Posted by: penpatience | February 1, 2018


WRITERS WORDS: “Do one thing every day that scares you. “ – Eleanor Roosevelt




GEE – Musher command for a right turn

HAW – Musher command for a left turn

MUSH! HIKE! ALL RIGHT! LET’S GO! – Commands to start the team

I have always been enthralled by “The Greatest Race on Earth®” – The Iditarod. The Iditarod is a dangerous race with dogsled teams traveling through rough terrain, mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forests and miles of windswept coast in temperatures often below zero. An Anchorage newspaper in 1983 stated “the word Iditarod comes from the Ingalik Indian word Halditarod which was named for the river where the town was built. It means distant place.” Mushers cover approximately 1049+ miles in ten to seventeen days beginning from Anchorage in south central Alaska to Nome, on the western Bering Sea coast alternating northern and southern routes each year. I believe it is the ultimate challenge of man and beast, a race led by a musher (adult male/female racer) and a lead alpha dog in a dog pack comprised of approximately 12-16 dogs.

Why am I so enamored by the Iditarod? Pitting a team of one musher and 12-16 dogs against Alaska’s harsh landscape along a treacherous route with long hours of darkness, through blizzards and gale force winds, over hills, mountain passes and rivers in competition with other talented teams, to me, is mind-boggling.  So much can go wrong and often does. Accidents happen. An injured or sick dog must be left behind at the closest checkpoint “drop-off” and cannot be replaced with another dog during the race. Mushers have become lost or injured and often must also drop out from the race. And without hard, year round work and training, chances for winning the race are slim to none.

I thought about the enormous task of choosing, caring and training a dozen or more dogs. A musher cannot choose any husky (any Northern type dog). Dogs must be chosen for temperament, intelligence, strength and the ability to work together with other dogs as a team. It’s not an easy choice. Multiple dogs put together naturally react to pack mentality and in a pack you must have an Alpha (leader) dog. Although the musher is the true Alpha Team Leader, communication and a close relationship between musher and lead dog is necessary for success. The lead dog must understand musher oral commands to lead the pack and sled in the right direction. And dogs will be dogs. Rivalry and dog fights between two dogs must be resolved with the dogs separated from each other on the team. All breeds (Siberian Huskies are recognized by the American Kennel Club and usually have blue eyes) of sled dogs are working dogs and require special food in large amounts to maintain energy in the race. They must wear Booties on their feet to avoid cuts and sores. Sleds and equipment, food and health care of the team are expensive. Training and care of the dog team is a year-round endeavor. It takes money, time and patience.

What intrigues me the most about the Iditarod? It’s not a dog race (think horse racing at Belmont or Greyhound racing in Florida). It’s a musher and dog team working together overcoming human and nature’s obstacles to win a competition and achieve a difficult and challenging goal. Although there has been criticism from animal rights groups calling the Iditarod dog abuse, I believe most mushers love their dogs, provide good care and cooperate with all necessary health regulations.

Listed below are a few interesting Iditarod facts:

  • The first Iditarod race was March 3, 1973.
  • The largest number of mushers to finish a single race was 77 in 2004.
  • Mary Shields, in 1974, was the first woman to complete the race.
  • Libby Riddles, in 1985 was the only musher to brave a blizzard becoming the first woman to win the race.
  • In 1986 Susan Butcher broke Rick Swenson’s record set in 1981. (Susan was a four time winner: 1986,1987, 1988, and 1990)
  • Rick Swenson, the only five time winner: 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1991 is now the only musher to win the Iditarod in three different decades, a record that will probably never be broken.

Interested readers can learn more about the Iditarod within the following sites:,,


Note: Iditarod fans! The 2018 Iditarod race will begin on Saturday, March 3, 2018!




  1. I found your article on The Iditarod to be fascinating. There was a lot I didn’t know about it! I can’t imagine doing that trek
    alone! Not on my bucket list! Thanks for enlightening me!


    • Pat, glad you enjoyed it. I’ve always wanted to see the Iditarod race. Perhaps one day…..thanks for the feedback.


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