The Iditarod was created by a special breed of mushers for their own kin, dog drivers of a breed attracted to answer a primal call to adventure. The race would give such intrepid types outlet by providing a platform upon which, using only primitive transportation, they could challenge a crossing of the great, savage Alaska Bush in the dead of subarctic winter. The very dictionary definition of adventure reads, “A bold undertaking; a daring enterprise featuring risk, hazard, danger, and an unknown outcome including a chance of failure, disaster or death.” It’s supposed to be a tough race for tough, competent dog drivers. Most who have competed are great folk with an attitude of gratitude. They are downright thankful a race has been laid out for them, veritably handing them on a silver platter the needed base for expressing their personal call of the wild.
Birch is the firewood of choice here along the old Iditarod Trail, but only for home use. That’s because, in the round, birch never dries, only rots. Year after year it remains wet inside the bark. Birch bark is so impervious it will not let moisture from the green wood out. Birch wood will only dry when spit, stacked, and left a good while to cure. So for campfires, travelers of the northern wilderness turn to other woods which dry while standing dead. The most commonly used is spruce. But for cabin use, where you have time to work ahead on next year’s supply, you cut and split a few cords of birch, which produces more calories of heat per cord than spruce.
I hereby submit Dan Seavey for your consideration for induction into the Iditarod Hall of Fame. My perception is that, apart from the late Joe Redington Sr., those already making up the Hall were deemed deserving because of a single meritorious area of achievement or contribution. However, as was Joe, Dan Seavey is “Iditarod multifaceted,” being distinctive for achievements and contributions in several areas of Iditarod. Each is noteworthy enough by itself to make him deserving of your consideration.
We thought we were sold out, but a few have been found.
The last remaining copies of my first edition of TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod (Blazing the Last Great Gold Rush Trail in North America) are available while they last at www.Amazon.com
When these are gone, they are gone. History. There will be no backorders. When the new revised edition appears in early summer, though it will be under the same title, it will be an expanded work at an increased price.
Before you jump all over this order, make sure you understand which of my two volumes you are ordering. Volume I (which you may order from Amazon until the short supply is gone) is about how the Iditarod TRAIL was born back in gold rush times. Volume II (which you may order straight from me through my website) is how the Iditarod RACE was born. For more information about the two volumes, please visit my website www.rodperry.com
Limited copies of First Edition Volume ONE: Trailbreakers Volume I
Lately I have posted stories of escapes from going through river ice while running the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Obviously the dogs, being in it with the driver, experienced those narrow escapes at the same time. When running such stories, I fully expect to be assaulted by individuals and organizations who are separated so far from the land (“too many generations off the farm”) and hold such a skewed, unnatural view of the natural world that they would, if they could, protect even free-born wolves from wild wolfdom.
Of even the most avid fans of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, not many know that Nome was not always part of the race plan. In this series I’ve been telling how it happened that we have an Anchorage-to-Nome race. I strongly urge you, if you’ve just come aboard, to not begin here but go back to Part I and read it from the top. This series has been lifted from the much more complete telling in my definitive work, TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod, Volume II (The Most Daring Iditarod Adventure of All Time, Founding The Last Great Race On Earth.)
By far the longest, most grueling race ever planned, to be run through one of the most majestic landscapes on the planet, over a gold-rush-era trail dripping with unparalleled history and romance, offering a purse of staggering proportions, featuring the most exciting, anticipation-charged start ever seen in the annals of sled dog racing—all of it was heading Nome’s way. With every other part of the race of such surpassing extravagance and grandiosity, the Iditarod Trail Committee understood that the event could not afford a ho-hum, anticlimactic letdown in Nome. No, the race needed to be superlative in every aspect, start to finish. Nothing less than a rousing reception and gala celebration at the end of the trail would do.
During the six years of pre-Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race evolution of ideas and planning, Nome was not the end destination. This continuing series tells part of the little-known story of Nome’s last-minute inclusion. The full story may be found in my definitive book TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod.
Joee and Ramey Redington stated in a cover quote, “Rod’s got his facts down. Dad (Joe R., “Father of the Iditarod) would be proud of this book.”
Not one in ten thousand of even the most avid race fans has a clear and complete understanding about beginnings of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. For instance, how did it come to be that the race ends in Nome? If you think it was because Race creators wanted to commemorate or recreate the Serum Run, you’re certainly needful—if you’re fan enough to care—of a tutorial to straighten out your notions.
If you’ve just joined in, notice that this is part four. I’d highly recommend you drop back to the beginning and read the three prior Nome—The Golden Key posts.
Recently, senior editorial writer for the Anchorage Daily News Frank Gerjevik, and I reflected on Iditarod’s early days. Frank commented, “You know, Rod, everyone who came into it after its formative years seems to have the mindset that it’s always been full-formed, like it’s always been the way they see the Iditarod today.”
Way back in the late 70s, I counted Frank the first writer that began to “get it” about this unique new sport, the first sports writer who began turning out really insightful daily stories covering the spectacle. And that reflection of his during our recent visit was spot on. As I’ve often said, not one in ten thousand fans has a very full or accurate concept about Iditarod’s formative stages.
Think you know all about how the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was born and drew its first breath? Not many, even back in the day, were privy to the behind-the-scenes, inside story. And today, I daresay that not one in ten thousand of even the most avid Iditarod Race fans has much of a knowledge. Even among racers and the media, but a scant handful are well versed in our race’s beginnings. This continuing series lifts a few bits and pieces of the amazing founding story from my book TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod Volume II.
Readers who only pick up here without reading part 1 of the series will be short-changing themselves. As Joee and Raymie Redington, sons of the late Joe Redington Sr., “Father of the Iditarod” vouched on a TRAILBREAKERS cover-quote, “Rod’s got his facts down. Dad would be proud of this book.”
Think you have the straight scoop about how the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began? Think you know all about those fateful times when the event desperately struggled for birth and its first breath? Even back in the day, not many were privy to the inside, behind-the-scenes story. Today, many of them are gone. I doubt one in ten thousand race fans and volunteers—and few indeed of even Iditarod’s racers and media covering the event—owns a very accurate and complete knowledge of race beginnings.
Here I lay out a small part of the telling, lifted from my revealing book, TRAILBREAKERS Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod (The Most Daring Iditarod Adventure of All Time, Founding the Last Great Race on Earth).
Most of today’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race fans did not come into their fanaticism until the contest had become a well-funded, slick, international spectacle. Therefore it is foreign to them to think of the race ever being a seat-of-the-pants, run-on-a-shoestring operation. The great, trailblazing race epitomized our broke-but-go-anyhow mindset.
For the Iditarod Race to gain a toehold and survive to see even so much as a second running—not to mention any future beyond that—we first had to demonstrate to an almost universally disbelieving and unsupportive public that such a wild scheme was possible to pull off. Joe Redington’s vision was for such a quantum leap beyond any other sled dog race in history, there was not only no close precedent, there was no race that had ever come close to serving as even a distant ramp up.
Joe’s new concept in sled dog racing was just so outlandishly grandiose in all of its facets that few believed it could be done. Many scoffed and ridiculed the idea and denigrated its originator as a deluded fool.
Dick Wilmarth, trailbreaker of trailbreakers, first Iditaroder ever to cross the finish line, neared Nome. It was the great, trailblazing run of 1973. A new star, the Iditarod, was being born. Then, as now, excitement in Nome and all of Alaska red-lined at a fever pitch. No national or international fan base had yet begun, but the “City of the Golden Sands” filled brim-full. Alaskans poured in by jet and snowmobile to take in the never-before-accomplished feat. History would once again be made in the already historically rich Bering Seacoast town.
News coverage from the trail, already primitive and sparse, grew thinner and more sporadic even as Nome and all of Alaska strained to hear more as the racers neared the finish. A storm that had blown for days caused communications interference and inhibited going airborne for visuals. Enough was known, however, to make all aware that Wilmarth’s powerful team led by the incomparable Lime Village dog Hotfoot, had built an insurmountable lead over Athapaskan elder Bobby Vent and Dan Seavey from Seward.
I had heard that my young Iditarod Racer friend Jake Berkowitz, during his run over the Kaltag Portage, had cut his hand with a knife as he separated a patty from rest of a frozen stack while snacking his dogs. However, he had come blasting into the Bering Sea Eskimo town of Unalakleet, in a cloud of snow coming on like the Winged Avenger, his team looking perhaps the strongest in the race, and I had figured bad as the cut was, it would only be an inconvenience; he’d probably just give it a big dab of Neosporin, wrap it, and wait until Nome to seek professional treatment.
Perhaps, Jake had no great chance to overtake the mushers at the very front, seeming to have held back too much in reserve for too long to be able to win against the just-as-strong teams holding a lead too great to make up. It seemed to me, observing from back, here in the comfort of my easy chair, that to have put himself in position at the end to vie for the lead, he should have started clipping a half hour a day from the distance between him and the leaders beginning way back about Nicolai or McGrath. As he came into Unalakleet it looked like he was a significant part of a run-rest cycle off. But still, it appeared that in the final 200 miles he could well reel in a couple of former Iditarod champions running ahead of him and finish 4th or 5th.