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Iditarod 2016, The Last Great Race on Earth

First there was the Yukon Quest held in February then followed by the Iditarod, the most storied race in dog sledding and incomparable to any other race in the world.  The Alaskan race is one that spans 1000 miles through some the most roughest and beautiful terrain that Mother Nature can offer.   The biggest obstacle beside the trail itself is the temperatures that plummet below zero degrees Fahrenheit and winds that cause loss of visibility.  The race begins in Anchorage in south central Alaska to Nome on western Bering Sea coast.

This is an event for all of Alaska and it’s so embraced in its culture and history. The race pits man and animal against nature in the wildest that Alaska will present.   The Iditarod trail is now a National Historic Trail which began as a mail and supply route from coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the outlying mining camps.  Not only did the trail get so dependent on the dog sleds because of mining but to bring medical supplies to fight off Diphtheria which ravaged Nome.   Through the years the town and villages relied heavily on their services that one could see why they are part of lore of Alaska. The race also was way for the sled dog culture to be preserved and the Alaskan huskies which were being phased out by snowmobiles.

The race itself is very unique in the way mushers and their dog teams maneuver through the geography.   The mushers come all over the world to compete even though the winnings are sparse in comparison to the winners in other sports.  Most of the mushers rely on financial sponsoring and assistance to be able to afford the teams of dogs.  A lot planning and strategy goes into this race along with year round training.

This year’s field has brought together teams from all over the world. The team that persevered in the end was Dallas Seavey, who set a new Iditarod time of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 11 seconds.  He beat his dad, Mitch Seavey by 45 minutes.   This is Dallas’ fourth Iditarod victory and a follow up to last year.   It appears Dallas is on his way to being the most celebrated musher of all time because he is only twenty five years and looks like he can do this for another twenty years.   The take home prize was $75,000 and new truck which may seem meager capered to other sports but that number keeps getting higher every year.

This year had its troubles aside for the lack of snow in Anchorage, a tragic crash when a snow mobile ran into a couple of teams of dogs and killed one and injured others.   The accident happened at night and the driver admitted he shouldn’t have been out driving. He was charged with various counts of criminal misdoings.  In addition, a lot of the mushers were ill prior to race start with various degrees of flu and cold symptoms.  Twelve mushers out of the starting 85 have to quit.  Seavey said he felt horrible when the race started and didn’t feel somewhat better until the second half of the race.

Of course we have the dog athletes that are beloved by their owners and are treated with the utmost care and respect.   The lead dogs of Dallas Seavey’s team are Reef and Tide.  At his victory speech Seavey credits his dogs for pulling him through the nights due to his illness and his fatigue that was a battle through the whole race.   This is just one reason the Iditarod is a great race like no other in the world.

To see the way the towns along the trail embrace the mushers and dogs is really special. You have to remember that this is Alaska in the winter and the population in these towns is not booming with people.  The citizens come out of the wild winter to celebrate and cheer on their participants. I love seeing that this event is still going strong almost a hundred years later, kind reminds me of the other great race in the world, the Tour de France.



Surfboards, Dog Sleds and Toyotas Rule

When the Super Bowl hoopla ends, the media coverage landscape expands and all of the other cool things in sports finally get more publicity. The three I want to mention are the Yukon Quest Dog Sled race in Alaska, the Titans of Mavericks Surfing Contest and the Daytona 500. All of these epic events are arguably the marquee events in their sport.  The Yukon Quest is the 1000 mile dog sled race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse in Yukon Territory.  The Titans of Mavericks is the most intense big wave surfing contest that happens in Half Moon Bay, California. Lastly, the Daytona 500 which every racing fan loves more than any other road race.

The Titans of Mavericks surf competition is of course the world famous and long running spectacle held in Half Moon Bay, California. The epic waves that are enormous 30 to 50 foot high behemoths full of spirit and unpredictability are only ridden by a select few.  Almost every surfer has a wipe out in the competition and depending how bad your spill sometimes determines how well you will do in the competition.   Nic Lamb an American for Northern California outlasted 23 competitors and a big wipe out to capture the $120,000 purse.

If you don’t know much about the Mavericks event and you are curious about surfing or like watching like most of us, you can find plenty of documentaries and YouTube clips to get the feel of the event. The event has grown beyond cult status to a must see event for surf fans and even curious lookee loos.   The 24 contestants were given 48 hours to get to there from all around the world.  Last year there wasn’t an event because the waves never got to the size that warrants the competition.   This year the waves were consistently coming in at 35 to 40 feet all day.

The next on my list is the Yukon Quest held in Alaska and the Yukon Territory which just finished up on February 15th.   The Yukon race is the granddaddy of all sled dog races and it too separates the well prepared and trained from the lesser.  It is a 1000 journey through all kinds of conditions of weather and terrain.  It is a true test of capacity of humans and canines and a tribute to the strength of ancient bond that unites them.   Of course the Quest is not the most compelling of spectator event s but more of a scene to be part of as the towns of the north embrace their competitors and the beloved sport  as their own.

This year’s winner was Hugh Neff an Alaskan musher who crossed the finish line 9 days after starting the race. The 48 year musher won it once before in 2012 and this year he remarkably lead the majority of the race.   This year, the contestants had to withstand blizzards, equipment failures and sick dogs in this grueling race.  The winners take this year was $35,000 out of pool of $115,000.  It doesn’t seem like a lot compared to other sports but then again, only the few and special can endure such an event.   The history of this event is a good read so check it out there is plenty of information on the internet.

Last but not least is the Daytona 500.  First we had the man versus wave in Mavericks, second we have man and dog versus the elements of the Yukon and now man and machine to persevere  against other men and machines.   The Daytona 500 took place on February 21st and the winner was Denny Hamlin in  one the closest finishes ever captured on video.  It looks like he won by less than 1 foot coming in at top speed, certainly  the closest in Daytona 500 history.  Hamlin beat out Martin Truex both driving Toyotas which was part of their domination in this year’s event.    The victory was also a first at Daytona for Joe Gibbs racing whose been competing here for 23 years.

What makes the Daytona 500 the Super Bowl of auto racing is the fact that it is always held in February and it the first official NASCAR race of the season. It gets the most viewership than any other racing event, even the INDY 500 and it offers the biggest purse as well.  It is very prestigious to win since its inception in 1959.  Daytona International Speedway is sacred ground in racing and Richard Petty owns the most victories (7) and Chevrolet has the most wins with 23.

As you notice these are not mainstream sports with the slight exception of the Daytona 500 but it too doesn’t get the full recognition as the other 4 and 5 sports.   There is something cool to follow for all sports fans  even if it is hard to find on the television, you always know you can find it on the internet.   These sports usually take place in that small window of media absence when the NFL is not ruling the airwaves.  Next year, check in with one of these events and you will find it a breath of fresh air from the typical offerings.

Daytona 500 Photo Credit – www.thedailybeast.com









Alaskan Ironmen, Ironwomen, and Dogs

Iditarod-map-Credit-BLMAlaska hosted its two marquee events of the year and both of them were dog sled races.   The first one being known as the “Toughest” race on earth, the Yukon Quest. It’s a 1000 trek along the Klondike Gold Rush mail and transportation trail established in the 1800’s. It takes place in harshest of winter conditions along a difficult trial. The other showcase is the Iditarod, billed as the ”Last Great Race on Earth”, the most popular sporting event in Alaska which starts in Anchorage and ends in Nome, also a 1000 miler.

Who are the real ironmen and women who do this?

The majority of the competitors are Alaskans but these events do attract an international field. A lot of the competitors belong to families who have competed throughout the generations. Both men and women have competed in these events. The Iditarod received a lot attention outside of Alaska when a woman won the event. In 1985 Libby Riddles, a long shot won and since Susan Butcher won it three times.

Yukon-Quest Of course let’s not forget the super dogs who can handle the endeavor. Your pooch at home is not ready for anything like this. Can you even imagine driving a sled of dogs in the dead of winter for a thousand miles?   Last time I checked the Iron Man Competition was a Triathlon that ends in one day. These races go on for over a week. This sport also has no real down time; if you are not training, you are tending and developing a team of dogs. This sport is evolves so much time just to get to the starting line.

Most people would think that the sled dogs would be big furry Husky type dogs. Through the years of cross breeding, the modern racing dogs are mixed and bred for speed, tough feet, endurance, good attitude and most importantly, the desire to run. Each team is composed of twelve to sixteen dogs and no more can be added during the race. There is a minimum of six dogs that must cross the finish line. The dogs are well looked over and are examined at every checkpoint.

Both races do have checkpoints about every two hundred miles where some provisions are supplied and the dogs get checked by veterinarians.  The musher and his team are sledding on the routes along frozen rives, mountain ranges, through isolated villages. Temperatures commonly drop as -60 F and winds can reach 50 miles an hour or more at higher elevations.   Aside from the weather conditions and wellbeing of the dogs, the mushers have to break through mental and body fatigue.   I have heard from mushers about the mental aspect of the race. Maintaining focus and without drifting off into a sleep deprivation state can be dangerous to say the least.

Iditerod Winner Dallas SeaveyThis year, the Yukon Quest was won by Allen Moore who crossed the finish line at Takhina Hot Springs in the early morning hours. His time was 8 days, 14 hours and 21 minutes which made it a consecutive victory for him. When you talk to Moore, he gives a lot of credit to his lead dog Quito.   She was the recipient of the Golden Harness Award along with a custom made golden harness and some fresh steaks.   Moore was quoted as saying, “But mainly we have good dogs right now, and they’re hard to come by, just like any basketball or football team. Once you get that, they have a pretty good team for a few years and it’s really hard to bring in more that is that caliber after that.”

This year’s Iditarod champ is Dallas Seavy with his time of 8 days, 13 hours and 6 minutes.   It was a tough year for the Iditarod because dangerous conditions and the resulting injuries to mushers and dogs.   The lack of snowfall and icy conditions made it for difficult maneuvering.

The race began on March 2nd with 69 teams and 53 finished.   As the finishers were crossing the line in Nome, temperatures were below zero degrees. The Iditarod winner received $50,000 and a new truck. After that, the 29 finishers receive prizes decreasing in size.

The history of these events is storied and interesting to read about as well. Most people have only heard slight references to these races and culture that surrounds them. Take time to read up and you will find yourself intrigued and curious to see the events every winter in Alaska.


Photos courtesy of Laurent Dick/Wild Alaska Travel, Jeff Shultz, BLM and Emily Schwing/KUAC