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!