Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Rules

I won’t go into all of the Iditarod rules, as they make up a 15-page document, but if you’re curious, you can download a PDF of the complete rules here:

The one rule I’ll note regards the supplies and equipment that must be carried by mushers in their sleds at all times:

  • Proper cold weather sleeping bag weighing a minimum of 5 lbs.
  • Ax, head to weigh a minimum of 1-3/4 lbs., handle to be at least 22” long.
  • One operational pair of snowshoes with bindings, each snowshoe to be at least 252 square inches in size.
  • Any promotional material provided by the ITC.
  • Eight booties for each dog in the sled or in use.
  • One operational cooker and pot capable of boiling at least three (3) gallons of water at one time.
  • Veterinarian notebook, to be presented to the veterinarian at each checkpoint.
  • An adequate amount of fuel to bring three (3) gallons of water to a boil.
  • Cable gang line or cable tie out capable of securing dog team.
  • Functional non chafing harness for each dog in team.

The “promotional material” refers to envelopes stamped in Anchorage and later postmarked in Nome, then sold to fans to raise funds for the race. This tradition goes back to the first Iditarod in 1973 and commemorates the Iditarod Trail as, among other things, a mail route.

Also, something relevant to Saturday’s ceremonial start: tonight, a banquet was held in Anchorage where mushers drew their starting positions for the race. Their position numbers will be listed on their bibs, which they must wear at the ceremonial start, the restart, from the White Mountain checkpoint to the Safety checkpoint, and from the Safety checkpoint to the Nome finish line.

At the ceremonial start and the restart, mushers and their dog teams will leave in two-minute intervals according to their position/bib number. The time differential is adjusted during each musher’s mandatory 24-hour layover.

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DeeDee Jonrowe Goes Hi-Tech

There’s an interesting article in today’s Alaska Dispatch about DeeDee Jonrowe, one of the Iditarod’s most popular mushers. Jonrowe mushed her first race in 1980. She has completed 28 Iditarods, with 2 second place finishes and 15 top ten finishes.

The article describes how she’s working with a medical imaging service called Raven Infrared to “map” her dogs and create a digital library of them showing areas of increased blood flow. Such areas could suggest the early stages of injury–for example, where a dog is pulling too hard or having some other difficulty. Such information allows a musher or veterinarian to catch problems early and address them before they become serious.

Full story here:

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Lance Mackey: “My Main Guys Are Sitting on the Bench”

Lance Mackey

Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey won’t be mushing his main dog team in this year’s race. In an interview with Iditarod Insider, Mackey says the team he ran in February’s Yukon Quest is “not up to par” for the 2013 Iditarod.

Mackey had a disappointing Quest race this year. After dropping half of his original 14-dog team, he was forced to scratch at the Dawson City checkpoint, only a third of the way down the trail. Mackey will be using only four of those Quest dogs for the Iditarod, the fewest he’s used in years that he has run both races.

The new team is made up of young dogs Mackey was preparing for next year’s Iditarod, as well as dogs that didn’t make the cut for the main team. Mackey likens his predicament to an NFL team going to the Super Bowl without its key players. “My main guys are sitting on the bench,” he says.

Mackey dominated the Iditarod from 2007 through 2010. He is the only musher to win the 1,000-mile race four consecutive times. After his 2010 victory, however, the bottom seemed to fall out of his racing. In the 2011 Iditarod, he came in 16th place. He did even worse in last year’s race, placing 22nd in a field of 52 finishers. With the scratch in this year’s Yukon Quest, Mackey is just looking for a clean race. “I am in the Iditarod,” he says. “I don’t know how much of the racing part of it I’ll be in.”

Speaking of the finish line in Nome, Mackey declares, “I’ll still have a smile on my face when I get there, you know? And I will get there. It just might take me a little while.”

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Aliy Zirkle’s State-of-the-Art Dog Sled (Updated)

Above is a cool video (in two parts) of musher Aliy Zirkle showing off her dog sled. She has used the same sled for all 12 of the Iditarods she has raced in thus far, and she’ll use it again for the 2013 race.

In Part 1, Aliy describes the sled’s exterior. In Part 2, she shows all of the supplies and equipment that go into the sled basket and how the basket is packed.

These Iditarod mushers carry a lot of equipment on the trail. I think the only thing she’s missing is a television set.

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Iditarod 2013 Musher Roster

We’re just four days away from the start of the 41st Iditarod. Profiles of the 66 mushers entered in this year’s race can be found at

Clicking on the name beneath each photo takes you to a biography of the musher.

As in past Iditarods, most of the mushers in this year’s race are from Alaska. However, there are a few mushers from the lower-48 states and from outside the U.S.: Canada, Brazil, Norway, New Zealand, Russia, Jamaica.

Jamaica? Yes, you read that right. Oswald “Newton” Marshall from St. Anne’s is part of the Jamaica Dogsled Team, sponsored by songwriter and “Margaritaville” resident, Jimmy Buffet. In 2006, Marshall traveled to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory to train with four-time Yukon Quest champion Hans Gatt. Marshall became the first Jamaican to complete the Yukon Quest in 2009, coming in 13th out of a field of 29 mushers. He also became the first Jamaican to finish the Iditarod in 2010, coming in 41st. He scratched in the 2011 race. Not wanting to end his Iditarod career with a scratch, Marshall arrived in Alaska this past summer to train with dogs from Kelley Griffin’s kennel for the 2013 race.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s a healthy contingent of Native Alaskan mushers in this year’s race: Louie Ambrose, John Baker, Josh Cadzow, Rudy Demoski Sr., Michael Williams Sr., Michael Williams Jr. Demoski is something of a surprise. He ran in the second Iditarod in 1974, finishing 4th. He raced his last Iditarod in 1985. He says he’s missed training dogs for the past three decades, and in recent years, after watching friends compete, he decided he wasn’t getting any younger. This will be the 67-year-old Demoski’s seventh Iditarod try.

The Iditarod mushing dynasties will also be well-represented: Jason Mackey, Lance Mackey, Ray Redington Jr., Dallas Seavey, Mitch Seavey, Cim Smyth, Ramey Smyth.

Who am I looking to win this year’s race? With the Iditarod, you’re mushing on thin ice picking a single favorite, so I’ll name a few. Last year’s winner, Dallas Seavey, will definitely be the musher to beat. We’ll see if he’s at the beginning of a stretch of Iditarod wins. I’ll personally be rooting for Aliy Zirkle, mainly because she came so close last year, finishing second behind Dallas. Her husband, Allen Moore, won this year’s Yukon Quest and is also racing in this year’s Iditarod. However, Aliy will be running the best dogs from the Yukon Quest team, so that gives her an edge. Lance Mackey, who dominated the race from 2007 – 2010, has had problems with his dog teams the past few years and scratched from this year’s Yukon Quest. However, you can never count the four-time Iditarod champion out.

One name I’m not seeing on a lot of favorites lists this year is John Baker. The 2011 Iditarod champ holds the fastest time of any Iditarod winner, and he has finished in the top ten in 13 out of his 17 races. He’s definitely a musher to keep your eye on this year.

So who are your favorites?

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Noah Pereira Wins Jr. Iditarod

Jr. Iditarod

Congratulations to 16-year-old Noah Pereira for becoming the first non-Alaskan to win the Jr. Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The Clarkson, New York, resident won the 150-mile race this weekend, beating last year’s winner, Conway Seavey, by only four minutes. Conway is the younger brother of Dallas Seavey, last year’s 1,000-mile Iditarod champion.

This year’s Jr. Iditarod ran from Knik to Yentna and on to the finish line in Willow.

It was a surprisingly steady race given that Pereira reached the halfway point in Yentna ahead of Seavey—by four minutes! However, Pereira did say that in the last 50 miles, Seavey had closed the gap to one minute. Pereira made a push in the last 10 miles to extend his lead and cross the finish line first.

This was Pereira’s first outing in the Jr. Iditarod. He becomes the sixth rookie musher to win it.

Coming in third was 17-year-old Jenny Greger of Bozeman, Montana, 33-minutes behind Seavey.

Here’s a link to the final standings:

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Raise the Red Lantern

If you’re following the Iditarod, over the next few weeks you’ll hear references to three things that are part of the  race’s annual ritual: the Burled Arch, the Widow’s Lamp, and the Red Lantern Award. For those new to the race, here are explanations.

Burled Arch

The Burled Arch

During the first Iditarod in 1973, as leader Dick Wilmarth and his dogs made their way down Nome’s Front Street, someone in the crowd realized there was no official finish line. Thinking quickly, the person grabbed a package of Kool-Aid and poured the crystals across the snow where the finish line should have been. It was, arguably, the most delicious finish line in racing history.

The following year, an official banner was put up, but when the last musher crossed beneath it–a gold miner by the name of Red “Fox” Olson–he felt the race needed something more substantial, more permanent. Olson built the original Burled Arch as a gift to the race. It lasted from 1975 to 1999 before succumbing to dry rot. The arch was remade and added to the 2000 race and is still used today.

The arch is made from a spruce log with two distinct burls, or knots. One burl reads “Anchorage” across the top and “Nome” across the bottom, the cities where the race starts and finishes. The other burl reads “1049” across the top and “Miles” across the bottom. The crossbeam reads “End of Iditarod Sled Dog Race.”

1049 miles is the symbolic distance of the Iditarod. The 1,000 signifies that the race is at least 1,000 miles and the 49 commemorates Alaska as the 49th state added to the U.S. The actual distance varies depending on whether the northern or southern routes are followed, where the restart takes place, whether certain checkpoints are dropped as a result of bad weather, etc. The actual race distance usually falls between 1,100 and 1,200 miles.

Widow's Lamp

The Widow’s Lamp

Each year on the first Sunday in March, the Iditarod Trail Committee lights a small gas lantern and hangs it from the Burled Arch. Called the Widow’s Lamp, it remains lit until the last musher is off the Iditarod trail. The extinguishing of the lamp by the final musher signals the official end of the race.

The ritual is somewhat similar to the lighting and extinguishing of the Olympic flame. However, the tradition actually replicates a practice followed during Alaska’s gold rush, when sled-dog teams hauled freight and mail over the Iditarod trail. Because freight and mail mushers often battled darkness and inclement weather, word would be relayed whenever a dog team was on the trail, and the roadhouses along the trail would each light a kerosene lamp and hang it outside to help the musher find his way. It also signaled to others that a dog team was on the trail and people should look out for it. The lamp would not be extinguished until the dog team safely reached its destination.

Ellen Halverson

Ellen Halverson with her Red Lantern Award at the end of the 2011 Iditarod.

The Red Lantern Award

The Red Lantern is an award given to the Iditarod’s last place finisher. The tradition began as a joke during the 1953 Fur Rendezvous Race and was passed on to the Iditarod. Over the years, however, it has become a symbol of perseverance. Today’s mushers feel a proud sense of accomplishment when receiving the Red Lantern Award.

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Rohn Buser Withdraws from 2013 Iditarod

Rohn Buser

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Rohn Buser, the 23-year-old son of four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser, has withdrawn from this year’s race. Rohn has completed two Iditarods, coming in 18th place last year. In 2012, he won the Kuskokwim 300 and the Iditarod’s Most Improved Musher Award. However, according to Martin, Rohn’s disappointing sixth-place showing in this year’s Kuskokwim 300 may have contributed to his decision to withdraw.

Rohn is the fifth musher to withdraw from this year’s Iditarod.

There’s a silver lining for Martin. Each year, he and Rohn take turns picking the best dogs from their Happy Trails Kennel for their respective Iditarod teams. With Rohn bowing out, Martin will be have a bigger group of top dogs to choose from.

The full story can be found here:

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Hugh Neff Slams “Egoist” Iditarod Champs

Hugh Neff

Yesterday on his blog, Hugh Neff, the 2012 Yukon Quest champion, Iditarod veteran, and Cat-in-the-Hat enthusiast, slammed certain “egoist mushers from the 80s” who have raced in the Iditarod for decades but have thus far avoided the less famous Quest.

The Yukon Quest is another 1,000-mile-plus sled-dog race that takes place every February and runs between Whitehorse, in the Canadian Yukon, and Fairbanks, Alaska. Established in 1984 by mushers who wanted a long-distance sled-dog race with fewer checkpoints than the Iditarod, the Quest follows the more interior mail and transportation routes used during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s. It’s a race many mushers consider more physically demanding than the Iditarod, one that one of its founders, LeRoy Shank, hoped would “put a little woodsmanship in it.”

The Chicago-born Neff is a big supporter of the Quest and has completed it ten times. He placed 2nd in this year’s race behind another Quest and Iditarod veteran, Allen Moore, who, interestingly enough, lost last year’s Quest race to Neff by a mere 26 seconds.

However, according to Neff, there are other, unnamed mushers who look down their noses at the Quest, past Iditarod “champs” who “demean newer mushers on ‘their’ trail and treat their dogs with disrespect.” Neff goes on:

Is dog mushing all about sponsors and financial gain? “Well, the purse just isn’t big enough to be worth it…” Are they worried about how organized that other 1,ooo mile race is? Well then why not provide expertise in helping it evolve? Is it the cold Alaskan interior weather? Temps have hovered way above zero over the last few years– warmer on average than the Last Great Race’s have been. Whatever their excuses it really is pathetic. Alaskans lead by example, unfortunately these prominent mushers glued to earning incomes off of Mr. Redington’s dream are the worst role models the Greatland has.


Much of what is behind Neff’s displeasure is that he feels the Iditarod, with its focus on winners and expanding purses, has lost much of the spirit that its founder, Joe Redington Sr., was after: the spirit of adventure, the spirit of Alaska, and the spirit of sled-dog culture. Neff believes the Yukon Quest still embodies this spirit.

It will be interesting to see if Neff’s words lead to speculations about his reason for skipping this year’s Iditarod. Ostensibly, he’s skipping it to participate in the Finnmarksløpet in Norway, which starts March 9th. After reading his post, will anyone see his absence as a diss?

Stay tuned.

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If you’re like me, you grew up associating dog sledding with the oft-heard command “Mush!” After all, there’s a reason they’re called “mushers.” Perhaps you saw it in a movie. Jack London uses the command in The Call of the Wild. According to Wikipedia, its derivation is the French-Canadian command “Marche! which means “Go!” or “Run!” English-Canadians may have heard this as “Mush!” and before you know it English-speaking sledders everywhere became mush-mouths.

Today, the more commonly used command for dogs to go is “Hike!” (don’t ask me its derivation), or, more simply, “Let’s go!” Sled dogs don’t need a lot of incentive to go–they’re usually bursting out of their harnesses when they sense it’s time–so a musher could probably use any command. “Purple azaleas!” might work just as well. Or “Discount checking!”

Here’s a list of commonly used musher commands.

Hike! Let’s go! All right! Commands to go.

Gee! Command to turn right.

Haw! Command to turn left.

Come gee! Command to turn right 180-degrees.

Come haw! Command to turn left 180-degrees.

Straight ahead! Obvious.

Easy! Command to slow down.

Whoa! Command to stop.

Trail! Request to other mushers to have the right-of-way on a trail.

Line out! Command telling lead dogs to pull the team straight out away from the sled. It is usually used while hooking dogs up to the gangline. has a complete list of mushing terminology and definitions here:

So, what are you waiting for? Go grab your dog and a leash and give it a try with your bicycle or skateboard. (Toy dogs not recommended.)

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