Alyssa Bobst is Program Support Coordinator at Smithsonian Journeys. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, with minors in International Studies and Arabic, from Washington University in St. Louis. Recently, she got a taste of the Iditarod, in advance of our new 2010 Iditarod tour. Click here for Alyssa’s full bio.
Musher and 2009 Iditarod winner Lance Mackey at the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage. Photo: Alyssa Bobst
Jeff King, four-time winner of the Iditarod Race, stood right in front of me signing an autograph for an awe-struck teenage boy. In the next street over Lance Mackey, soon-to-be winner of the 2009 race, was talking to an animated reporter of a local news channel as fans and volunteers clamored around him for a picture. In the early hours of the morning, Anchorage was waking up and preparing for the Ceremonial Race Start activities before the mushers hit the Iditarod trail to work their way to the finish in Nome.
Commemorating a challenging history in wild Alaska, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has become a highly competitive sport. What began in 1973 as a project to celebrate Alaska’s Centennial Year now draws mushers from all over the world. Prior to the 1920s dog teams were used to cover rough terrain that was highly impassible for everything except dog sleds. The Iditarod Trail was a heavily traveled route used to carry mail, transport supplies to small isolated communities, and take gold out. In 1925, dog sleds carried medication to combat a diphtheria epidemic in Nome. With no other way to reach the residents, the mushers and their dogs saved many lives.
I learned the history of the Iditarod Race and why it is important to Alaska’s identity from locals, volunteers, and others in my tour group. During this time of year, the Iditarod is the only thing people talk about and they were delighted to share their knowledge with me, a first-timer to Alaska and the Iditarod. The Race attracts mushers, volunteers, and thousands of visitors from all over the world coming together and creating an international community to witness “The Last Great Race on Earth.” (more…)