Friday, March 13, 2015

“The Iditarod, where nature crowns the champion”

photo courtesy of Chris McLennan
   “The Iditarod where nature crowns the champion” was heard by all from one of the telecasters at the 42nd annual Ceremonial Start of the 2015 Iditarod.  If you follow the Iditarod you know this is the truth! If you don’t, let me fill you in a little bit on my favorite and only sport I follow.
      A few years back I stared to read a little about the Iditarod and mushing. My friend Deb told me I had to meet her friend Janet, who was a teacher who had received a grant to teach the Iditarod as part of her class curriculum. I was invited to the class as a guest and met Janet’s fellow teacher and friend Kurt who also became involved. Kurt loved it so much he now has his own sled dog team. The rest is history; I have to say I actually became addicted in following the sport, reading about its history and learning all I could about it.
     I am a HUGE animal lover and advocate. If any animal gets the tiniest of scratch it upsets me, I am a big ol’ softie when it comes to animals and their welfare. That being said, I have had people say to me, “I don’t like the Iditarod, they whip the dogs.” and many other similar things. I have to say that if that were true, I would not follow this sport. Do these dogs look unhappy to you? If you read about the current Iditarod nothing could be further from the truth!
photo courtesy of USA Today

These dogs are bred for this and get so excited they can’t wait to run! There are very strict rules for the animal’s safety and these mushers love their dogs more than life. When you watch footage of the check points the mushers stop at, the start and finish line, these mushers acknowledge and show love to their dogs before they do anything else. I have heard of and seen more harshness at an obedience trial than I have ever read about on the Iditarod trail. Some mushers such as my favorite musher, Martin Buser, sleep outside with their dogs rather than seek shelter at the checkpoints. Martin has said, ““I eat beans and rice while my dogs eat steak and eggs.” They have no need to use harshness with the dogs, the dogs love it.
Martin Buser photo courtesy of David Dodman, Here Martin thanks his dogs before acknowledging the microphone
I dream of being out in that silent snow with just the sound of the dog’s feet padding on the snow, being away from all humans with just the company of your best furry friends. Some people say I am crazy, but the silent cold is my very favorite time of year, there is a magical quality about it. It is exhilarating and reminds you that you are alive!  My dog Odin feels the same way; we love being out in the winter together as one in the magic. The beauty and magestic-ness  I have seen in photos of the  Iditarod trail are breathtaking!
Photo courtesy of Chris McLennan

 That is the upside of this sport. The harshness of it is the man against nature factor. Mushers run into extreme weather, moose, flooding, you name it. It is a sport for only the most dedicated, conditioned and prepared. You are not just tossing a ball around. You must be ready and prepared for the most intense opponent, Mother Nature. That’s what I thinks makes this sport incredible to follow, there is no way to predict what will happen next, and it is a true adventure!!!!
I have read about 4 time winner, Susan Butcher fighting off a moose with an axe. In 2014 everyone thought Jeff King was going to win, and he almost did, until hurricane strength winds took a hold. Like all good mushers do, he took care of his dogs first. He ended up having to scratch and pull from the race.
 Susan Butcher photo courtesy of

 In this sport I see camaraderie and friendship, there will be no pulling off the gloves and throwing down here! The local people along the trail, donate , spectate and get quite involved. There is one town that makes dozens of pies. others that make hand made beaded awards for being first to their town. It is a grand time of fellowship also, almost like a parade.
The Mushers and their dogs are out there not just to win but for the love of the sport. As I stated in my book “Furry Philosophy and Memoirs Set in Stone”, “DeeDee Jonrowe, a wonderful, and kind Iditarod musher and animal advocate, states “Musher’s win in the manner they take care of their dogs, in the way they treat people in the villages, and how courteous they are to the volunteers .There are many ways to win in the Iditarod.” This year when  Martin Buser was interviewed he talked about how  he cannot compromise his values or beliefs to win his 5th Iditarod. He states, "I would rather sit in an unnamed lake and give the dogs the desired breaks that they deserve, and if it's 27th place, so be it and if it's 2nd or 1st so be it." This year another one of my favorite mushers is running for the awareness of Turner's syndrome, giving back and being a winner, just by being him. 
In the Yukon Quest, a similar race, last year Brent Sass was injured and Allen Moore, who was in first at the time went back to help him.
DeeDee Jonrowe photo courtesy of AP Photo/Marc Lester, Anchorage Daily News

 Now if my over exuberance for the sport has gotten you intrigued then read on for some history and specifics of the race,  When you get as addicted as I am, you will be able to know what is happening.  I believe the history is part of the race’s charm!
Balto statue courtesy of Xen Xen

 In 1925 a diphtheria epidemic struck Nome, Alaska. It was the dead of the winter and the anti-serum to stop the epidemic needed to be quickly transported to Nome, No roads existed, air travel was too dangerous and all waterways were packed with ice. The Iditarod trail was the only solution. The serum was transported 674 miles from Nenana to Nome by a group of 18 dog teams and mushers. This is the well-known story of “Balto” who now has a statue erected in his name to honor him and all the sled dogs that saved many lives.

Joe Redington Sr and Dorothy Page worked very hard with others to get the first Iditarod going in 1973. It is now an annual event that has grown in leaps and bounds. The Iditarod is a race that is 1049 miles long. There are checkpoints the mushers must stop at along the way. There are also veterinarians at those points if any are needed. Also if there is an injury, or a dog just gets too tired , a musher may ‘drop’ a dog and that dog is brought to a warm place with volunteers to care and love the dogs until the race is over. The average distance between checkpoints is 60 miles.
The Red Lantern Award , photo courtesy of the Kaiser Racing Kennel
The Red Lantern award is given to the last musher to cross the finish line. A lantern known as the
Widow’s lantern is lighted at the finish line at Nome at the same time the mushers start the race. It is sort of an Olympic torch that once the last musher crossed the line, it is his job to extinguish it.  It is known as a guiding light, to the teams on the Iditarod trail and also a signal to the people of Nome that there are teams on the trail.
Mushers do not carry all their food on the sled. There is a however a list of necessities that must be on their sled and there is a long checklist. 18 of the checkpoints are “food drops” where mushers have their carefully packaged and labeled supplies delivered to.
When the race starts not all mushers leave at the same time. How is this fair? They use the “Common Start Differential Rule” to equalize the times in the middle of the race. During the race at one of the checkpoints  all teams except for the last to start team must be delayed the exact amount of time of each particular  team’s head start by staying at that checkpoint that amount of time.
Each dog team consists of as many as 16 dogs. The minimum number they may start with is 12.They must have at least 6 to finish the race, if they have “dropped” any dogs along the way.
All dogs are treated with great care and if the weather is extreme or the trail rough they wear their special booties.

Martin Buser with dogs with booties photo courtesy of

I hope I have peaked your interest. If you start to follow this race,  I am certain you will become as intrigued and addicted as I am! 
photo drawn by John Van Zyle the official artist of the Iditarod

To follow this race and /or get a paid membership check out Iditarod .com.The race always starts the first Saturday in March and lasts about 8-10 days.The live videos will take your breath away!
You can also follow the Yukon quest for free at Yukon

Some suggested reading about the Iditarod, mushing, and sled dogs are:

~Dogman: Chronicles of an Iditarod Champion by Martin Buser
~Susan Butcher and the Iditarod Trail by Ellen M. Dolan (this is great book for all ages, and has a lot of history and Iditarod basics)
~Any and all books by Pam Flower, a great adventurer and musher.  Her books are geared towards our youth but I enjoyed quite a few also. Her stories are amazing and her lessons for our youth are incredible.  I Tespecially enjoyed, “Alone Across the Arctic”
~A good adult fiction read is “An Echo through the Snow “by Andrea Thalasinos
~Another good one for our youth and adults is “Rivers: The Diary of a Blind Alaskan Racing Sled Dog”
~Iditarod Dreams: A Year in the life of an Alaskan Sled Dog Racer by DeeDee Jonrowe

This is a sport that definitely portrays the quote “It’s not how you win or lose it is how you play the game.” In this author’s opinion it is the most intense, exhilarating game of them all!

Till next time
Mush on!
Odin and Jodi

Odin J.  and I spending time out  during our favorite season


  1. Great article and great summary of what draws us armchair mushers to the sport!

    1. Thank you so very much . I like that description , armchair mushers :)

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  3. To my friends In Switzerland, an interesting comment from Jodi about my brother and the Iditarod, trank you

    1. Is your brother Martin ? I admire him and his ethics so much. I plan on writing one more article on him after the race is over,please check back :) Thanks for sending this on.

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  5. I appreciate your article - my biggest concern has always been with making sure the dogs are well treated. I think that's true no matter if the doggies are sitting on a couch (like I do) or in a big race (like these dogs). Your posting does a lot to provide an educated point of view - I appreciate that, thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

    1. Thanks for you comment :) My pets are my life and if I see any animal being hurt I won't stand for it , so I agree with you on that more that you know <3 <3

  6. The fun is the important thing. If it's not fun, why do it, right?

    1. That is soooooo true ! Odin and I agree !!!! We tried agility and canicross and Odin said long walks side by side and rally is what makes his tail wag :)

  7. This does look like a lot of fun. I always wondered, as MattieDog does, if the doggies are treated well. TY for sharing this info!

    1. You are so welcome , gotta treat our pups like the precious lives they are <3

  8. I watched an episode of Dr. Oakley Yukon Vet where she attended to the dogs in a sled race. You could just see the love and care the mushers give to the dogs and it was great to watch!

  9. I joke that Charlie often feels as though he is part of a Iditarod team with the way that he pulls! Great post, it really is inspiring!

    1. If Charlie loves to pull maybe embrace it and check out a canicross belt Fun for you both :) Mush on Charlie :) Thanks for the comment :) :)

  10. I too dream of being at the Iditarod one day! This was a great post! Thanks for sharing all of this fun information!

    1. One day Odin and I will be there together :) Thank you so much for the comment :)

  11. I've always wondered about safety and how the dogs react. Glad they enjoy it so much! Thanks for sharing

  12. Thanks for the comment :) Dogs safety and enjoyment is what matters , and the bond they share with their musher :)

  13. I love this post! Ever since getting my Husky over 5 years ago I've become intrigued by the Great Race of Mercy in Nome and the Iditarod. #1 on my bucket list is to visit Alaska during the Iditarod. I'm hoping I can make it there w/in 2 years. Thanks for sharing this information & resources. I love the statue of Balto in Central Park, NY! I took my Husky there & shot some great photos of her w/ Balto, which I've posted on my blog.
    -Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. I have to come see these pics :) :) Yes this race is on my bucket list :) Thanks for the comment fellow Iditarod fan :)

  14. Absolutely enjoyed this article! My producer's daughter proudly claimed The Red Lantern Award in the Jr. Iditarod when she was the last one over the finish line! The camaraderie and love for the sled dogs these folks have is amazing. Sharing your great post!