It’s called “The Last Great Race on Earth.” The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a grueling, nearly 1,000-mile trek through Alaska, from Anchorage to Nome. This year’s race, Iditarod XLI, begins March 2, 2013, when a total of 66 mushers — drivers of the dog sleds — and their teams of 16 dogs each will take on the challenge.
The race typically lasts 10 to 15 days, and the actual mileage varies from year to year. This being an odd-numbered year, the race travels the northern route and totals 975 miles (the race takes the southern route in even-numbered years). In 2008, John Baker set the record for the fastest finish: eight days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, and 39 seconds.
FOLLOW THE 2013 IDITAROD RACE ONLINE
Warm weather forced several changes ahead of this year’s Iditarod. Several qualifying events were postponed, canceled, or rerouted due to lack of snow. That’s had a significant affect on first-time mushers. To qualify for the Iditarod, mushers must complete at least two 300-mile races along with several smaller races for a total of 750 miles, and the warm weather has made that a challenge for newcomers.
There’s been other drama, as well. Five-time champion Rick Swenson dropped out of the race, citing personal reasons. It’s the first time since 1997 that Swenson, the winningest musher in history, won’t compete.
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You can follow the action on video through the official Iditarod website. Free registration gives you access to ad-supported video content, such as race documentaries, and the ability to get email alerts on your favorite musher. Subscribing as a Video Insider ($19.95) gets you commercial-free video content, including the live start of the race, the ability to track up to five mushers with email alerts. The GPS Insider package ($19.95) lets you track the action in real time by linking to the GPS devices on the sleds. If you don’t want to miss a thing, the $33.95 Ultimate Insider package combines the Video Insider and GPS offerings.
SEE HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE IDITAROD RACE
The Iditarod race isn’t for adventure-seeking dilettantes. Preparation is intense. Since they’ll be dealing with frigid conditions and rugged terrain, mushers must be in top physical condition. They also need to know how to care for the dogs and maintain their equipment, as well as possess wilderness survival skills. Prior to the start of the race, mushers must pack and ship all of the food (for dogs and humans) they’ll need to the 22 checkpoints along the trail.
If you’ve wondered what it takes to embark on a 1,000-mile dog sled race through the Alaskan wilderness, you can check out behind-the-scenes footage from some of the musher teams. Last year, Dallas Seavey became the youngest-ever Iditarod winner at age 25. Seavey’s team sponsor, J.J. Keller & Associates, has a website dedicated to Seavey’s quest in this year’s race, including videos on how to do equipment maintenance and cooking on the trail.
SP Kennel, sponsor of last year’s runner-up Aliy Zirkle, has a YouTube channel chronicling its teams’ journey to this year’s Iditarod, as well as footage dating back to 2010. Additionally, the Discovery Channel has a lengthy video playlist — culled from its documentary Iditarod: Toughest Race on Earth — that provides insight into how teams prepare for the Iditarod race.
Which mushers will you be tracking in this year’s Iditarod? Have you ever thought about trying it yourself? Let us know in the comments section.