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The Iditarod: Capture the Wilderness

On March 5th, over dozens of mushers and their teams will leave Anchorage for a challenging, rugged journey through the frozen Alaskan wilderness. Each team of 12 to 16 covers the 1,100 mile distance in approximately 9 to 17 days, following a set route with numerous checkpoints. The dog sled teams will race day and night in hopes of reaching the small town of Nome on the Bering Sea. Before the teams set off, revelers from around the world will gather in Anchorage to celebrate this historic race, and to join in heralding that frontier spirit - a spirit which is so often lost in these modern times.

A few years ago, I, too, became a participant in that vast, breathless celebration. Attending the Iditarod was an experience to which nothing can compare. Upon my arrival, I was immediately caught up in the thrill of the event, as all of Anchorage seemed to be consumed with Iditarod fever. Here was a true meeting of culture and wilderness, as the streets filled with people from all walks of life. If you’re seeking an ultimate wild west experience, the Last Great Race on Earth is an adventure you won’t soon forget.

Dog sledding has deep roots in Alaskan history, as sled teams were used during the harshest winter months to carry supplies and communication to rural settlements, and mushing races were also enjoyed recreationally. The most famous of these races, the Iditarod, has taken place yearly since 1973 and is now Alaska’s most well-known and well attended sporting event.

The route takes mushers and their dogs through a harsh and varied landscape. Winds and temperatures can be brutal, as the teams pass over mountains, through forests, and past small, remote villages and towns. The heartbeat of the Iditarod is found not along the winding and lengthy trails, but in Anchorage itself where the party starts in the days leading up to the race. Revelers take to the streets to celebrate this historic event and its accompanying “wild west” spirit. The air feels drunk with merriment as you take in the scene: mushers flushed from the energy of the crowd, their sleek and beautiful dogs pawing at the snow, anxious to show their skills. These folks are hearty, and it’s clear they’re filled with the spirit of Iditarod. You can’t help but be caught up. This is the winter carnival, and its atmosphere is an adventurous thrill.

As the mushers set off amidst exuberant cheers, it’s time to prepare for the other events of the day. The Running of the Reindeer is one of those unique and unusual events you’ll be talking about for years. Much like Spain’s infamous running of the bulls, you’ll find yourself in a crowd suddenly moving en masse, trying to dodge the large reindeer which have just been let loose in the streets of Anchorage. This mad dash is all in good fun, and you’ll find yourself laughing and cheering alongside your fellow revelers as the reindeer gallop by.

In a nearby area you’ll find the fur rendezvous, an experience which truly encapsulates the frontier image. Here, people from all over the world gather in a tented arena to buy, sell, and showcase furs. You’ll see buyers haggling with rugged hunters, adorned head-to-toe with the furs of bears, wolves, and animals you’ve never seen before. If you can, stay for the fashion show, boasting some of the wildest outfits you’ve ever imagined.

If the Iditarod calls to you, travel to Alaska this March to celebrate the Last Great Race on Earth. Keep in mind that this event is wildly popular, so you’ll need to book well in advance.

Perhaps you’re like me, and you’ve read The Call of the Wild since your childhood and dreamed of what that untamed, spectacular world must be like. You can find just such a feeling when you come to the Iditarod.

#Iditarod #wilderness #mushers #Anchorage #dogsledding