The 2014 Iditarod sled dog race got underway this past weekend with some of the best mushers in the world setting off on a 1000-mile journey through the Alaskan backcountry. They’ll now spend up to two weeks out on the route battling the terrain, the weather and each other. Those mushers, and their dog sled teams, are following a trail that holds both historic and cultural significance to the state, where the Iditarod remains the biggest sporting event on an annual basis.
The race began on the streets of Anchorage last Saturday, where the event held its ceremonial start in front of a large, cheering crowd. That first leg runs just 11-miles, ending at the nearby Campbell Airstrip. On Sunday, the race officially got underway as the teams restarted from the town of Willow. They’re now out on the course and rushing toward the traditional finish line in Nome, a point that the eventual winner will likely reach sometime early next week.
The Iditarod Trail follows the same route that teams of dog sledders used to famously deliver serum to fight a diphtheria epidemic that had broken out in Nome back in 1925. The medicine wash shuttled nearly 675 miles in just five and a half days, arriving in time to save the lives of numerous young children that were stricken by the disease. That historic event made headlines across the globe and turned Balto – the lead dog on the final team – into a media sensation.
The first Iditarod race took place in 1973, with the original organizers seeking to recapture the spirit of the mushers who made that dramatic medical run to Nome 48 years earlier. With its deep ties to Alaskan history, the event immediately captured the imagination of the state. Over the years, it has grown into the biggest annual sporting event there, with most Alaskans following the race closely. In time, the Iditarod even became a world wide sensation, with fans following along across the globe.
Over the years, the field of competitors has grown substantially. This year there were 68 mushers who took to the starting line, all of whom are hoping to find glory out on the trail. This year’s field is once again a strong one with a number of past champions amongst the favorites. Mitch Seavey, last year’s winner, is looking to repeat that success, while his son Dallas, who won in 2012, would love to finish first once again. Four time champ Martin Buser is always a tough competitor, as his Jeff King, who perennially lurks near the top. As for the female racers, Aliy Zirkle seems to be the odds on favorite to finish amongst the front runners. She has been close to winning the whole thing over the past couple of years, but has come up just short. Perhaps this could be her year to break through.
You can follow the 2014 Iditarod at Iditarod.com.