All About Alaska - Part 1

The Iditarod, Iditarod Sweep Tour, and Ice Road Trucker Tour

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Photos courtesy of Carol Watts

Ice Road

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Photos courtesy of Carol Watts

Sled dogs

This is the first in a special series on Alaska by travel columnist Carol Watts.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race started with a dream by Joe Redington Sr., known as the Father of the Iditarod, to commemorate the role played by sled dogs in Alaska’s history and culture. Throughout the history of the native people of Alaska, sled dogs have served as the only viable means of transportation in a frozen wilderness.

As the gold rush brought more people to the interior of Alaska, dog sleds were used to deliver mail, food and gold to and from the mining towns. Dog sled teams and their mushers have become a symbol of the pioneering spirit in Alaska. But as roads, railways, planes and most of all snowmobiles became common in Alaska, the noble sled dog and the part it played in the history and culture of Alaska started to fade.

Many know of the famous Serum Run of 1925, when dog sled teams were called on to deliver diphtheria serum to the population of Nome. Planes were unable to fly in the stormy weather and the Bering Sea was choked with ice. No roads or railroads came anywhere close to Nome — and still don’t to this day. Teams of sled dogs delivered the life-saving serum, traveling over 674 miles from Menana near Anchorage to Nome in 5-1/2 days.

The first Iditarod Race was run in 1973, on the 100th anniversary of the United States’ purchase of the Alaskan Territory from Russia.

This year’s Iditarod XXXVIII will have its ceremonial start on the first Saturday in March — March 6, 2010 — in Anchorage. The official restart of the race will be in Willow.

It will take the contestants from 9 to 15 days average to cover the more than 1,100 miles to Nome. You can see a historical documentary video on the official Web site, www.iditarod.com. Known as The Last Great Race on Earth, the Iditarod has helped to make dog mushing the state sport.

Idita-riders

You too can be a part of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race for just a little cash. Every year people bid to be an Idita-rider on the 11-mile trip from Fourth Ave. in Anchorage to the Campbell Airstrip in Bicentennial Park. Last year, eight sleds received top bids of $7,500 each.

The Iditarod Trail Sweep Tour

For a mere $25,000 you can be one of three participants to follow the teams on snowmobiles along the trail, spending 15 nights at checkpoints in shelter cabins, and tents.

The Ice Road Trucker Tour

Exclusively with Salmon Berry Tours, this is your opportunity to have a fully guided tour of the Carlile Transportation yard at the Port of Anchorage, tour a state of the art sleeper truck, followed by a 10-minute adventure in the Ice Road Simulator. A bargain at $99, you can experience what it’s like to be an ice road trucker on the Dalton Highway.

Salmon Berry Tours offers many more winter fun excursions, including the Iditarod Starting Line Event in Willow. Check out the “chute” where dogs and mushers ready for a start every two minutes for $125, including transportation.

The Northern Lights Late Night Special includes transportation from Anchorage to the Talkeetna Roadhouse for a home-style meal. A local expert on the skies will explain what’s going on in the Alaska night sky, including the Northern Lights, constellations, and why the sky looks different here. A trip to the river to see the Northern Lights and transportation back to Anchorage end this $299 adventure.

Finally there is the Ultimate Iditarod Package, nine days, from March 1 through March 9, exploring Anchorage, Turnigan Arm, Girdwood, Talkeetna, and two major checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail: Willow and Rainy Pass. Also included is a snow mobile tour to a glacier and an opportunity to see the Northern Lights. Transportation and accommodations costs $3,025.

Winter is a great time to visit Alaska. Many local festivals are held in the winter, including the Fairbanks Ice Festival.

Comments

Margery Glickman 4 years, 10 months ago

For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race.

During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running.

The Iditarod is not a commemoration of the delivery of serum to Nome. For the facts, go to http://www.helpsleddogs.org/faq.htm#4 .

The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

Margery Glickman Director Sled Dog Action Coalition, http://www.helpsleddogs.org

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