The Iditarod is an annual dog sled race that takes place on the Iditarod Trail between Anchorage, Alaska and Nome, Alaska. The Iditarod isn’t just any race; it’s a race that pairs humans, or mushers, with their sled dogs as they make their way across well over 1100 miles (1769 kilometers) of some of the roughest, coldest wilderness in North America. The Iditarod has been called “The Last Great Race on Earth” and it got its start in 1973 with a total winning purse of $25,000 US Dollars (USD).
An extraordinary race that mushers from all over the world and all walks of life participate in, the Iditarod was the brainchild of Dorothy G. Page. Conceived by her intrigue and interest with Alaskan history, Page approached a sled dog enthusiast, Joe Redington, Sr. with her idea of running a sled dog race over the Iditarod Trail, which was first used as a mail and supply route during Alaska’s earliest development. The race is designed to pay tribute to Alaska’s history and heroic mushers and dogs that played an instrumental part in the development of Alaska.
The Iditarod Trail is a National Historic Trail today. As a tribute to Alaskan history, the Iditarod is the biggest event in Alaska each year. Business and travel in Alaska increase dramatically in the days leading up to and during the Iditarod. Yet the race itself is organized and operated almost entirely of volunteers.
The route between Anchorage and the finish line in Nome alternates every other year between a northern route and southern route, each with 26 and 27 checkpoints, respectively. At each checkpoint the sled dogs are examined by veterinary staff, while medical staff and volunteers are on hand to aid the mushers if necessary.
The first race had 22 finishers. Since then, entries into the Iditarod have climbed steadily. The prize money raised each year is split between all finishers, with first place claiming $72,066.67 US Dollars (USD) in the 2005 Iditarod. As of 2006, the record for the fastest time was held by Martin Buser who finished the race in 2002 in 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes, and two seconds. Rick Swenson holds the current record for the most wins at 5 total and holds the second fastest time.