Friday, March 12, 1993

Iditarod V

Dogs were the only way to go in those early days. But the 1920's brought skiplanes to the land, and forty years later snowmobiles nearly put an end to traditional dog sledding. You don't have to feed a snowmobile in the summer, it doesn't get into fights with all the other snowmobiles and it's a whole lot faster in winter.

The gold played out, too, and most of the gold rush towns shrank to a shadow, or disappeared outright. Iditarod itself remains only in name, though it once was home to 20,000 miners and camp followers. It's now a tumble-down ghost town, slowly falling into the creek. The old bordello's roof has come down, it's flowered wallpaper is curled and lying in heaps. An old wrought iron bed lies rusted and in pieces, while one ancient Underwood typewriter slowly returns to its component elements in the mercantile store.

The '70's brought a new generation of wanderers to Alaska, though. Some cherished the old ways of bush travel and frontier life, and set about raising sled dogs again and running them for fun and competition. The races grew longer and in 1973, Joe Redington, Sr. and Dorothy Page helped organize the first Iditarod Trail race from Anchorage to Nome. It was more a long winter camping trip than a race, but a good time was had, no one got killed and they've been at it ever since. National sponsorship money came, as did national television coverage and some big money. It wasn't about camping anymore, it turned into a real race.

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