It seems that sled dogs are in the distant past, during the "Gold Rush" in Alaska in the late 19th century. However, sled dog breeding will remain among some peoples of the North in the 21st century. And since 1973, a marathon race has been regularly held along the Anchorage - Nome route. This competition, called "Iditarod", was organized to commemorate the 1925 "Great Race of Mercy".
In that year, the city of Nome was engulfed in an epidemic of diphtheria. The only way to deliver the serum was by dog sledding. The distance of more than a thousand kilometers was covered in five and a half days. Gradually, the importance of dogs as a means of transport began to decline, and much more powerful and high-speed snowmobiles came to replace them.
But, 48 years after the Great Race of Mercy, enthusiasts decided to hold an international extreme race from Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, to Nome. The participants had to overcome about 1800 kilometers along a snow track. The very name "Ayditarod" was not chosen by chance, in the language of the Athapaskan Indians it means "a distant place". The race has become the longest and most famous in the world; many interesting facts are associated with it, over almost half a century of history.
Oklahoma native Joe Readington is called the "father" of the race. During the Great Depression, he had to wander around the country a lot in search of work. Once in Alaska, he watched with sadness that more modern forms of transport were supplanting dogs. And he decided to revive the sledding competition. True, it took quite a few years for all the organizational issues and fundraising.
Participants start at the beginning of March. Each of the sleds has 12-16 dogs, and the best mushers cover the distance in 10-12 days. Thus, they cover more than 150 kilometers in one day. There are also record holders here, in 2011 John Baker finished 8 days 19 hours and 46 minutes after the start, setting a track record. Baker himself is a representative of the Eskimo group of Inupiat, according to him, the race for him is a habitual way of life.
Considering that the air temperature during the races often drops to forty degrees below zero, or even lower, quite strict requirements are imposed on the participants. Each of them should have appropriate clothing, a warm sleeping bag, snowshoes, an ax, and a certain amount of food. And for dogs, in addition to food, it is necessary to have protection for the paws to avoid serious damage. But, even this does not always save: during the race, about 150 animals have already died. Most of the winners state that the victory is primarily a merit of the dogs, not the people.
Increasingly, animal rights activists are protesting against the "Ayditarod". In their opinion, this is a real mockery of animals. But the mushers themselves object that their pets were specially bred for a long run in the snowy desert. Those of them who are constantly at work feel much better than their "couch" brothers. In addition, dogs, if necessary, always receive timely veterinary assistance.
Until the beginning of the nineties, it was not an indispensable condition for only sled dog breeds to participate in the competition. At will, the participant could use any. True, such experiments often ended sadly, and the organizers banned such "liberties".
Founder Joe Readington also participated in many races. But, he never managed to achieve high places. However, Joe was not at all upset, he was pleased with the success of any of the rivals, the main thing is that the competitions themselves gain popularity.
Both men and women can participate in the races, and the fair sex even became winners several times. The first such result was achieved in 1985 by Libby Riddle. The prize fund is $ 300, 000. The winner gets 50, 000, and each of the riders who managed to reach the finish line gets 1, 000. The remaining amount is divided between the top 20 participants, depending on the result.
The names of the most famous mushers in Alaska are held in no less respect than, for example, in Europe, the names of football stars. For example, Rick Swenson took part in 20 races and was invariably in the top ten leaders, became the winner five times. He could have become a six-time champion, but in 1978 he lost only one second to Dick McKay. And this is at a distance of 1, 800 kilometers! But Norman Vaughan proved that extreme super marathon is not only for young people. He started his fourth race at the age of 88.
One of the active participants in the race is a black native of Jamaica, Newton Marshall. He does not always manage to get to the finish line, but in 2014 Marshall became a real hero, rescuing one of the racers, who broke his leg in the distance.