Starting from Anchorage every March and ending 8 to 15 days later in Nome Alaska, the Iditarod is one of the greatest endurance tests in sport, with competitors mushing sled dogs across 1,150 miles of snow and ice in temperatures as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
It is Alaska’s largest spectator sport, and a few things celebrate the pioneering spirit of the United States 49th state much better than this. The trail is now a National Historic Trail, the Iditarod began as a mail and supply route for miners. It winds across frozen rivers and desolate tundra, through dense forest and along miles of wind-swept coast from Seward, near Anchorage, to Nome, on the Western Bering Sea coast. In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life-saving highway for epidemic-stricken Nome. Diphtheria raged, and serum had to be brought in by intrepid mushers and their hard-driving dogs. In commemoration of those heroic feats, the route was turned into a race course in 1973, and today mushers come from as far away as Japan and Norway to compete for a share of the $600,000 prize.
You can get into the race yourself as a passenger, or “IditaRider”, by bidding for a spot on a musher’s sled for the first 11 miles (the auction begins in November, with a $7,500 offer guaranteeing your choice of musher). For a less competitive take, contact Raymie Redington son of Joe “Father of the Iditarod” Redington Sr. who leads short trips on the Iditarod Trail. Winterlake Lodge, one of the remote fly-in outposts directly on the trail offers four handsome guest cabins and opportunities to traverse the trail with a team of 24 Alaskan huskies (it’s also one of the state’s few wilderness lodges that stays open year round). The dinner menu is remarkable even by big-city standards.
Nome, the “end of the line” for the Iditarod (and almost everything else), stands on the coast of the Bering Sea. It’s dirt streets and rough-and-tumble saloons are quiet until the month-long Iditarod celebration rolls into town every March. Along with the race fans come northern lights aficionados, as well as participants in the Bering Sea Ice Golf Classic, who hit orange golf balls onto the Astroturf laid across the frozen sea.
Where: Headquarters in Wasilla, 40 miles north of Anchorage. Telephone: 907-376-5155 or 907-248-6874 http://www.iditarod.com
When: Early March. IditaRiders auction you should call Tel: 800-566-7533 or 907-352-2202 http://www.iditarodauction.com
When: Early Nov-Jan. Raymie Redington Tel: 907-376-6730. Cost: half-hour dog sled rides as little as $50.
When: Beginning with the 1st snow in November. Winterlake Lodge Tel: 907-274-2710. http://www.withinthewild.com Cost: 2 night stay for $2,130 per person with an all-inclusive air transfer from Anchorage. Winterlake run by withinthewild.com offer five different guest cabins scattered around Alaska. The main lodge sits in the centre of the cluster with access to Kayaks and boats. Behind the lodge you’ll find Wolverine Mountain, superb for hikes or helicopter assisted treks. Guides can teach you how to fish in the wild on the Happy River or explore with orienteering classes near the Skwentna River. A quick search for EU travellers, Heathrow to Anchorage flights in March cost £700 return which is around $1000 in USD.
Sevy is a travel writer for http://www.solimartravel.com/ a worldwide travel blog. One of her favourite places is Nome & Wales in Alaska.