For entries to a race few believed could be organized and set in motion, and fewer thought possible to run, where would organizers find their field? With little time to prepare there was not only no other source, there was no better source; the field for the first Iditarod would be drawn from the ranks of the ready. And what a field it was.
For the most part, entrants would be superbly competent woodsmen and men of the sea ice and tundra. Many had live spent a great part of their life driving dogs in remote, harsh environments where death lurked one mistake away. They would come already geared up with well-used clothing and equipment, driving well-traveled sleds and trail-toughened dog teams. Some would come ready to perform during the race a near duplication—and others at least a semblance—of what they had usually gone about daily. The likes of this first Iditarod field would never be seen again.
“Yea, well, Officer, or whatever you are, just look at it out there. It’s easy for you to get on your high horse and start issuing your big-shot “beat it” ultimatums. I don’t see you walking around out there in the deep snow in your birthday suit searching for chow! Here you are in here where it’s warm and by appearances, you don’t look to me like you’ve been missing too many meals. Now here you go trying to give one of your fellow Alaskan’s the bum’s rush.
It’s never too early for me to be planning hunting trips. Permit results came out the other day. My hunting partner, second-eldest son Ethan, called from the North Slope where he’s plying his profession as a civil engineer, to inform me we both have been drawn for caribou permits. Our buddy Chad Chilstrom—Google www.chadstoolbox.com –drew as well. To get into the area I wish to reach will require a big “river sled.” And that got me into the boat-building mode.
Now I love wooden boats and boat building. I built my first at age 15 and wish I had a nickel for every mile I rowed it hunting, fishing, and generally plying the waterways of Western Oregon. As teens, we used to take it through the breakers in front of my home beside the surf at Oceanside, Oregon to fish several miles into the open Pacific. Loaded up with bottom fish, back we’d row.
Usually the surf would have built up due to the prevailing northwest wind, so sometimes we’d make it in without capsizing, but often curling over us, a big green comber as high as the 9’2” dinghy would send us swirling under the thundering foam. It looked treacherous to the tourists. But not to worry, my dad’s standard rules (always wear life preservers—my favorite was a WWII navy model buoyed with Italian cork—and go out and come in on the same incoming tide) always kept us safe. With our fishing tackle and fish tied fast, the whole works would in fairly short order come washing in. We’d sell black rockfish, red snapper, ling cod, and other to-die-for eating fare to tourists and villagers for two bits a fish.
Today not many are familiar with their names. But without them, the Iditarod Race would not have been set in motion.
Since forming in the late 1960s, an Iditarod Trail Committee had sometimes served as a functioning body, mostly as a group that generally backed up Joe Redington Sr. in his evolving vision for an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. While into the early 1970s Joe stayed in the public eye, maintained the single-minded focus, took the risks, stood up to the disbelief and ridicule, and kept applying the relentless pressure, the committee, as such, had ceased to meet regularly. When they got together, they were but a loose, unstructured gathering of good-hearted, very interested folk, most of whom lacked much clout and had few resources to invest beyond encouragement and casual, occasional help.
Although a March, 1973 race date had been talked about for a few years, there was nothing really concrete about it. In the fall of 1972 there was no more drive to bring the race to the starting line that spring than there had been in any previous year. For the event to lift off at the end of the 1972-1973 winter, it would take a great ramping up leading to a monumental push. Here’s how it happened…..
“Live if you can and die if you must, but either complete your mission to Nome or any of you who survive might as well not bother coming back!”
With such a send-off, 13 soldiers of the172nd Arctic Light Infantry Brigade aboard their ten Skidoo Alpine double-track snowmobiles pulled out of Knik. They faced not only the adventure of a lifetime, but a contribution that was do-or-die for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Back in the fall and winter of 1972-1973, nothing, not even that winning lopsided grin of Joe Redington nor all of the fabulous intangibles he presented as arguments supporting his extravagant new concept in sled dog racing, nothing had been able to crack the prevalent ho-hum apathy and unbelief of Main Street Anchorage. Nor had Joe been able to turn around the negative attitudes, ridicule, and open opposition emanating from the established sled dog racing community. To the majority, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was too big to bring off—too long, too wild, too complicated, and too costly.
Here living along the old Iditarod Trail, in winter the difference of prolonging one’s existence in the land of the living, or being ensconced on the wrong side of the grass may come down to whether or not you can get a roaring fire going, and fast! Most people are not very good at it, and even most survival “experts” show either a lack of moxie in this area or advise methods good only for softer climes.
The Iditarod Trail—as an actual continuous trail—had origins in that richest, most glorious period of Alaska history, the Gold Rush Era. It was a time of daring men and daring events that forced the lock and broke the silence of the unknown North. Gold rush led to gold rush, trail led to trail, until it culminated in the Iditarod, the last, fabulous, hell-bent-for-leather gold stampede and final great gold rush trail in North America.
Here, living along this stretch of the old Iditarod Trail, we’re experiencing our deepest snows for decades. It’s grown so tough on the moose, I’ve encouraged my family to be considerate as the creatures wander through our yard and woods, and not add any more to their stress. Yes, they pose threats to our safety if we are not watchful. Sure, they upset the piece by causing the neighborhood dogs to carry on a constant uproar. And, it’s true that in the big animals’ pursuit of keeping body and soul together, a lot of valuable fruit trees and ornamentals in local yards get reduced to sawdust between moose molars.
”One, two, three, six, five, four, three, two, GO! Celebrating the one-hundredth year and anniversary of the historical Iditarod Trail, that is Rod Perry in Iditarod thirty-nine, a legend in mushing circles in Iditarod history!”
Here we wrap up a three-part series about the lead dog that introduced the Iditarod Race to millions and more than any other in its first half-decade, put our event on the continental map. This, with but a few changes, is the way I wrote about Fat Albert for a piece I just submitted to Raine Hall. Raine, an old friend (oops, at our age I’d better say a “friend of old”) is compiling what we pioneers expect to be a wonderful book, to be entitled something like, Iditarod: The First Ten Years.
Few of today’s Iditarod fans realize how it came aboutthat the IditarodTrail Sled Dog Race first burst upon the national consciousness in a major way. They’d never guess that at the epicenter of the explosion was a character of a dog. Here finishes my telling about how that all came down.
We continue here a three-part series about the lead dog that introduced the Iditarod Race to millions and more than any other in its first half-decade, put our event on the continental map. This, with but a few changes, is the way I wrote about Fat Albert for a piece I just submitted to Raine Hall. Raine, an old friend (oops, at our age I’d better say a “friend of old”) is compiling what we pioneers expect to be a wonderful book, to be entitled something like, Iditarod: The First Ten Years.
Few of today’s Iditarod fans realize how it came about, that the IditarodTrail Sled Dog Race first burst upon the national consciousness in a major way. They’d never guess that at the epicenter of the explosion was a character of a dog. Here continues my telling about how that all came down.
We here post the first of a three-part series about the lead dog that introduced the Iditarod Race to millions and more than any other in its first half-decade, put our event on the continental map. This, with but a few changes, is the way I wrote about Fat Albert for a piece I just submitted to Raine Hall. Raine, an old friend (oops, at our age I’d better say a “friend of old”) is compiling what we pioneers expect to be a wonderful book, to be entitled something like, Iditarod: The First Ten Years.
Few of today’s Iditarod fans realize how it came about that the IditarodTrail Sled Dog Race first burst upon the national consciousness in a major way. They’d never guess that at the epicenter of the explosion was a character of a dog. Here’s how that all came down.
Because I stood alone as the only driver from Alaska’s population and media center to complete the first IditarodTrail Race, far more attention was focused upon my unusual lead dog Fat Albert and me than would have otherwise been expected from one finishing seventeenth. The Anchorage media’s portrayal of Albert as a clownish character created a warm side note, just one of many that enriched the bigger story of the race. So surrounding the 1973 event the celebrity status of Fat Albert was merely an Alaska-wide thing.
Following the trail-breaking Iditarod, however, as we mushers talked about the history-making adventure we had just lived, many agreed that, while it was all still fresh, we should write down our race experiences for posterity. I found myself filling page after page. Soon it dawned that I had the makings of a magazine article, and a lengthy one at that. Alaska Magazine ran it and stated that it was the longest two-part article in the publication’s history. Additionally, as far as I know it was the first major article on the Iditarod Race to ever hit the periodical press, Iditarod’s trail breaker into the world of international publishing.
“Father of the Yukon,” “Father of Alaska,” “Father of the Country,” “Guardian Angel of the Miners,” “Golden Rule Jack” were his common nicknames. Even the most casual reader of Alaska history cannot but be familiar with the name Jack McQuesten.
Comb the literature of Yukon Territory and Alaska as you might, and you will find not a single disparaging word about McQuesten. No one in the North was so admired and praised during the last quarter of the 1800s. More than any other single person, this man prepared the way for the opening of the 320,000-square-mileYukon Basin and the settlement of more than half of Yukon Territory and Alaska, for the great Klondike gold stampede which Jack McQuesten ushered in was the wellspring of the blockbuster discoveries at Nome, Fairbanks, and Iditarod as well as almost all of the smaller strikes of the gold rush era.
We continue our several-part discussion correcting the mountain of error regarding Iditarod Trail Race and Nome Serum Run connections. If you’re just joining us, your understanding will profit by reading the prior posts first.
4.True or False: The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was born of a desire to run a race over the hallowed course of the Nome Serum Run, that famous 1925 dog team relay to save diphtheria-stricken Nome.
We again pick up in the midst of correcting common myths, misconceptions, inaccuracies, and untruths that have long been imbedded in Iditarod Race lore connecting our Last Great Race with the immortal, Great Race for Mercy, the 1925 Serum Run. Hope you’ve been with us in this present discussion. If not, I invite—no, strongly encourage—you to go back and read the two prior postings.
(3 ctd.) True or False: The famous Nome Serum Run took place over the Iditarod Trail.