2019 Iditarod Coverage

Observations and Impressions on the Last Great Race

The ceremonial start in Anchorage has completed and all teams are on their way to Willow so the racing can start in earnest tomorrow. Today's start is all about publicity and smiles and sponsors. Tomorrow is when the blood, sweat and tears start.

2019 Iditarod Ceremonial Start
Photo by John Pennell/JBER PAO

While the race hosts contestants from around the world, a full 18 of the 52 competitors come from just three places- Fairbanks, Two Rivers, and Willow. That's right, a full 35% of the racers call just three towns home.

Those three towns could very well be described as the epicenter of long distance mushing in the United States and for much of the world. Many international competitors make those places a home-away-from-home for training and race seasons.

While a firearm isn't part of the required gear list for a musher, many of the race competitors carry a firearm on the sled. The main rationale is to protect the team from wildlife on the trail. 

2019 Iditarod Anchorage Start
Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

Moose are biologically wired to be aggressive toward any canine and a dog team running headlong into a cow with a calf means something is likely going to die before it's resolved. Moose also like packed trails during winter months and tend to hang out on mushing trails making them the main wildlife hazard. Moose have been killed during the race and during training runs by mushers trying to separate the warring parties on several occasions.

While black and grizzly bears inhabit the entire length of the trail, most are asleep during race time and are seldom seen. Black and grizzly bears are also biologically wired to avoid canines for the most part so the risk is fairly low. Polar bears can inhabit the coastal area of the trail and are occasionally seen during the race and would certainly have no compunction about eating a sled dog, or musher for that matter. 

Wolves also inhabit the entire area of the race and are frequently seen. Although negative wolf/musher encounters haven't happened, the potential is there. During this year's Quest, wolves followed one racer for several miles at a range of 100 yards. 

2019 Iditarod Ceremonial Start Dogs
Photo by Jared Sternberg

Interviews among racers by "Guns and Ammo" magazine revealed that most competitors (and most Alaskans) opt for a large frame revolver in a magnum cartridge. While many of the competitors carry a rifle (especially Canadians) on the sled during training, none use one on the Iditarod itself due to bulk and weight. One contestant carries a flare pistol to both persuade wildlife to leave the area and use the light from the flare to verify they left. 

The Iditarod also has "Rule 34" that specifies if an animal is dispatched in defense of the musher of his team, the animal must be field dressed and reported to ADFG and race officials for recovery and consumption in compliance with state law. Additionally, any racers that come upon the dead animal cannot proceed and must help field dress the animal before racing can continue.  Non-edible animals must be reported, but can be left unrecovered.

Further coverage of the 2019 Iditarod, along with other musings about the people and places along the trail can be found here on The Alaska Life.

Written by author Mike Rogers


My state home, The Beautiful Alaska. Quyana for keeping us posted at this jubilant time, the Iditarod.

Winnie Pitawanakwat April 17, 2021

Lived in Alaska for 8 years. Volunteered for 3 years for the race. Met Joe Reddington Sr.’s dogs. “FATHER” of the IDITAROD!

Sherry April 17, 2021

Live in Melbourne Australia, been Alaska and met some of those magnificent dogs. The haunting blue eyes cannot be forgotten. Would just love to see some of the Iditarod but will be content with what we can get via Facebook. Good Luck all racers and stay safe.

Marjorie Chandler April 17, 2021

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