OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Iditarod “The Last Great Race”
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is a sled dog race run every February between Anchorage, Alaska, and Nome, Alaska. It is called “The Last Great Race on Earth” because in 1978, a reporter for the London, Ian Woolridge, wrote an article about the race. In the article, along with lots of other information, the reporter used the words, “The Last Great Race on Earth” to explain his thoughts and observations about the race. What the reporter meant by those words was that the Iditarod was the only really great race left.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race first ran to Nome in 1973. In the mid 1950’s, Joe and Vi Redington were writing letters to bring rememberance to the old Iditarod Trail and it’s important historical significance to Alaska’s history. There were two short races using nine miles of the Iditarod Trail in 1967 and 1969. (Sprint races)
The Iditarod Trail soon became the major “thoroughfare” through Alaska. Mail was carried across this trail, people used the trail to get from place to place and supplies were transported via the Iditarod Trail. Priests, ministers and judges traveled between villages via dog team.
All too soon the gold mining began to slack off. People began to go back to where they had come from and suddenly there was less travel on the Iditarod Trail. The use of the airplane in the late 1920’s signaled the beginning of the end for the dog team as a standard mode of transportation, and of course with the airplane carrying the mail, there was less need for land travel. The final blow to the use of the dog team came with the appearance of snowmobiles in Alaska.
By the mid 60′s, most people in Alaska didn’t even know there was an Iditarod Trail or that dog teams had played a very important part in Alaska’s early settlement. Dorothy G. Page, a resident of Wasilla and self-made historian, recognized the importance of an awareness of the use of sled dogs as working animals and of the Iditarod Trail and the important part it played in Alaska’s colorful history.
Page presented the possibility of a race over part of the Iditarod Trail in celebration of Alaska’s Centennial celebration in 1967 to an enthusiastic Joe Redington, Sr., a musher from the Knik area. Soon the Pages and the Redingtons began promoting the idea of the Iditarod Race to the extent that Joe and Vi Redington moved to the Knik area from their homestead at Flat Horn Lake and they have never moved back. (Flat Horn Lake is approximately 30 miles out of Knik.)
The Aurora Dog Mushers Club, along with men from the Adult Camp in Sutton helped clear years of over-growth from a nine mile section of the Iditarod Trail. The sprint race from Knik to Big Lake and back again was a two day event covering 56 miles. Their hard work was finished in time for Alaska’s 1967 Centennial celebrations and the first race along part of the Iditarod Trail. A $25,000 purse was offered in that race, with Joe and Vi Redington donating one acre of their land at Flat Horn Lake adjacent to the Iditarod Trail to help raise the funds. (The land was subdivided into one square foot lots and sold with a deed and special certificate of ownership, raising $10,000 toward the purse.) Contestants from all over Alaska and even two contestants from Massachusetts entered that first race on the Iditarod Trail , but a newcomer, Isaac Okleasik, from Teller, Alaska, won the race with his team of large working dogs. The sprint race was put on only one more time in 1969.
Joe never gave up on looking for a way to preserve the history of the Iditarod Trail and began talking to friends about a long distance race. The goal was to have the race go to the goldrush ghost town of Iditarod in 1973. However, in 1972, the decision was made to take the race the 1,000 miles all the way to Nome. Howard Farley and the residents in Nome were instrumental in getting the northern portion of the race organized. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army reopened the southern portion of the trail between Fairwell Lake and Knik as part of a winter exercise. Two teachers ,Tom Johnson and Gleo Hyuck believed in Redington’s vision of a long-distance race and worked with Joe to incorporate the Iditarod Race and plan it. Then others volunteered. The “Last Great Race on Earth” was a reality – all amidst comments that it couldn’t be done. Joe’s determination and vision along with many volunteers led to what we know today as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
There were many who believed it was crazy to send a bunch of mushers out into the vast uninhabited Alaskan wilderness. But the race went! Twenty-two mushers finished that year and to date, there have been over 400 finishers. Mushers have come from Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Japan, Austria, Australia, Sweden and the Soviet Union as well as from about 20 different states in this country.
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