Tag Archives: Iditarod

Iditarod nearing Finish – Mushers hard on each others' heels – No. 5

Post 5.  Nearing End


The Burled Arch in Nome, Alaska, the finish li...

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This photo shows the Burled Arch at Nome.

All the Iditarod racers are aiming for this arch spanning the finish – and only a few hours separate the top six contenders.

In the lead is youngest Seavey in the race – Dallas,

closely followed 2.5 hours behind by Aliy Zirkle

Ramey Smyth is 9 hours behind her

But Aaron Burmeister is only 30 mins behind Ramey

Peter Kaiser is another 4 hrs behind Aaron

Following him is Ray Redington (another famous Iditarod racing family member).

Cancer Survivors DeeDee Jonrowe has slipped down to 10th, and Lance Mackey is at No. 27, although old-timers say that is because he has a very young team.

If you want to catch up with the cat-and-mouse game being played out on the shores of the frozen Bering Straight, go to www.iditarod.com

And anyone interested in strategy for athletics event should read veteran Joe Runyan’s blog about how Dallas got to where he is in the race.  It’s a fascinating explanation of the way thinking can win races:  http://iditarod.com/5pm-tuesday-nome-dallas-widens-gap-on-following-pack-by-joe-runyan/



Post 4.  Aliy slips past men




Aliy Zirkle's team on Anchorage's Fourth Avenu...

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Aliy Zirkle slipped past the two Seaveys and Aaron Burmeister to end up with a pocketful of gold nuggets and the Wells Fargo Award for coming in First at the halfway point.


However, her lead hasn’t lasted long;  latest from the trail is that Dallas Seavey set off before her on next stage, and is now 2 hrs 45 mins. ahead.


Although the old timers will say that isn’t a long lead, they are also saying that Dallas’s team ‘are looking good’.  And at this stage of the race having a team that are set into a routine, and will run and run – can make all the difference.


Because the going is tough.  Team after team has been forced to scratch – many because they have run out of dog, as you must have a minimum to finish the race.  Don’t worry about dogs that have been dropped;  they are well looked after by a team of Veterinarians.  Fed, watered and flown off to the finish at Nome, there to live in luxury kennels whilst waiting for their musher.




One notable musher out of race is Jeff King, previous big-time winner, who has scratched.  For a tough musher like King, this must mean the weather is throwing everything at the racers.




Post 3.  Father and Son battle










The Seaveys are a veteran Iditarod family, and now there is Mitch, the father (53)




battling out race leadership with son Dallas, (25),




with Grandfather Dan, (74) bringing up the rear.




For Dan, it is a nostalgic trip, and he is taking it easy.  He ran the first Iditarod, coming in 3rd, and now he says he is enjoying himself along the trail.




With Mitch first into the Ruby checkpoint, it wasn’t more than an hour before he was joined by Dallas.  According to old-timers, both dog teams “look good”, but feeling is that Dallas might just pull it off.




This video shows the finish of last year’s Yukon Quest, where Rookie (first time racer) Dallas Seavey (above) won the 1,000-mile race, which many consider tougher than the Iditarod.




It may seem strange that the video doesn’t show celebrations, but first and foremost these races teach safety in the wild, and care of the dog teams.  So Dallas could’t be declared winner until all his safety equipment was checked – you can hear him pointint out to where his Axe is stowed, and the dogs examined.











Meanwhile the cancer survivors are doing well, although perhaps not as well as they might hope.  DeeDee Jonrowe, still running with her pink-booted team, is up in first ten, but Lance has pulled back.















Musher Jim Lanier from Chugiak, Alaska who is running his 15th Iditarod, was the first to arrive at the Cripple Checkpoint at 13:55 Alaska Time with 13 dogs.  The Cripple Checkpoint signifies the halfway point of the 40th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.




April Browning, ITG Project Manager for GCI was on hand at the Cripple Checkpoint to present the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award to Lanier:  a trophy plus $3,000 in placer gold nuggets, courtesy of Iditarod Principle Partner GCI.




However, presentations on the track are always very hurried affairs.  No Musher wants to spend a second more than necessary at a Checkpoint, before they head off again up the Trail.  So The GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award will be presented again to Jim Lanier in Nome on Sunday, March 18th during the Iditarod Awards Banquet at the Nome Recreation Center.




This video shows Jim running in a previous Iditarod, with a single ‘wheeler’ at the rear.  I am no expert but usually there are two wheeler dogs – but each musher has reasons for the way they run their dogs.  Remember, the sled dogs are all individuals, and sometimes they don’t get on with each other – unlike humans, they don’t bother to keep their feelings under wraps!











Currently the going is tough, with very deep snow which is powdery at low minus temperatures.  The race has been shortened due to conditions, and is now just under the usual 1,049 miles – the 49 was there for historical reasons as Alaska is the 49th US State.








Veteran Iditarod musher Ryan Redington  scratched in Takotna at 09:30 Alaska Time.  Ryan Redington from Wasilla made the decision to scratch due to personal reasons.  Redington’s grandfather was Joe Redington, Sr., Father of the Iditarod.  Ryan Redington had 10 dogs on his team when he made the decision.  Redington’s older brother, Ray Redington, Jr.  is still in the race.




Redington is one of several mushers who have already scratched, with weather proving a serious problem.  However Ryan says he made his decision for personal reasons.












Musher Aliy Zirkle was first to arrive into McGrath along the banks of the Kuskokwim River at 20:32 Alaska Time, with all her 16 dogs.




The prestigious PENAIR SPIRIT OF ALASKA AWARD was presented to Zirkle at a very brief award ceremony at the McGrath Checkpoint.




Last year Aliy finished 11th in the Iditarod last year, and was followed 22 minutes later into the checkpoint by defending champion John Baker.




Closely on her heels is four-time consecutive winner Lance Mackey, whose streak was ended by Baker last year, pulled in three minutes later. Meanwhile, Dan Seavey, 74, is running in his fifth Iditarod to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail. He is also one of three generations of Seaveys in the race, joining son Mitch Seavey, 52, and grandson Dallas, 25, who in 2005 was the youngest musher ever to run the Iditarod. Mitch, the 2004 champ, is in his 19th Iditarod. Dallas is in his sixth and finished in the top five last year.




Spirit of Alaska Award




The award is a beautiful original “spirit mask” especially created for this event by Bristol Bay artist Orville Lind.  But what s sometimes more important to these professional mushers, Aliy also  received a $500 credit toward travel or freight shipment.




At the end of the trail is over $50,000 to the winner – but even more important is a Dodge truck and many, many sponsorship opportunities.




Cancer survivors




Apart from Lance Mackey, DeeDee Jonrowe is still going strong with her pink-booted dog team, albeit they must have already gone through a fair amount of the 4,000 boots DeeDee’s team made for them.




Weather Conditions increase dangers




Near record snowfalls have made Iditarod officials announce the trail’s course was being altered due to worsening weather conditions.




This year, Anchorage has already doubled its usual snowfall with approximately 120 inches – 10 feet of snow – and is approaching the near 133-inch record set in 1954. The deep snow could be a major factor in the Iditarod, as weather conditions affect the dogs’ physical performance and increase the threat of dangerous moose encounters on the trail.  Several Iditarod mushers have already reported run-ins with winter-weary moose during training runs through interior Alaska.




Hours after Saturday morning’s ceremonial start, race director Mark Nordman announced trail breakers had become more concerned over a previously planned reroute in a critical part of the 2012 trail. Citing high wind and new snow totals, Nordman broke last-minute news of the change to mushers and fans.




So this year the trail may be under the ‘magic’ 1,000 miles – but may cause the mushers to take longer over the course.








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Yukon Quest

Cancer survivors love to prove themselves in this race


and mouth cancer survivor Lance Mackey ended up on the podium in third place – not bad after 1,000 miles of gruelling racing.

Winner was veteran musher Hugh Neff, who produced the closest finish ever;  just 26 seconds separated him and Allen Moore, who must have thought he had the race in the bag as he had led almost the whole way.

Lance was a four-times winner of this race, but this time he settled for third place;  still proving that cancer survivors are a pretty tough bunch.

(Scroll down for latest video)

I took these photos on 8 March 2009 at the cer...

Lance Mackey

Some people survive cancer – then celebrate by doing something extraordinary:

like enter one of the world’s toughest dog sled races.

Next to the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, the Yukon Quest is THE biggie everyone wants to win.  Run every February, it is a forerunner for the Iditarod, and pointer to which teams to watch.

Head and neck cancer survivor Lance Mackey has won this 1,000 mile race four times.

In the video (below) of the start of the Quest, you catch a glimpse of sled dogs ‘booted up’ in bright pink bootees:  they belong to double mastectomy survivor DeeDee Jonrowe, who always dresses her team in this neon pink colour (the dogs wear bootees – much to their disgust – to protect their paws from the icy cold trail that could cut them to ribbons).

Watching this video might give you a tiny idea of just what these mad mushers go for; and how easy it is to get hooked.


Britain is latest country to fall for the exhilerating sport of dog sledding, and Penny Evans, stalwart of sledding in UK, has sent me this report – which tells of an epic race for one British musher when he and his wife emigrated to Canada, and ends up with him competing in qualifying race for the Yukon Quest.

What Penny is too modest to mention is that her Penkhala kennel huskies form the backbone of Rob’s team.  Talk about taking coals to Newcastle ……

To live the dream?

Photos of Rob and Louise :  Tracey Ackerson and Tracy Green

Competitor Rob Cooke certainly is living his dream. And for thousands of British dog lovers, he is the one they watch.

Given the opportunity of secondment to the Canadian Forces on an exchange with Britain’s Royal Navy, Rob and his wife Louise jumped at the chance and took their British bred Siberian Huskies back to their roots. It didn’t take either of them long to realise this was their dream, and soon with very careful selection their Shaytaan kennels had swelled ranks with US and Canadian stock and Rob was competing in middle distance races with his pedigree dogs – many of whom had been shown at the world’s most famous dog show, Crufts.


Then came the life-changing decision when Rob’s leisure sport became his vocation. On retirement from the UK Services, Rob and Louise moved from their house in downtown Halifax Nova Scotia to a dis-used zoo in New Brunswick.  “So handy said Louise, all those cages are perfect for the dogs, though perhaps taking on the remaining incumbent llamas came as a slight shock!

With trails spreading for miles from the backyard, Rob and Louise started training in earnest.  Whatever the weather they soon began to learn the needs and techniques of long-distance mushing and Rob never does things by halves, his research is never-ending and his knowledge is put into practice with his beloved dogs.  Typical Brit … and indeed for most mushers, “dogs-come-first” is the motto of their lifestyle.

But there was a bigger horizon … last Autumn Rob packed his best dogs into their van and travelled West across the American continent all the way to Alaska to train and compete with the big names in the sport. Staying with Lev Shvarts in his kennels Rob and his team quietly took on the Alaskans at their national sport.  Training was slow to start, snow was scarce, but then the White-Stuff arrived and races began.  Despite jibes about Slow-berians (most competitive teams run Alaskan cross-breed dogs rather than pedigree dogs) with a couple of finishes under his sled Rob was beginning to get noticed and he and his homebred pups, were making their mark.

As much as The Iditarod (the 1,000 mile race held every March to commemorate the famous Anchorage to Nome serum run in 1925) is known worldwide, the Yukon Quest is “the professionals’ choice” – a gruelling sled race between White Horse and Fairbanks taking in some of the most difficult terrain and weather conditions in the world.  The Quest 300 is the “starter-kit” run over the same trails but making a 300 ml loop rather than the full distance trail.  This race was to be Rob’s best shot at qualifying for the full Quest, hopefully next year.  Seven teams of Alaskan Huskies and Rob’s one pedigree Siberian team (somehow indiscernibly the “slow” had over past months been dropped from quotes) set out last Saturday.  The rest is history …. Rob’s faithful UK and worldwide fan-base watched results from each checkpoint.  Fourth position as he left Two Rivers – could he hold on to that slot for the remainder of the race?  Everything crossed…  unbelievably by Mile 101 he had gained a place and was up to third.  Snow was falling over the Southern Counties of GB and Rob’s dogs’ relations were enjoying a rare opportunity to run on sleds round Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, but four miles of running requires nothing like the endurance and stamina the Shaytaan Gang were needing for their task in paw.  They held position through Central Checkpoint, this was beginning to get serious now for the arm-chair followers.  Then the unbelievable happened … Rob arrived at Circle City in second position … which he held to the finish amidst huge accolade from both sides of The Pond …. by now the word SLOWberians was only heard in whispers.  Here is the quote from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

“Rob Cooke of Edmundston, New Brunswick, was looking for experience and a qualifier for the 1,000 mile Quest.  ‘I just came here to finish. To finish in second place is just amazing,’ Cooke, 45, said. ‘Everybody has said to me you’re absolutely mad trying to do this as a qualifier, but it was everything I expected it to be. I just had such a fantastic time. I’ve been dragged across glare ice, I smacked my hip and rolled my sled going down Eagle Summit.’

Cooke was awarded the Vet’s Choice Award for exemplary dog care of his team of Siberian huskies.”

Louise from their home in New Brunswick where she continues to care for and train the second teams had a slightly different view sent to me by e-mail:

“Thank you! Still can’t believe what they did! … His idea of a fantastic time isn’t the same as mine lol!”

Oh and Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree with congratulations.  Rob may never be BBC Sportsman of the year, but he is living his dream which if you ask him he is not even halfway through yet ….

Yes, Brits have competed abroad and run the Iditarod and even The Quest, but never with anything other than local teams and certainly not pedigree dogs.  To all us Siberian Husky enthusiasts worldwide, he and Louise are certainly our Local Heroes (Penny doesn’t mention some of stock were bred by her – Ed).  And you know what ?  more importantly than his second place finish, beating teams from hugely famous Alaskan Kennels such as Lance Mackey and Sonny Lindner and running his own bred pedigree dogs, the most important award to us all will always be the Vet’s Choice Award.  Respect is never achieved at the cost of co-members of a team and never more true when they have four feet not two.   Long may Rob, Louise and their dogs continue to carry the flags of the UK and Siberian Huskies ….

This is latest interview on the trail.  Notice Lance is drinking water to keep his throat moistened because of cancer.

For more information: http://www.yukonquest.com/site/yq300main




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World's toughest race and cancer connections

Iditarod beaten by cancer survivors


English: Army Staff Sgt. Harry Alexie of the A...

Four times winner Lance Mackey beat cancer

If there is one thing cancer survivors learn – you have to be tough to beat the disease.

And this stands them in good stead if it comes to taking part – and winning – the Iditarod dog sled race, run across a thousand miles of frozen Alaskan wastes every March.

One of the most famous racers taking part is Lance Mackey

  • four times winner
  • throat cancer survivor
  • In 1978 his father, Dave, beat previous winner Rick Swenson by one second to win that year’s Iditarod

In 2001 Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer, but doesn’t let this bother him, even though he needs to keep his mouth constantly moist;  a very difficult thing when temperatures are way below what freezes water.

To read more put his name into the search bar, and read a friend’s account of meeting the great man with a big sense of humour.


Another with Iditarod musher with a big sense of humour is DeeDee Jonrowe.

A double mastectomy survivor, DeeDee decided to have fun, and some years ago started to equip her 16-strong dog sled team with pink bootees.  To see pics of the incredible sight of DeeDee dressed in her pink mushing gear, driving her pink-booted team, put DeeDee into search window.


Susan Butcher

Susan was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a lover of dogs and the outdoors. When she was young her brother died of leukemia at a young age. She studied at Colorado State University and ultimately became a veterinary technician.

To pursue her love of dogsled racing and breeding huskies, she moved to the Wrangell Mountains area of Alaska.

There Susan began training to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race which tests the endurance of both mushers and dogs over the course of one to two weeks. After placing in several Iditarods, Butcher was forced to withdraw early in the 1985 when two of her dogs were killed by a pregnant moose, despite Butcher’s attempts to ward the animal off, and six others were severely injured. Libby Riddles, a relative newcomer, braved a blizzard and became the first woman to win the Iditarod that year.

The more experienced Butcher won the next race in 1986, and then proceeded to win again in 1987, 1988, and 1990. She joins fellow four-time winners Martin Buser, Jeff King, Lance Mackey and Doug Swingley, and Rick Swenson who won five. Butcher married fellow dog racer David Monson on September 2, 1985; they successfully competed in almost every major sled-dog race in numerous countries around the world.

Her accomplishments gained her substantial media attention in the late 1980s and earned her many awards, including the “National Women’s Sports Foundation Amateur Athlete of The Year Award” and the “Tanqueray Athlete of the Year.” She also won the “U.S. Victor Award” for “Female Athlete of the Year” two years in a row. In 2007 Susan was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame as one of the five charter members in the inaugural class.

In 2005 Butcher was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, underwent chemotherapy  and received a bone marrow transplant on May 17, 2006 after the cancer went into remission. According to her husband David Monson, “someone said this might be a tough disease, but this leukemia hasn’t met Susan Butcher yet.”

Butcher died on August 5, 2006 after learning that the cancer had returned. She is survived by her two daughters, Tekla and Chisana, and her husband, attorney and musher David Monson.

On March 1, 2008, Susan Butcher was honored by the State of Alaska when, just prior to the start of the 2008 Iditarod, Gov. Sarah Palin signed a bill establishing the first Saturday of every March as Susan Butcher Day. The day coincides with the traditional start of the Iditarod each year. Observing the special day, the bill noted, provides opportunity for people to “remember the life of Susan Butcher, an inspiration to Alaskans and to millions around the world.”

And true to Iditarod mushers’ and cancer survivors’ feelings, Susan said “I do not know the word ‘quit.’ Either I never did, or I have abolished it.”

Follow the Race
Starts Saturday, March 3rd, and I will be covering the highlights during the following couple of weeks.  Will also be writing about the dogs on www.workingdogbooks.com

Hooked on dog sled racing? How to get going

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Dog sledding is excellent exercise

Here’s how to get going


Every weekend enthusiasts all over the world get out with their dogs – and if you are like 50% of my readers and live in Britain,  here is info about getting started here.

But Beware! This article should come with a stark WARNING!

Once you have tried it – you will be hooked!

All the photos with dogs here were taken by Alan Bowering, a stalwart of the dog sledding scene in  Britain, and show the wheeled rigs that are generally used in UK because of lack of snow.

His partner is Penny Evans (another stalwart), and it is thanks to her and her ex-partner, John Evans, that Europe’s biggest dog sled rally, Aviemore Dog Sled Rally – takes place with over 200 entrants every year, making it Europe’s biggest.

I have asked Alan and Penny, who are certainly hooked, to help with low-down.  They are keen supporters of dog sledding in Britain, have visited Alaska to see the big races, and are off there again shortly.

Photo shows Penny’s Veteran Crufts Champion Siberian Husky, Penkhala’s Nikarah – Nik for short.

Where can you do this?

Go to www.siberianhuskyclub.com for a list of rallies taking place all over Britain.   If you live near East Anglia see below; or ask the local Forestry Commission office, as they lend land for the rallies at most of their properties.

In summer, contact the club to find out if enthusiasts are running – if weather is cold enough they will gather, but dogs don’t like too hot temperatures.  During the summer there are shows, and whilst most of these dogs would curl a lip if asked to ‘show’, some, like Penny, do occasionally enter – then make others jealous by producing dogs like Nik who walk away with the prize.  And asking around at a show will always produce dog sled enthusiasts who can tell you where to find the sport.

Alan’s photos show dogs pulling wheeled rigs on British forest trails.  Teams are smaller in UK, as they don’t have to run so far as they do in the Iditarod.  The object of events in Britain is to give enthusiasts a fun day out – not trek for a thousand miles!

The rigs are very much like tricycles, and don’t take long to master.  However, the dogs are just as eager to run as Iditarod veterans, so no need to worry about how fast they go – just how to hang on for dearlife as they get going.

Sledding in East Anglia

Apart from the Siberian Husky Club, I asked another very keen friend if she could tell me where one could go to learn to ‘mush’.  She wrote back to say, “the people I wanted to check with are Forstal Huskies – Sally Leich and Ali Koops – and they are happy for you to put their details up.  Their website is www.huskyrides.co.uk – which seems to say it all really!

Where else?

British Siberian Husky Racing Association  www.huskyracing.org.uk                                                                        They organise a championship series of races every season, all over the country, so there should be one or more within easy reach of most parts of UK

And if you are really keen to see what goes on, take a trip to Aviemore in Scotland for last-but-one weekend every January, when the town hosts Europe’s largest dog sled rally: well over 200 teams compete every year.

British Airways flies to Inverness (for Aviemore).  As you fly north take a look out of plane windows and you very often see a procession of ‘white vans’ carrying dogs, heading north.  They’ll have wheeled rigs – and for the optimists a pulka (snow sled) – on the roof.  If you are going for the tourist experience, don’t forget Aviemore is very near Speyside, where the river is lined with whisky distilleries of every kind;  most welcome visitors.

During the rally one of the major distilleries hosts a Malt Whisky tasting at Aviemore.  This is definitely not a booze up, but a serious and enjoyable learning experience.  Dog sledders know their malts, and many of them are partial to Lagavulin – so much so that the town had run out of it during one rally; but I understand this has been rectified!

Tip – if you like eating well, book restaurant reservations EARLY.  Dog sledders may look like the scruffiest people you have ever seen when racing, but they know their food and fine dining, so come evening they are off into the town to eat the gourmet-ish food they can find.

Hotels – once, when Aviemore was booked out, we stayed at Craigellachie Hotel (about an hour away).  And landed in clover.  Any hotel that can provide smiling, helpful staff, a bar with 700 Malts (has anyone ever drunk even half?), gourmet food with a local twist, luxurious bedrooms and yellow ducks to float in your bath (no, you haven’t had too much to drink – they really are there as the Manager considers every bath MUST have a duck floating in it) has got my vote as one of my favourites.  And the prices are reasonable – unlike the over-glitzed tourist traps further south. info@craigellachie.com

What to wear

Very warm boots.  Lots of thermal layers plus old cashmere sweaters (as one does). Warm trousers – not jeans. And warm gloves.  If you are going to be helping/working, wear inner silk glove linings (buy them in sports shops £8);  they are excellent to wear when you need your hands, but want some protection when you have to take off thick gloves.

Then, some tricks of the trade that will give your skin an extra layer of protection. 

Use plenty of skin moisturiser, both on your body, as winds can cut through and give you wind burn even through layers, and on your face.  And keep a spare jar of cream in your pocket, plus plenty of lip balm.  The sun may be shining, but our skins are extremely vulnerable in cold conditions – trust me!

Currently I am using Living Nature products, and they have coped brilliantly with this incredible cold, snowy winter we have had, plus the cold winds that do more damage to skin than anything.  Their Living Nature Lip Balm is a godsend;  a deeply nourish balm, I keep it in my pocket whenever I go outdoors, especially watching sledding, and use it every hour at least. 

Before going out I will put on their leave-on Ultra Nourishing Mask.  My tip is to leave this on – don’t bother to wipe off – after your shower, then before you go out slap on their Rich Day Cream over the top; together the two layers will give you added protection, and  deeply nourish parched dry skin.  Finally, at night put on their Radiance Night Oil underneath your night cream, which gives an extra boost whilst you are sleeping.  This is a delicate blend of rosehips and herbs to help retain and restore a skin’s vitality.  

Incidentally their eco-friendly packaging has flat backs so it doesn’t take up much room in the suitcase.

 Currently I  am using Flexitol on my feet –  they provide creams for Rachel Scidoris (the incredible blind musher) AND her dogs ( sled dogs are really spoilt)  – so what helps Rachel win races is good enough for me. 

So you want to go abroad

All over the Alps and in Scandinavia there are dog sledding kennels that offer rides – either training you to mush or run behind the dogs in charge of a team, or you can sit in a sled (pulka) and be towed behind a team with someone else doing the mushing.

Ask the local tourist board of any ski resort to give you a list of local kennels offering this

Look on www.healthspanews.com and I have written up a few health spa resorts where you can take part.

The big one – going to Alaska

Have already had enquiries from readers – “how do we get there?  and when is best time to go?”

Answer is almost any time.  There is a big tourism trade in the summer, with outdoor enthusiasts going to see the wildlife, go kayaking, etc.

And of course if you want to go dog sledding, the season is right throughout the winter, and you could even take out dogs from kennels that will be competing in the Iditarod.

Throughout the winter there are various dog sled races most weeks, and being a spectator is the friendliest way of meeting the ‘natives’, and as Penny and Alan found, as visitors from Britain you are warmly welcomed, and often get to be introduced to the champion mushers.  As Penny said, they were introduced to Lance Mackey as “your biggests fans from Europe”, which she says wasn’t too difficult as they were the only ones.

But she treasures a boot from one of Lance’s champion sled dogs.  As she says, it may be old and worn out – but one of Lance’s – that was something else.

Alaskans are very hospitable, but being stuck out on the furthest peninsula away from UK, the journey needs planning.

Hotels: There is a huge variety in Anchorage,  quite a lot in Nome – but they can be sparse on the trail in between.

Away from these cities, it might be best to go look for the Iditarod recommended B & Bs.  Advantage is that the owners know the trail, they are involved in the running of the race, so have lots of stories to tell, and can advise you on the best way to get somewhere – by tiny plane, by sea or by 4 x 4.

Friends who have booked in to B & Bs are delighted that most owners also have something to do with the Iditarod – so have become firm friends talking it over.

British Airways offer daily connections from Heathrow to Anchorage, Alaska via Seattle (onwards on Alaska Airlines) and also in the summer via Dallas Fort Worth (from 01May, onwards on American Airlines) and via Chicago (from 09 Jun, onwards on American Airlines).

Each of these options has a connection from Manchester to Heathrow.

In addition, for the Chicago option it would be possible to use the AA-operated codeshare flight direct from Manchester to Chicago to connect onto the onward flight.

BA say there are a number of options for lead-in fares, and to give a couple of examples:

Return (including taxes/fees/charges) fares in June from Manchester via Chicago start from £891.20;

Return from Heathrow via Seattle or Dallas in May starts from £881.53.

To book visit www.ba.com or call 0844 4930787

If you have become hooked – don’t forget this sport is excellent exercise post cancer;  you can take it at your own pace, just walking around and helping at the start, or running behind a dog team to give you fantastic fun.  Either way you are in the open air, it is fun (even in pouring rain!) as the dogs spread their enthusiasm around, and mushers are very nice people!

And if you love the sport as much as I do, please click through with a small donation to Breakthrough:

Supporting http://breakthrough.org.uk/donate/index.htmlnd

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And Finally –

If you have any ideas of getting a husky puppy and starting racing, take a look on the Siberian Husky Club website under ‘Damage’.  These are genuuine photos of what these dogs can do to the inside of a home.  As pack animals, they get bored very easily if they don’t get enough exercise, and much prefer to live outdoors than inside centrally-heated homes.

Iditarod – Last Great Race on Earth

I took these photos on 6 March 2010 at the cer...

Image via Wikipedia



Known as The Iditarod, only a mad man (or woman) would want to take part in this race which is run across the Alaskan wilderness in the depths of winter.

The temperature can go as low as minus 40 to- 60 degrees -You have 16 dogs to look after (rules say they get fed before you)  – Race for up to 24 hours at a stretch –  Sleep in snatches and no time for a shower –  Risking frostbite or worse in the process.

All to take part in what’s called The Last Great Race on Earth.

Cancer Survivors do it best!

And if that isn’t enough – imagine running the 1000+ miles when you have had mouth cancer, need to keep your throat moist (but water freezes at minus temperatures) and you still win the race for a record 4 times in a row!  As last year’s winner, Lance Mackey, proved.

Or, if you are a woman, you survive breast cancer – go on to run the Iditarod for the 30th time – and still finish in front of many of the competitors (men included).  That’s  DeeDee Jonrowe for you.

It’s not the dogs – although they take centre stage – nor the mushers – although they are something else – but the whole Iditarod experience that captures the world’s imagination for two weeks every March.

And to keep cancer survivors up-to-speed with what’s happening, every day from March 5th onwards this website will have  daily reports of what’s happening.

If you enjoy reading the reports, please give a small donation to Breakthrough Breast Cancer. http://breakthrough.org.uk/donate/index.htmlnd  I am doing these reports to help them get donations for research.

What is The Iditarod?

First Saturday in March every year, around 70 Mushers and their dog teams  set off from Willow (near Anchorage, Alaska) and race to Nome.  They are taking part in a race that loosely commemorates a life-saving effort by sled dogs in 1925, to deliver diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska.

The race is run across icy, snowy mountains, forest trails, across rivers  and up rocky passes.  The mushers and dogs can race for up to 24 hours non-stop, and camp out on the trail.  Rules just say dogs must be warm and comfortable when bedded down to rest.   Often mushers race at night;  the lower the temperature the more the dogs like it and faster they run.

The race takes upwards of 8 days, but doesn’t finish until the last competitor still in the competition is home and dry – which can take 20 days or more.  Incidentally whoever comes last is always awarded the traditional Red Lantern.

And what do they race for?

  • First prize is upwards of $50,000 – plus percentage of entrance money
  • Top finishers get prize money in a diminishing table – last year Lance Mackey won $69,000 – down to No. 30 who picked up $1,800.  After that, anyone who finishes picks up $1,049.  Why the $49?  Because Alaska was the 49th State to join the U.S.A.
  • But THE prize the Mushers covet is a Dodge Truck, awarded to the first past the post.
  • Along the way mushers can win everything from a bag of gold nuggets to a seven-course meal cooked where they rest.
  • Every finisher gets a coveted belt with its iconic Iditarod belt buckle

Picture shows commemorative Buckle from 1999.

They are all similar, showing Alaskan sled scenes,

and if you see someone wearing one of these – they

are one tough person!

Men and Women are equal on the Trail

This is the only major international sporting event where men and women compete on equal terms, and the race has been won several times by women.

The first female winner was Libby Riddles, who won in 1985.  Whilst rival Mushers were holed up waiting for blizzards to blow over, Libby crept back onto the track and literally felt her way from trail marker to trail marker. She eventually won the event in a time of 18 days.

The photo shows her racing in the European classic, the Alpirod.

Two years later the legendary Susan Butcher won, and triumphed again in 1988 and 89, came second in 1990 and won for the fourth time in 91.  Sadly, she died of cancer in 2006, but the State of Alaska honours this incredible woman every March with a Susan Butcher day.

The youngest ever runner to compete was 18 year old Dallas Seavey, who comes from a famous Mushing family. He and other family members are competing again this year.  Many of the racers come from families long associated with the Iditarod  – you will often find father and son competing in same race, and it gets confusing when you look up winners, as so many carry same surname.


For many years the main dogs used were Siberian Huskies (the Ferraris of the dog racing world).  Others of the same husky family such as Greenlands and Malamutes (which are larger and heavier – Range Rovers), gave weight to a team, and were used as ‘wheelers’ (dogs nearest the sled that provide the ‘engine’).

But now, money rules.  Mushers want the fastest dogs, so the handsome hairy husky breeds are mixed with racy dogs such as pointers, and a not very attractive dog has come out of this.  These dogs don’t have the thick hair that protects a husky, so often have to wear coats.

In the past animal rights activists have tried to say the dogs are exploited.  Well, having gone out with many teams, the unhappiest sled dog is the one left behind whilst team mates are harnessed up to a sled; these dogs live to run – and run – and run.s ar

Dogs, like humans can have an off day.  But during the Iditarod, to ensure that no dog is running whilst injured or off-colour, dogs are inspected frequently on the trail by a team of vets.  Usually mushers themselves will bring a dog into the vet’s post because it has hurt itself, but sometimes the inspection will show there is an injury – either way, the dog is taken out, looked after, spoilt, and flown to the end of the trail where it rests up in an animal hospital until the musher finishes and comes to collect it.

If a dog leaves a team, the team will run with an empty space where this dog was harnessed.   Mushers won’t move dogs ‘up the line’ so they run side by side, as they are very particular animals.  Anyone who owns a team of sled dogs knows their favourite activity is running.  Second to this comes fighting each other, as the dogs love a good punch up.  So when choosing a team, a musher spends a long time selecting which dogs are most likely to get on with each other, before hitching them up to run alongside.  And if one falls out, its mate runs on its own to avoid accidents.

Last year it was extra cold, and Veterinarian Phil Meyer said “As cold as it is now, one of the problems is keeping weight on (the dogs), and I foresee that being a problem in this race,” Meyer is a long time Iditarod vet, talking as he handed out frozen fish (husky treat) to a pair of dogs musher Pete Kaiser left in the McGrath check-in.


Usually Iditarod racers run their teams in a tandem hitch (dogs running hitched up side by side, in an elongated ‘H’  shape), because the trail can be narrow at times.

But in their natural habitat when running across wide open snowy iced-over sea, mushers will use a fan hitch, where dogs are attached by their lines individually to the base, making a fan shape as they pull.  Reason – if a dog falls in an ice crevasse the rest of the team can dig in and the musher – hopefully – rescue the dog dangling from the end of  their individual line.

The dogs aren’t immune from fashion either.  They have to wear Teflon or similar bootees to protect their pads from the sharp ice crystals that form on the churned-up trail.  Musher Dee Dee Jonrowe’s team has 2,000 bright pink bootees in their kit.  The colour is to remind fans that Dee Dee raises money for a cancer charity, as she is a double mastectomy survivor.

Dogs’ harness is often in neon-bright colours that show off sponsor’s choice, but in reality this makes it easier to pick this up when excited, wriggling dogs cause handlers to drop harness in the snow.

A husky breed will bed down at night, tail curled over nose, and sleep happily in temperatures well below freezing.   But now, many of the ‘new’ breed of dog crosses  will huddle under thick fleece blankets; they don’t have the thick hair that protects huskies in temperatures -40º below or more on the trail.  If you go on the Iditarod website you will see photos of dogs sleeping under fleeces decorated with cats, as  their owner said this was the cheapest material available.

Photo shows DeeDee Jonrowe selecting harness for her dogs – made in her trademark pink colour which has two purposes:  to make it easy to see in the snow, and – more important – tell the world she survived breast cancer.

But traditionally the race runs when the dogs are happiest, which can be in the middle of the night to take advantage of colder temperatures.  Hence if you go to the race site you will see dogs arriving and departing any time of day or night.

But whatever happens, however much the Mushers love their dogs and cuddle them away from the public – you will never see an Iditarod veteran in a bling collar!

Last year’s winner

On 16th March 2010, Lance Mackey quietly emerged off the sea ice of the Bering Straits and entered Iditarod history, crossing the finish line in Nome to become the only musher in the 38-year history of the Iditarod to win four consecutive races.

For winning, Mackey got a new Dodge truck and $69.000.  And it’s the truck he said he really wanted!  Mackey is a mouth cancer survivor, and a legend on the sled dog trail having won just about every major championship:  some of them several times.

He is back this year, and says he is keen to make it five wins in a row.  He has a habit of letting the opposition make the running at the beginning of the race, but watch his position.  If he runs true to form, you will see him gradually edge up – until he wins by a crushing amount of time.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Men and Women can get breast cancer, and the ‘average’ woman is now considered to have a one in eight chance of developing it during their lifetime, wherever they live in the world.

This British based charity quietly gets on with funding research, with results that benefit patients all over the world.  It also lobbies the UK Parliament very effectively, and keeps members of Parliament fully aware of current issues and research.

Dr. Rachel Greig, Senior Policy Officer, says “some risk factors, such as getting older, cannot be changed but the good news is that others can.  By drinking less, maintaining a healthy weight and getting physically active, women can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.”

So DeeDee, Lance and all the others running in the Iditarod are setting a good example!  You don’t all have to run 1,000 miles, but half an hour of exercise a day can be of enormous benefit, and if you want to help Breakthrough with a donation –  go to http://breakthrough.org.uk/donate/index.htmlnd

From now on I hope to post an update every 36 hours – next one will have info on more British connections, which go back to 1909.