Sunday, March 4th, dozens of dog sled teams took to the trail for the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, setting out on a near thousand-mile journey through Alaska's wilderness. The 66 mushers and their dog teams will spend about the next eight days trying to be the first to reach the old gold rush town of Nome.
|Iditarod Trail Map, artwork by Jennifer Thermes [source]|
The Iditarod is run each year to commemorate the emergency delivery in 1925 of diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska. In 1925 Alaska had no way to connect with the interior, and the cold and blizzards would freeze airplane motors solid. It came down to the time-honored mode of travel in the frozen north to get the precious, life-saving serum to Nome: sleds driven by brave men and fueled by dog power.
It was decided the serum would be transported by train from Anchorage to Nenana, a town on the Tanana River 220 miles north of Anchorage, and then by a relay of dog teams over the 674 miles between Nenana and Nome.
This epic relay was carried out by diverse group of 20 mushers: Eskimo, Russian-Eskimo, Norwegian, Irish and Indians. These men had stamina and toughness in common, and all shared the special understanding and working partnership with their sled dogs that would be the key to the success of the venture.
The last leg reached Nome on Monday, February 2 at 5:30 in the morning. Dr. Welch was awakened by a persistent knocking on his front door. When he opened it he found an exhausted Gunnar Kaasen, the musher of the final leg of the relay. Kaasen handed him a twenty pound, fur-and-canvas-covered package containing the 300,000 units of serum. In the street were his 13 dogs harnessed to a sled, their heads and bushy tails hanging almost to the ground. They had covered the last fifty-three miles of the epic relay in seven and a half hours. These dogs, and the teams that preceded them, had traversed 674 ice-and-snow covered miles in less than five days. They delivered to Dr. Welch the life-saving serum that within a week would break the back of the diphtheria epidemic.
In 1966-67 Dorothy Page and Joe Redington Sr. organized the first Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race to commemorate the serum relay. In 1973 the race was expanded to its present course. [source]
ABOUT THE SLED DOGS:
You've probably heard of Balto, the dog who led the sled team that delivered the serum at the end of the final leg of the serum relay (there are books, and even an animated film about him), but have you ever heard of Togo? Many mushers today consider Leonhard Seppala and his Siberian Husky, Togo, to be the true heroes of the run as together they covered the longest and most hazardous leg of the relay. They made a round trip of 261 miles from Nome to Shaktoolik and back to Golovin, and delivered the serum a total of 91 miles, almost double the distance of any other team. To see photos of Seppala (owner) and Togo, click here. If you're interested in further information about Togo, "the sled dog that has been overlooked by history" - go here.
Click here to read a detailed account, "Balto and the Legacy of the Serum Run: From the 1925 Serum Run To the Iditarod Today".
THE RACE TO NOME by Kenneth A. Ungermann (Grades 3 and up). This fascinating book tells the story of the original Serum Relay.
THE BRAVEST DOG EVER: THE TRUE STORY OF BALTO by Natalie Standiford. (grades K-3)
This "Step Into Reading" book is the dramatic true story of the sled dog who led his team through 53 miles of snow and ice on the last leg of the relay to deliver medicine during the 1925 diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska.
TOGO, written and illustrated by Robert J. Blake. (Ages 4-8). A gorgeous picture book: When Togo is eight years old, his owner Leonhard Seppala is asked to make an emergency relay run to pick up a serum that can stop the diphtheria epidemic threatening the entire population of Nome, AK. Togo leads his team over 350 miles through storms, suffering terribly, and with almost no rest.
You might also like:
STONE FOX by John Reynolds Gardiner (Grades 2–6) Ten-year-old Willy enters a dogsled race in hopes of winning the prize money to pay taxes owed on his grandfather's farm; but that means beating the huge Indian mountain man, Stone Fox. Is the family dog, "Searchlight", any match for the magnificent team owned Stone Fox?
MORE...The Official Iditarod site has some very comprehensive reading lists of both fiction and non-fiction books about Alaska, dog sled racing, and the Arctic, for children, young adults, and adults - HERE. These lists are great, whether you're reading just for fun, or doing a Unit Study about Alaska!
Scholastic also has a site with Iditarod Activities and a book list, that came be found HERE.