The sled dogs were used as a source of transport in Alaska for more then six thousand years. In the 19th century – just before the arrival of the Russian fur traders – the Iditarod Trail was used by the native American Inuit and Athabaskans. The usage of dog sleds was improved by the first gold seekers that started to appear in the territory of Alaska in the middle of the 19th century. Soon after the big gold rush in the 1896, the number of gold seekers in the Klondike reached several tens of thousands and the value of the sled dogs was appreciated quite soon. The provisions they bought mostly in the town of Knik and brought back to their various mining areas around the area of the Klondike.
In the end of the 19th century in the summer period, the most significant source of communication and transportation link between the port cities was a steamship. In wintertime, when the biggest ports like Nome became icebound and the steamship usage as a source of transport link with other sea ports was useless, the only choice that was left and that seemed to be quite reasonable and acceptable was the usage of dog sleds. During winter time dog sleds were used to deliver needed supplies between the trading posts and settlements.
In 1908, the trail was officially surveyed by the Alaska Road Commission of the United States Army. Before airplanes came into common use in 1924, the trail was heavily used for a mail delivery service between Seward and Nome. A dog sled team that diverted tragedy in the next year captured the attention of the whole world. In 1925, a diphtheria epidemic broke out in Nome, where there was no serum. Many people were dying, including a lot of children. Twenty teams of mushers carried the serum from Anchorage to Nome. They made the 674 miles in 127 hours. This serum run that was done from Anchorage to Nome is also known as the “Great Race of Mercy”. The mushers and dog teams became heroes in the whole world overnight.
As soon as good roads were built in the territory of Alaska and the snowmobiles and airplanes started to appear in the middle of the 20th century, the sled dogs started to lose their significance. For more than forty years the Iditarod Trail was nearly forgotten. But thanks to Joe Redington Sr. and Dorothy Page in the 1960s sled dog racing came back to life. With the help of groups of other people, they both are considered as the Father and the Mother of the Iditarod. The first Iditarod race started in 1967 and it was only a nine miles long race between Knik and Big Lake. Since then this race is more known to the masses as the “Last Great Race”. Since 1973, the race happens every year. The race currently starts in Anchorage although the old Iditarod trail actually started in Seward. This race is a real challenge because of its length – over 1,160 miles of Alaskan frozen terrain in blistering cold where wind chill reaches -100° F (-75° C). Usually the mushers and the sled dog teams complete the race in about two weeks. This is a symbolic race where people pay their respects to the heroes of 1925 that delivered the serum from the Anchorage to the Nome during a diphtheria epidemic.
Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Alaska
- Going To The Dogs At Iditarod
- Learn About the Iditarod Race and Dog Mushing in Alaska
- Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
- Plan your Alaska holiday around the Iditarod sled dog race for an unforgettable experience
- John Baker Finishes 3rd In Iditarod 2009