This weekend, Alaska is in the midst of the Last Great Race on Earth, the Iditarod. Sixty-six mushers and their teams left the start last weekend to reach the burled arch finish line in Nome.
As you may know, the Iditarod got its start from an episode of Alaska history. In 1925, a diptheria epidemic swept across the territory of Alaska. Dr. Curtis Welch diagnosed the outbreak in Nome and asked for serum from the Alaska Railroad Hospital in Anchorage. The fastest way to get the vital package to Nome was by train to Nenana, then by dog sled to Nome. It took 20 mushers to relay it 674 miles in 127 1/2 hours; all the mushers defied harsh conditions to save the diptheria victims. The largest segment was run by Leonard Seppala and his lead dogs Balto and Togo.
Later, Dorothy G. Page, Joe Redington Sr., and others wanted a long-distance sled dog race to encourage the tradition of dog mushing, and this historic feat became the inspiration for the Iditarod. Since 1973, the Last Great Race has been a part of Alaskan life. Hundreds of people volunteer or donate support. Thousands of people watch the start, end, or catch a glimpse as the teams go by. Rural Alaskans host the race while it runs through their towns. We all follow it online or through the news. Classrooms get involved. Dog mushers are celebrities. The Iditarod is a big deal in Alaska. May it continue to bring together our past and present.