written by Gary Paulsen
illustrations by: Ruth Wright Paulsen
Bradbury Press/Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990
This past Saturday, March 6, 2022, forty-nine mushers and their teams of about 16 dogs each took to the 1,049 mile Iditarod Trail from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. Those who complete the race from first place through 20th, will get a percentage of the final purse, this year at least $500,000.00. The first place percentage, of course, is higher and decreases until the 20th place. Those who finish successfully after 20th place will receive $1,049.00, the customary prize.
You might wonder about the significance of the prize money and the distance of the race itself. The actual mileage from Anchorage to Nome is about 1,000 miles. The extra 49 miles were added to honor the entrance of Alaska as our 49th state. The extra miles include a southern route, run in odd years, and a northern route in the even. Here's a link to the Trail map.
The journal entry in today’s quote is from author Gary Paulsen’s book Woodsong. He kept that journal for his 1983 race which he finished in 17 days; 41st place out of 54 teams.
To run a team in the Iditarod, you must submit proof that you’ve completed at least two races of 300 miles each and one race of 150 miles. Paperwork regarding good health and humane treatment of the dogs, a list of sponsors, and the entry fee is also required.
To keep the finances in perspective, this year the early entry fee of $4,000.00 increased to $8,000.00 for those who registered after November 30, 2021. Add equipment for the dogs and the musher: travel costs, pre-race vet checks, sled maintenance costs, harnesses, booties for the dogs, dog food, musher food, fur hood ruff, headlamps, goggles, dog coats and leg protectors and you can expect a reasonable estimate of $8,000.00 more.
Inspired by a life or death mission to deliver anti-diphtheria medicine to Nome, Alaska, in 1925, the race always begins on the first Saturday of March. The first Iditarod began on March 3, 1973.
That year, John Schultz earned a red lantern (kind of a booby prize) for his slowest time: 32 days, 15 hours, nine minutes and one second, a record that still holds.
The quickest time was Dick Mackey’s 14 days, 18 hours, 52 minutes and 24 seconds. That record has held since 1978.
Even though it's popular to think the race is over when the first musher crosses the finish line with their team, the Iditarod is not over until the last musher has reached Nome and is off the trail. A lamp called a Widow’s lamp is lit in Nome at the start of the race and hung at the finish line. When the last team crosses the finish line and leaves the trail, the lamp is extinguished and the race is officially over.
As a safety measure, the dogs are microchipped. They also wear tags with their musher’s bib number and a letter. According to iditarod.com, “The dog collar and microchip is rechecked each time the dog is moved along his/her trip [back] to Anchorage. Once in Anchorage, the information is checked by the crew that will transport the dogs to the Eagle River Correctional Institute where a group of inmates care for them until the mushers’ handlers arrive to take them home. The prisons also have a copy of the paperwork and a microchip reader. Each dog is rechecked when picked up to insure the correct dog is released to the handler.”
My own relationship with animals goes back pretty far, even though we were not allowed to have pets with fur. Mom and Dad told us it had to do with walking, cleaning up, and the generally huge responsibility of caring for something totally dependent on us (read them).
As I grew up, I suspected it had something to do with the heartbreak my mom experienced when my grandma sent Mom’s dog off to war. Mom was 18 years old at the start of the Second World War, and Blackie had been a true and loyal friend since he was a pup. When the call for volunteer dogs was sent up from the U.S. Army, Grandma answered with Blackie.
He didn’t come home.
So we had a series of short-lived, unnamed goldfish and longer-lived turtles, all named Oscar, the later ones with Roman numerals after their names, Oscar II, III, IV and so on. I’m not sure how many Oscars are in the ground behind the house where we grew up and I don’t know why we named them all Oscar.
But no dogs.
I’m a cat person. I’ve shared my life with fifteen cats, so far. Two are still in my care. Except for getting their own food and cleaning their potty, they are independent. Neither one likes to play very much. They’re content with a little lap time and some ear scratching.
They don’t like snow. They don’t like long treks in inclement weather. They don’t like wearing booties. Tristan didn’t mind getting dressed up, though. He wore a little polka-dotted tie for special occasions.
Needless to say, I won’t be running races with or without a dog, and especially not with a cat. But the weather in northern Ohio is slowly getting warm enough for a leisurely walk to the library.
stay curious! (and warm)