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Iditarod underway in Alaska

 

Four-time Iditarod champion Doug Swingley poses with lead dogs Cola (left) and Stormy after crossing the Iditarod finish line first in 2000.

Four-time Iditarod champion Doug Swingley poses with lead dogs Cola (left) and Stormy after crossing the Iditarod finish line first in 2000.

Love it or hate it, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is underway in Alaska.  This year the race has 67 teams, down from last year’s record high of 96 teams.  The poor economy is believed to have taken a toll on entries.  It costs $4000 just to enter the race and a great deal more to breed, maintain and train packs of sled dogs for the race over the course of a year.  Some sponsors of the race have also cut their Iditarod budgets because of the economy.

 

 

But the race still goes on, covering 1,100 miles from Willow, just outside Anchorage, to Nome.  There are 52 veteran mushers and 15 rookies in this year’s field.  Two-time defending champion Lance Mackey is looking for his third consecutive win.  He will have to go up against the likes of four-time winners Jeff King and Martin Buser, who are trying to match Rick Swenson’s record five titles.  King finished second last year, while Buser was fifth.  Mitch Seavey, who won in 2004, will be looking for his second championship.

 

The Iditarod commemorates a lifesaving relay run through Alaska’s wilderness to bring medicine to Nome during a diphtheria epidemic in 1925.

 

2321848760_c368535453_mThe race usually takes about nine days to complete through sub-freezing temps and hazardous snow trails.  Deep snow buries the middle portion of the race this year.  The journey could take longer this year because of heavy snowfall.

 

“I don’t think we’re going to set any speed records, that’s for sure,” said two-time champion Lance Mackey, pausing between stops to sign autographs and pose for camera-toting fans.

Mackey is a fan favorite. A cancer survivor and one-time commercial fisherman, he is the only musher to win both the Iditarod and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International back-to-back in the same year. He accomplished that feat twice, in 2007 and 2008.

“This puts everybody on a pretty level playing field,” he said of the heavy snow conditions. Still, he said, “realistically, the old familiar faces are the ones to watch.” (more)  

This year’s winner will take home $69,000 and a new truck.  The total purse is $650,000.

 

2332472166_d2c12c76e9_mSome animal rights activists claim that mushing is cruel to dogs but mushers and fans of dog sledding maintain that the dogs have been bred to run under these conditions and love mushing.

 

According to the L.A. Times:

…sled dogs are bred for and live for this kind of competition, and seem to achieve the same sense of satisfaction their handlers feel after a successful, if long, bitter-cold day on a blustery wilderness trail.

Lance Mackey this year will try to three-peat as Iditarod champion with a lead dog named Larry. Larry was part of Mackey’s “dream team” in 2007, when he won the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest 20 days before winning the Iditarod.  

That was a feat some said couldn’t be accomplished, and what made it more remarkable was that Mackey, instead of mixing fresh dogs into his Iditarod team, harnessed 13 of his Yukon Quest dogs for the start of the Iditarod.

After winning he told the Anchorage Daily News: “The farther we went, the better they got. It was like adding coal to a freight train. I just kept shoveling the food into them and they got stronger and faster and better as we went. It was an amazing thing to witness.”

Mackey, who once lived in a tent, is grateful for Larry, just as all great mushers owe their success to their lead dogs. Five-time Iditarod champ Rick Swenson, in fact, named his son, Andy, after his lead dog.

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March 9, 2009 - Posted by | dogs, General, Pets | , , ,

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