The Last Great Race on Earth — by Dennis Ashton 20th March 2014.

iditarodThe great race refers to the 1049 mile annual Iditarod race between Anchorage and Nome in Alaska by dog sled. The race is 1049 miles long because Alaska is the 49th state of America.

He star­ted by explain­ing the immense size of Alaska and its tiny pop­u­la­tion of 723,000 people.  Originally it was pur­chased from Russia for 2 cents per acre and it is now the 49th State of the USA.  Its wealth comes from oil.  In 1900 the prom­ise of wealth came in the form of the Ukon Gold Rush but gold hardly fig­ures in today’s g.d.p.

The coun­try has few roads and most of these become dif­fi­cult to nav­ig­ate in winter so that in the past dog sleds and planes were the main forms of winter trans­port.  Today snow­mo­biles have super­seded dog sleds.  In 1973 to keep an interest in dog sleds alive, the first Iditarod was held and com­peted by the winner in 20 days.

Now it is a much larger and more pro­fes­sional event. In 2012 there were 69 teams each start­ing with 16 dogs.  There were 15 rook­ies, 18 women and 5 past win­ners all hoping to win the $50,000 first prize.  The equip­ment has much improved over 40 years and the fast­est time is 8 days, 22 hours and 46 minutes of actual racing time.  There are a few 24 hour rest stages for the sake of the dogs.  There are sev­eral vets but no doc­tors to sup­port the teams.  Food is provided at the stage posts to reduce the weight to be pulled by the dogs.

Although Siberian Huskies are entered in the Iditarod, they are too large and slow to com­pete with the Alaskan dogs that are mon­grels with some Husky blood.

For Dennis Ashton a major attrac­tion of the race was the friend­li­ness of the people.  A par­tic­u­lar Favorite was Lance Mackay who has won the race 6 times and the other long dis­tance sled race called the Yukon Quest twice.  Dennis’ enthu­si­asm and gifts as a speaker made this a really enjoy­able and enlight­en­ing talk.