Saturday, March 06, 2010

Iditarod 2010!

It's an exciting day in Alaska, and people from all over the world are watching as 71 mushers and over 850 dogs take to the trail for the 38th Iditarod. For lovers of endurance events, this one really is the ultimate. Dogsled teams take between 10 and 14 days to cover 1,100 miles between Anchorage and Nome, traveling across frozen rivers and high mountain passes, through the interior of Alaska, and along the coast. The race, just like its home state, is one of epic proportions.

For my own brief stint running dogs, I spent a season working as a dog handler for a musher in northern Minnesota. It was an amazing winter and fulfilled most of the dreams that had brought me from southern California to the north woods. If you've never driven a dog team across a frozen lake, I highly recommend you put it on your bucket list. It's difficult to describe the experience: the excitement of the dogs born to pull, the frozen air flying past your cheeks and stinging your eyes as you lean into a turn, your lead dog so far around the bend that you can't even see her anymore. It's magic.

During that winter, I read every book I could get my hands on about dogsledding, and the musher's library was extensive on the subject. If you think I didn't dream of running the Iditarod myself one day, then you clearly don't know me very well. I still love the idea of it, but I learned enough during that winter to realize that running the Iditarod requires not only a lifestyle commitment to prepare, but that the race itself presents some challenges I don't think I'm equipped to handle (sleep-deprivation being the first to come to mind).

I still enjoy spectating for this one though, and the race website offers more information than I can really absorb. I'm also subjecting my students to a cross-curricular Iditarod unit this year. (Once I learned how much they all love dogs, I couldn't resist.) We'll be learning a little history, following the mushers online and running some statistics during math, and reading Woodsong, Gary Paulson's memoir for middle-grade readers about running the Iditarod. (If you're interested, Paulson is a fabulous writer, and his version of the book for adults is called Winterdance.)

Here's a little teaser video, offering a glimpse of some of the excitement of the race. It's short (about a minute) and put together by Dallas Seavey's sponsor, but I like it because it has some great footage and appropriate, heart-pounding music.

Here's one that's a bit longer, and was sort of an introduction to the 2008 race. The musher's it names are from that year's race, but the Iditarod tends to feature a field of extremely experienced mushers, so it isn't surprising that you'll find most of those same names on this year's start list.

Best of luck to all the mushers and dogs out there over the next two weeks!


  1. Very cool that you're making the Iditarod part of the curriculum!

  2. I've met the sole Minnesotan doing the 'Rod and he has a chance of taking it all this time - I love his name, Freking, what a freking great name for a musher.

  3. Since I read "Call of the Wild" in 8th grade, I've been in great awe of this sport and the life essence it requires to complete the Iditarod. This is SO exciting! The boys watched the videos with me~ thanks for sharing! :)

  4. You spent a season working as a dog handler for a musher? You've driven a dog team across a frozen lake? You amaze me.

  5. Very cool - I'll definitely keep tabs on this. Did you hear about the Jamaican who is racing?

    I know who I'm cheering for!

  6. I so want to learn more about the Iditerod. I put a movie about it on my Netflix queue, but now it's unavailable. A bit cold to do in real life though...

  7. Sarah - Yeah, it's something I've always wanted to do, and there are tons of resources about the race for teachers available online. The kids are pretty excited, too!

    Steve - Ooh, you're so right about that name. I can't believe there's only one Minnesotan this year! I may just have to root for him!

    Amber - We just read Call of the Wild too, so we're on a bit of a theme here. The kids loved it, but I'm guesing they'll like Woodsong even better!

    Rick - Thanks. It really is fun stuff!

    Donald - I did see that there was a Jamacian team. Where on earth does he train?? We'll have to read up on him in class. I hope he makes it to Nome. That will be awesome!

    Claire - Totally frigid, I agree. Another reason I don't think I could handle it. I'm having a hard time convincing my students that the mushers work their butts off and don't just stand on the back of the sled and hold on for the ride. It's a tough, tough race!

  8. It's amazing what wonderful endurance races there are out there when you start to dig!

  9. When I lived in Kodiak, this was HUGE. It was all people talked about while the race was going on. Susan Butcher was better known than the U.S. President!

    You have certainly led an eventful life. Wow, a dog handler for a Minnesota musher.