome, and the nearest quantity of antitoxin was in Anchorage. Since the two available planes had never been flown in the winter, the governor approved a safer route. The cylinder of serum was sent by train from the southern port of Seward to Nenana, where it was passed to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the package 674 miles from Nenana to Nome. The dogs ran in relays, with no dog running over 100 miles. The Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balto arrived in Nome just five and a half days later. The two became media celebrities, and a statue of Balto was erected in Central Park in New York City in 1925.
All dogs are examined by veterinarians before the start of the race. All dogs are identified and tracked by microchip implants and collar tags. On the trails, volunteer veterinarians examine each dog at all of the checkpoints. The dogs are well-conditioned athletes. Training starts in late summer or early fall and intensifies between November and March; competitive teams run 2,000 miles before the race. Also, the dogs’ smiling faces and wagging tongues will show you just how much they love to mush.