The 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race—one of the most extreme sporting events in the world—will begin on Saturday, March 1, in Anchorage, Alaska.
Mitch Seavey is the defending champion, last year's victory being the second of his career.
It was also historic, as the 53-year-old Seavey became the oldest musher to win the prestigious race. After the big win, he talked about what it takes to accomplish the feat.
“The main key about the whole Iditarod is the run rest ratio, run enough to be in position and rest enough to keep your speed," he said, as noted by Emily Schwing of KUAK-Fairbanks (via AlaskaPublic.org). "I think I did a pretty good job of that in the early part of the race."
The race itself is a grueling test of endurance, strategy and pure grit. Spanning approximately 975 miles of Alaskan wilderness, the Iditarod isn't for the faint of heart.
- Race Start: March 1
- Race Restart: March 2
- Awards Banquet: March 16
Route (via Iditarod.com)
|Checkpoints||Distance between Checkpoints*||Distance from Anchorage||Distance to Nome|
|Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip||11||11||964|
|Willow to Yentna Station||42||53||922|
|Yentna Station to Skwentna||30||83||892|
|Skwentna to Finger Lake||40||123||852|
|Finger Lake to Rainy Pass||30||153||822|
|Rainy Pass to Rohn||35||188||787|
|Rohn to Nikolai||75||263||712|
|Nikolai to McGrath||48||311||664|
|McGrath to Takotna||18||329||646|
|Takotna to Ophir||23||352||623|
|Ophir to Cripple||73||425||550|
|Cripple to Ruby||70||495||480|
|Ruby to Galena||50||545||430|
|Galena to Nulato||37||582||393|
|Nulato to Kaltag||47||629||346|
|Kaltag to Unalakleet||85||714||261|
|Unalakleet to Shaktoolik||40||754||221|
|Shaktoolik to Koyuk||50||804||171|
|Koyuk to Elim||48||852||123|
|Elim to Golovin||28||880||95|
|Golovin to White Mountain||18||898||77|
|White Mountain to Safety||55||953||22|
|Safety to Nome||22||975||0|
This race can sometimes be contested in brutal conditions, with temperatures dipping down to minus-100 degrees Fahrenheit after wind chill is factored into the equations.
This year's race offers a challenge of a different sort, however.
Simply put, there just isn't much snow in Alaska right now, and temperatures have been soaring into the 50s of late. The competitors and their gorgeous dog teams will be dealing with slush rather than blizzards.
According to NWS (National Weather Service) Alaska Region, Nome hit a high of 51 degrees on January 27, which was the highest-recorded temperature since 1906:
Here's another shocking stat, courtesy of NWS Anchorage, that further demonstrates the alarming conditions:
There was talk about moving the race north to Fairbanks, but race officials opted to keep the traditional route this time around.
But not everyone is happy about the decision. Jake Berkowitz, who finished in eighth place last year, communicated to Casey Grove of the Anchorage Daily News that he and other racers are nervous.
I hope that this year as well they're going to do what they can to provide us with a healthy and safe trail. We don't need a perfect trail, but we do need a safe trail. I've never put my dogs in what I consider danger, and if I get out there and it's as bad as I expect it is right now, I'm not going to ask my dogs to put their lives or my life on the line to finish a dog race. We're going to do what's most safe and healthy for ourselves.
Mushers have been dealing with these poor conditions all winter long. It has made training difficult, and furthermore, it can pose a risk to the dogs, as pointed out by Mary Pilon of the New York Times:
"Most sled dogs run best at temperatures ranging from 20 degrees below zero to zero degrees. When temperatures are higher, dogs risk overheating and sustaining injuries from stepping on bramble."
Thankfully, there has been some recent snowfall in the region, per Grove, which has reportedly improved trail conditions in the first sections of the route.
It's really too bad Mother Nature hasn't cooperated this year.
If there are any issues with dogs getting injured because of the poor conditions, then you can be sure complaints will mount about the decision not to move the race up north.
Hopefully, all the concerns about the warm weather and lack of snow pack will end up becoming nothing more than a distant memory once the race begins on Saturday.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78