Now that the Super Bowl is over, it’s time to turn our attention to a real test of grit and endurance. No oblong balls tossed around a grass field. No helmets or shoulder pads. No roaring crowds or smiling cheerleaders or meticulously choreographed halftime shows. Just men, women, and dogs pitted against the worst nature has to offer.
On March 2nd, the 41st Annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race gets underway in Anchorage, Alaska. In two-minute intervals, each sled-dog team (69 teams are slated to go thus far) will line up and start beneath a banner strung across downtown Anchorage’s Fourth Avenue, the ceremonial starting line for what has come to be known as “The Last Great Race.”
The ceremonial start is not the official start of the race, but the beginning of an 11-mile parade through the heart of Alaska’s most populous city and out across its environs. It’s an opportunity for fans, family, friends, and news media to view the mushers and their dog teams up close before they tackle the sparsely inhabited Iditarod Trail, a gold- rush-era freight and mail route snaking over 1,000 miles through the Alaskan interior to Nome on the Bering Sea Coast. The official race start, or “restart,” as it’s called, takes place the following day in Willow 70 miles north.
As the dog teams take on the desolation, challenging topography, and extreme and unpredictable weather of the Alaskan Bush, I will be covering the race via this blog–from the warmth and safety of an apartment Outside. “Outside” is how Alaskans refer to the lower-48 states (or, sometimes, anywhere outside the state), which is why this blog is called “Iditarod from Outside.” Wildly popular in Alaska, and an important part of the state’s heritage and culture, the Iditarod gets little attention Outside, save for an occasional mention in the sports sections of local and national newspapers. The race is not covered by any of the major American sports television networks.
I myself am new to the Iditarod. Although I’ve been aware of the race’s existence for some time, I only began to seriously follow it last year, when Dallas Seavey became the youngest Iditarod champion at the age of 25. Now, after learning more about the race, I’m hooked–or, rather, harnessed! Through this blog I hope to harness others. (Of course, Iditarod aficionados are welcome to peruse the site and should feel free to correct any misstatements or misunderstandings in the comments section below.)
This month, for those unfamiliar with the Iditarod, I’ll post background information on the race: its origins, history, the people who made it possible, notable events and mushers, terminology, and other odds and ends. Then, starting March 3rd, I’ll cover the race itself with daily updates on team standings. During the race, I may post more than once a day if anything noteworthy happens.
Typically, the winning team crosses the finish line in Nome nine days after the race’s official start. However, I’ll continue covering the race until the nose of the last lead dog passes beneath the “Burled Arch” five or six days later.
I’m excited about this year’s race, and I hope some of my excitement rubs off on you.