Grueling Races Echoe Alaska Moving 0f 100 Years Ago

May 2, 2011 by Editor

The 39th running of the Iditarod sled dog race started Saturday, March 5, 2011. The mushers and their 12 to 16 dog teams will cover 1,131 miles from Anchorage to Nome on the Iditarod trail. They will take their chances scaling rugged mountain ranges and crossing treacherous frozen rivers, bleak and barren tundra, and the wind-battered coast of the Bering Sea. Whiteouts, sub-zero temperatures, wind-chills down to -100°F, lonely wilderness with up to 90 miles between checkpoints—those are a given. 

Alaska’s famous Iditarod may be the most grueling sporting event in the world. But, at its heart, this great race is really a tribute to the hardy souls that hauled the freight that kept early Alaska settlements alive during the winter months.   Truly, this was the Alaska moving services of those early days.

You’ve heard the story about the heroic relay of dog sled teams that brought live-saving diptheria serum from Anchorage to icebound Nome in 1925, but the history of the trail goes deeper than that. For centuries, the indigenous peoples of Alaska bred dogs for transport. From the 1880s through the 1920s, dog teams were used to get mail and supplies into the interior and bring out the gold.

For the purposes of hauling freight, dogs are amazingly powerful. The freight mushers typically used twenty or more dogs—each weighing about 75 lbs.—to haul a half a ton of goods. Where horses or oxen would have floundered in the snow and been impossible to feed, the dogs could live on wild game or fish. As well suited as dogs are to the environment, the transport and even the character of Alaska, more modern methods for Alaska movers eventually won out. The advent of the bush plane in the 1920s and finally the “snowmachine” in the 1960s replaced the loyal dog teams that had been a part of village life in Alaska for so long. 

The Iditarod is a reminder of the role that sled dogs played in the settlement of the last frontier. The competition over the next 9 to 20 days is really a reconstruction of the old freight route to Nome. Like the haulers of 100 years ago, the mushers travel from checkpoint to checkpoint—just a whole lot lighter and faster and certainly with more media coverage. 

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