Posts Tagged ‘iditarod’

Video: Iditarod – Where the Dogs are Braver than the People

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The Iditarod is considered to be “The Last Great Race on Earth”, but the rock stars of the event aren’t the people, they are the dogs. The most well-known breeds are the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute, but during the Gold Rush era, there were teams of Foxhounds and Staghounds. Most recently, the Alaskan Husky breed has been the most popular to be used competitively. Smithsonian Journeys Program Manager Alyssa Bobst had the opportunity to see the best of the best up close and personal while volunteering as a dog handler. You can read about her experience here.

How amazing are these dogs? Sled dogs have been known to travel more than 90 miles in a 24 hour period while pulling 85 pounds each. They can burn as much as 14,000 calories per day during the race. Mushers must put their total trust and faith in the world-class athletes of the dog world. But are their mushers a little nervous as they face 1049 miles in the freezing Alaskan weather? According to this well seasoned expert, they shouldn’t be nervous – they should be scared.

Would you compete in the Iditarod?

Sing The Iditarod Trail Song with Hobo Jim while getting up close and personal as a volunteer dog handler on our tour: The Iditarod: Alaska’s Race Extraordinaire

Iditarod: Q&A with Rich Montagna

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Rich Montagna is a professional photographer and tour guide with more than 30 years experience exploring and photographing the Alaskan frontier. He founded one of the first companies to offer tours of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Here, we sit down with him to talk about what brings him back to the race year after year.

Iditarod Racers. Photo: Rich Montagna


Smithsonian Journeys: What is unique about the Iditarod race and what does it mean to Alaskans?

Rich Montagna: There really isn’t another event in North America that pits man and dog together against such harsh conditions as a dog sled race across the Alaskan wilderness. The Iditarod  was the first race to do this and was started by a small group of mushing enthusiasts who wanted to bring mushing back into the villages. From that start it has grown into the world famous event it is now. Alaskans consider it to be the greatest adventure sporting event in the world and it is their own.

SJ: The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was run in 1973. How did the Iditarod Race become the “The Last Great Race on Earth”?

RM: In 1978 a British reporter named Ian Woolridge, wrote an article about the race. In the article he used the words, “The Last Great Race on Earth” to explain his thoughts and observations about the race. Later the Iditarod committee got permission from Ian to trademark the term.

SJ: Thousands of fans and volunteers from all over the world return each year for the Race. Why does the Iditarod continue to draw an international audience?

RM: People love dogs, and the excitement of the thousand or so frenzied sled dogs at the start is quite the experience. People also love adventure and I think many vicariously experience the challenges and rewards of traveling through wilderness areas of Alaska on a dog sled by following the race and getting to know the mushers and what they endure along the trail. It has to be one of the greatest adventures in North America.

SJ: What kind of dogs race the Iditarod?

RM: Most Iditarod sled dogs are Alaskan Huskies, a mix of different breeds that have been selected to optimize their ability to pull a sled over a long distance at a fast trot. At the core of mix is the Siberian Husky, a working dog who was born to run and pull and is well suited to the arctic climate. Other breeds that have been mixed in include hounds, greyhounds, whippets, labs and others. These mixed breed dogs have now developed into lines of dogs that have their own pedigree.

SJ: How are the dogs cared for along the race route?

RM: First off each dog has a computer chip inserted under its skin that is scanned at the checkpoints for identification. At the checkpoint veterinarians will check each dog for general health, sore feet, injuries and dehydration. The vet has the authority to pull a dog from the team if they feel it is unfit to continue. Along the trail the mushers rest and snack their dogs usually every few hours or so, check feet, change booties if they need to and make sure the dogs get enough calories and water to keep them going. At the checkpoints the dogs have straw to lay on and are always watered fed and looked after before the mushers takes care of themselves.

SJ: What happens to a dog if it gets hurt while on the trail?

RM: The musher will put the injured dog into the sled bag that is on the sled and carry it to the next checkpoint where the vet will examine and treat the dog. If the dog has to be dropped from the team it will be flown back into Anchorage and taken to an animal hospital if needed or to the dropped dog lot at the Eagle Correctional Institute where the inmates care for them until they are picked up.

SJ: All of the dogs are extreme athletes. How many calories does a dog typically consume per day?

RM: During the race their average consumption is about 10,000 per day.

SJ: What got you into leading groups to the Iditarod Race and why do you continue year after year?

RM: I had lived for a number of years in the McGrath checkpoint on the Kuskokwim River and saw how much friends of mine who came to watch the race enjoyed mingling with the mushers, being volunteers and feeling like they were a part of the event. So I started a tour company that gave the clients as much of the Iditarod race experience as I could. Some of my clients tell me their Iditarod tour has been one of the best experiences they have ever had and I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with my clients making sure they get the most from their Iditarod adventure.

SJ: The Iditarod Race is almost fully run by volunteers. What volunteer opportunities are there for Smithsonian Journeys travelers?

RM: The Smithsonian Journeys travelers will be able to go through the Iditarod dog handler certification training if they choose and then be able to help bring the dog teams up to the starting line at the restart in Willow. They can also choose to work security at the race starts.

SJ: You’re also a photographer. Do you have any tips of advice on shooting the dogs during the race?

RM: I have a series of shots that I tend to do each race. In the early morning I wander the through the starting area photographing the dog teams in their boxes or being pulled out and hooked up. This is also a great time to get close-up photos of the mushers. I use a wide angle (12-24mm) telephoto lens and a mid length (28-105mm) telephoto lens. I also bring a flash unit. After the race starts I go to the end of the road at the 1st turn and use a long lens (200mm or longer ) to photograph the teams coming at me and taking the corner. On Sunday I do the same thing at the restart in Willow.

Click for your chance to travel to the Iditarod with Smithsonian Journeys.

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Photo: Shoes? For Dogs?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009
A handler fits a dog with protective booties at the Iditarod. Photo: Alyssa Bobst

A handler fits a dog with protective booties at the Iditarod. Photo: Alyssa Bobst

You don’t usually think of your dog needing shoes, but the dogs at the Iditarod Sled Dog Race wear them to keep their feet dry and to keep snow and ice from painfully packing into the spaces between their toes. The booties stay on with Velcro (TM) and a typical musher uses about 1,500 during the course of the Iditarod. The booties, which are changed at each rest stop, are washed and reused but they are subject to so much wear and tear that musher suppliers provide them in bulk lots of 3,000. Booties can be one of the biggest expenses incurred by mushers each year. Besides the booties, dogs also wear coats, which keep them warm during rest periods.

The dogs are big eaters, too, each consuming up to 14,000 calories per day during the race. Meals for dogs include a balance of dry food, meat, fat, and plenty of water. Dogs typically eat three large meals per day during the Iditarod, with plenty of snacks in between. We’ve heard that they love fish as a high-energy trail snack.

See the action of the Iditarod for yourself on our brand-new Iditarod experience. We’re excited to bring you this uniquely Alaskan race in 2010. Smithsonian Journeys Program Manager Alyssa Bobst has already checked it out for you; you can read her blog here.

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Video: Head Vet Technician at the Iditarod

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Talk about a “cool” jobthe head veterinary technician at The Iditarod Sled Dog Race has just that!

Here, Discovery’s Kasey-Dee Gardner talks to Jan Bullock, who is in charge of taking care of the canine athletes racing in the Iditarod.

Video: Courtesy of YouTube/Discovery News.

See the race for yourself on our Iditarod experience.

What’s your favorite sporting event? Share below.

The Excitement of the Iditarod

Monday, June 15th, 2009

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, Alaska. Photo: Alyssa Bobst

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…)