Mush, Balto, Mush! The Last Great Race
For the ultimate experience of the Last Frontier, show up for the lditarod, a grueling sled-dog race across the Alaskan wilderness from Anchorage all the way to Nome on the coast of the Bering Sea.
Dogsledding as transport was all but eclipsed by airplanes and snowmobiles when, in 1973, the first Iditarod was organized to resuscitate the tradition and commemorate such events as when, during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Nome, twenty mushers and a sled team led by the legendary dog Balto crossed the frozen landscape to bring serum to the town.
Today an average of sixty-five mushers and their teams come from all over the country and from as far away as Japan and Russia to compete for a share of the $600,000 purse, traversing 1,149 miles in eight to fifteen days.
Nicknamed the “Mardi Gras of the Arctic,” the Iditarod has become the largest spectator event in Alaska, with crowds showing up for the pre-start party and camping out along the first few days’ worth of trail.
Along the way, entire towns turn out to cheer on the mushers and their teams. To get into the race yourself as an “Iditarider,” place a bid for a spot on one of the mushers’ sleds for the first 11 miles (the auction begins in November).
Or contact musher extraordinaire Raymie Redington, son of Iditarod founder Joe Redington. Three generations of the family have participated in the legendary race dozens of times, and today they offer half-hour (or longer) sled rides or overnight wilderness trips.
Raymie’s place is also home to hundreds of huskies, all of them seemingly as game as their owner.
The remote, fly-in Winterlake Lodge sits directly on the Iditarod Trail and becomes Dog Central when the first teams arrive on the race’s third or fourth day.
Guests who get the bug can take a ride on the trail on nonrace days with the lodge’s own team of twenty-four Alaskan huskies. The lodge’s three guest cabins offer a quintessential Alaskan wilderness experience, and the dinner menu is as remarkable as its wintry surroundings.
What: event, hotel.
Iditarod Headquarters: in Wasilla, 40 miles north of Anchorage. TeI: 907-376-5155; www.iditarod.com. The Iditariders Auction begins in Nov (minimum starting bid $500), tel 800-566-SLED.
When: early Mar.
Raymie and Barb Redington: Wasilla. Tel/fax: 907 -376-6730; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost: customized according to number of adults and children, hours or days requested.
When: beginning with 1st snow in Nov. In dry months the dogs are hitched to wheeled sleds
Winterlake Lodge: tel 907 -274-2710; email@example.com; www.withinthewild.com.
When: open year-round.
Cost: $1,090 per person for 2 days/2 nights includes 50-minute scenic flight.