Just Short of Magic
March 6, 2018
It’s one of the most grueling races in the world and participants encounter blizzards, white out conditions and temperatures, with wind chills as low as -131 degrees.
Held in early March each year the Iditarod has come to symbolize the heartiness and determination of Alaskans.
A few race details from the infallible Wikipedia:
“The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Willow to Nome, entirely within the US state of Alaska. Mushers and a team of 16 dogs, of which at least 5 must be on the towline at the finish line, cover the distance in 8–15 days or more. The Iditarod began in 1973 as an event to test the best sled dog mushers and teams but evolved into today’s highly competitive race. Then a record, the second fastest winning time was recorded in 2016 by Dallas Seavey with a time of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes, and 16 seconds.”
In 2017 the race began on March 6th. A few weeks later I experienced a tiny sliver of what that adventure is like when I got to ride on a dog sled just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.
What I determined in the five days I spent there with my two best friends from high school, Cindy and Daphne, were the following:
- It takes a very sturdy person to live in the Alaskan interior. I would not do well there.
- Minus 26 degrees is really, really cold.
- Riding on a dog sled is a rush of an experience
I am forever grateful to my two friends for the once in a lifetime event. It was, as the name of the business stated, Just Short of Magic. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the temperature was 10 degrees.
In addition to the ride, we were instructed on how to harness the dogs to the sled and each got a turn driving the sled. As Daphne pointed out “it’s a good core workout!”
I also learned that the dogs are not all Siberian Huskies. In fact, most of their dogs were not Huskies. The dogs, however, must possess certain traits as follows:
- Thick paw pads
- Hearty appetite
- Want to pull 85 percent of the time
- Dense fur
If a dog does not have these four traits then Alaskans have a name for those dogs: pets.
Although the adventure was only a couple of hours it was, as their business name proclaimed, just short of magic. I relished the rush of cold air, the way the sled flew over the snow, the cacophony of the barking dogs, and the sparkle of the white snow.
And if you happen to find yourself in Alaska when the snow is still on the ground and the temperature is below freezing, this is my number one recommended thing to do!
For more information about the Iditarod, Wikipedia tells all: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iditarod_Trail_Sled_Dog_Race
And to book a dog sled experience: https://justshortofmagic.com/dog-sled-tours/
Update: People have been curious as to the origins of the Iditarod. Also from the infallible Wikipedia:
“The most famous event in the history of Alaskan mushing is the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the “Great Race of Mercy.” It occurred when a large diphtheria epidemic threatened Nome. Because Nome’s supply of antitoxin had expired, Dr. Curtis Welch refused to use it and instead sent out telegrams seeking a fresh supply of antitoxin. The nearest antitoxin was found to be in Anchorage, nearly one thousand miles away. The only way to get the antitoxin to Nome was by sled dog as planes could not be used and ships would be too slow. Governor Scott Bone approved a safe route and the 20-pound (9.1 kg) cylinder of serum was sent by train 298 miles (480 km) from the southern port of Seward to Nenana, where it was passed just before midnight on January 27 to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the package 674 miles (1,085 km) from Nenana to Nome. The dogs ran in relays, with no dog running over 100 miles (160 km).”