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Mushing through the Alaskan Frontier

Anchorage, Alaska is home to one of the largest dog sledding races in the world called the Iditarod. Every March competitors participate in the 1,150-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race spanning from Anchorage to Nome racing with their teams of 16 dogs across the frozen frontier. The Iditarod takes the dog sledding teams through jagged mountain ranges, across frozen rivers, speeding through dense forests and desolate tundra at temperatures far below zero, often through blizzards and whiteout conditions. Not surprisingly the race has earning the title of "The Last Great Race on Earth." Although this 8-15 day marathon event is the peak competition, during the off season the dogs stay in shape by doing much less rigorous training and many of the teams allow people to come visit the dogs and go on their own dog sledding trek.

Located north of Anchorage in Willow, is the home kennel and training facility for one of the competitions best teams. It took a several hour drive to reach, but immediately upon showing up the dog handlers welcomed and introduced us to the dogs. They provided a bit of the history of the competition, background on the training regime for the dogs (including a massive indoor running treadmill specially designed for the dogs), and stories from the Dallas Seavey Racing team who has been consistently one of the highest ranked teams. The Dallas Seavey team has actually not only competed the previous few years, but also won the overall Iditarod four times.

Several of the dogs that were assigned to my sled were former competitors and champions while some of the others were younger pups were still in training for their first race. At first I felt a little bad about being hauled around by the dogs, but their eager enthusiasm quickly mitigated any concerns. As we loaded up and prepared to mush across the frozen lake, the dogs excitedly pulled on their harnesses until they were allowed to take off and begin the loop around the winter wonderland. Standing on the back of the sled, the view of the surrounding landscape that was flying past was absolutely beautiful. Before returning, the experienced mushers gave me a crash course on controlling the sled and let me help with the guiding and braking on the return trek. Although I can't imagine doing dogsledding as a job or even a hobby, it was fascinating to get an inside glimpse at this cold but highly celebrated tradition. It would be very fun to come back and watch the massive Iditarod race which remains a very important sporting event in Alaska.

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