A long cold race is about to begin

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On the first Saturday of March, the 2024 edition of the Iditarod will begin in Anchorage, Alaska.

This great race began in 1973 and has continued ever since that time.

It’s officially 1,049 miles long, named for the 1,000 mile race and the 49th state, but the distance actually changes because the route is different in odd and even years.

This race commemorates the 1925 run from Nenana to Nome.

This was not actually a race but a relay of dog sled mushers hauling diphtheria serum for an outbreak in Nome.

No roads go through this area, and airplanes were new and scarce at this time.

The only way to get this life saving medicine to northern Alaska then was by dogsled.

Now, each musher runs the entire distance from Anchorage to Nome.

So far this year, 43 mushers are signed up to run this race with their team of dogs.

The entry fee for each team is $4,000.

The winner of the first race had a time of almost three weeks.

Now, the race winner usually finishes in just under 10 days. His (or her) prize last year was $51,800. Hardly enough to feed his dogs and buy his equipment for the year.

I have been following this race for many years.

I used to purchase three official race programs each year. One was for me, one for Susie to take to show her school kids, and the last for our daughter, Angi.

I have several of these programs signed by various mushers.

I also purchased video tapes of each year for Susie to take to school, a set of dog booties, dog harness, and other assorted offerings from the Iditarod store.

Each musher is required to carry certain items on the trail and have them inspected at each checkpoint along the race route.

One of these items is a stack of stamped envelopes called cachets.

Each is stamped and autographed by the musher carrying them.

I have a 2002 cachet signed by Karen Land, a musher from Indiana whom we met at Pendleton Community Public Library.

Another one is dated 2003 and signed by Clinton Warnke.

The first one was postmarked at Nome and the second at Anchorage.

My favorite item is a book titled “Father of the Iditarod—The Joe Redington Story.”

Redington was the inspiration for the Iditarod race, and the 352-page book covers the story of him and the Iditarod.

This is a Collectors Limited First Edition of 1,049 copies.

My copy is autographed by Redington and is 124th of the 1,049 copies.

Joe Redington actually died six months before the book was released. He had signed a certificate of authenticity prior to his death.

The Iditarod Trail Committee took possession of the entire limited edition of 1,049 books and all profits from these are being contributed to Joe’s widow.

When he died, Redington was 82 and planning on running the Iditarod the following March.

These hardy mushers go day and night. They have to feed and take care of all of their dogs along the trail.

If a dog becomes sick or injured, they carry them on the sled to the next checkpoint where they are turned over to a waiting veterinarian.

Most mushers start with about 16 dogs and end with about eight or nine.

Toward the end of the race, slower dogs who helped pull the sled for many miles are dropped leaving the faster dogs for the final sprint to the finish line.

After racing for many days, the teams are often spread with great distances between them. But some races come down to teams running just yards apart. One race actually ended with two mushers running side by side after 10 days, with one team winning by just one dog.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in this race in our area, but you can follow it online.

You can also go to the store website to purchase programs, clothes, patches, DVD’s, calendars and more.

Rich Creason is an award-winning outdoors and travel writer whose work has appeared in local, regional, national and international publications for 40 years. Born in Anderson, he is a graduate of Markleville High School. He lives in South Madison County with his wife, Susie. He may be contacted at [email protected].