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.”
If you’re an avid Iditarod Trail Race fan, do yourself a favor and digest all four of the preceding posts of this series before reading this one. Part V picks up where Joe and the Iditarod Trail Committee, having scrapped the long-standing plan to run the Iditarod Race from Knik to Iditarod and back, in favor of a new model going Anchorage to Nome, have had it piece-by-piece dawn on them all of the manifold blessings the new starting point, route, and destination brings to the table.
After six years of sifting through ideas, finally, here it was, gathered together in one complete, fabulous grand scheme. This new design, which at first came as an off-hand brainstorm, of going from-Anchorage-through-the-bush-villages-to-Nome, was indeed becoming obvious as the master stroke, the golden key to the founding of an event of immense and lasting allure and success. It seemed absolutely perfect.
After all those years, they finally had an Iditarod Race design they knew was marketable. One can almost picture Joe Redington throwing his hat into the air, leaping skyward while double-pumping his fists and triple-clicking his heels and crying out, “Eureka!” Now if only he could get it off the ground and show the world.
That late fall of 1972 word quickly flashed around among the insiders of the close-by Iditarod mushing community. I got a fast letter from Ron Aldrich exclaiming, “Joe has decided we’re going to Nome!”
There had already been so much thinking that had gone into staging a long-distance race over the Iditarod Trail that organizers only needed to roll over stated goals of the old Knik-Iditarod-Knik model into the new Anchorage-Nome plan. To repeat, those three unchanged objectives were:
- Hold a long-distance race over the old Iditarod Trail.
- Stimulate the return of sled dogs and interest in dog mushing back into village Alaska.
- Promote inclusion of the Iditarod in the system of National Historic Trails.
Notice that the Serum Run had no part in the inspiration or planning for the Iditarod Race. For clarification of how the Great Race for Mercy became part of our event, go to other Rod’s Blog posts ( www.rodperry.com ) on that subject. The more complete version is in my book TRAILBREAKERS Volume II.
Joe had a habit of running ideas that had already been decided upon past others as if their approval or rejection made a difference. In the case of Anchorage-to-Nome, is anyone’s guess whether he did it for the sheer pleasure of seeing eyes light up, or to gauge public reception, or maybe to give himself a well-deserved emotional boost after so many years of standing against apathy and ridicule. Though the die had already been cast by the whole Iditarod Trail Committee and it wasn’t Joe’s to change, he kept asking people, as if he were still trying to make up his mind, “What do you think about running the race from Anchorage to Nome?”
In the years since, I find it humorous how many people have told me they were the very ones who either gave the whole idea to Joe or at least convinced him that the Iditarod Trail Race should go from Anchorage to Nome, “back when he was still unsure.”
Dorothy Page, credited today as “Mother of the Iditarod” accurately should be acknowledged as “Mother of the Short Iditarod,” Page had been the one who first gave Joe the idea for the 1967 two-day sprint race that incorporated but nine nearby miles of the Iditarod Trail. Dorothy’s thinking had sometimes run 180 degrees counter to Joe Redington’s even leading up to that short race, especially in the matter of the huge purse Joe offered, which she considered way over-the-top exorbitant.
When Joe’s flights of fancy began to far exceed her limited original vision (that of a one-time event over a short portion of the trail for a modest purse just to celebrate, in 1967, the centennial of a Alaska’s purchase from Russia) and the design for a great race to Iditarod and back for the fabulous purse of $50,000 shocked her, Dorothy and Von Page distanced themselves. Or, like Joe often put it to me, “The Pages ran like rabbits.”
Race Cofounder Gleo Huyck: “Yet Joe Redington appreciated all the hard work Dorothy had put in to help make the 1967 centennial race a success. He wanted to give her every opportunity to be part of the new Anchorage-Nome effort. It seemed like time wasted to Tom (cofounder T. Johnson) and me—we almost rolled our eyes at one another—when Joe insisted we had to go to the Pages for one last try to convince them to come on board.
“In the first days of November, 1972, we three went to the Page home. The stiff-arm we got could not have been more definite. Dorothy and Von Page were unshaken in their belief that such a race would prove disastrous for dogs and negative for the sport. They were adamant that the ridiculously unthinkable $50,000 prize would be Joe Redington’s undoing. Dorothy and Von dismissed us with the firm admonition not to so much as mention their name in connection with the event.!”
Elsewhere, Dorothy Page publicly recorded her disowning of the long race, exclaiming for all to note, “I wash my hands of it!”
Now the new plan to go to Nome had been well settled by the Iditarod Trail Committee for over a month. Work toward a March launch had been progressing at breakneck speed. But Nome, distanced as they were hundreds of miles from the action way off up there on the Seward Peninsula, was totally in the dark as to what was transpiring far to the southeast. Hadn’t they better be let in on the little fact that a great race was already far along in the planning and their fair city was not only going to have it land in their laps, but very soon?
To be continued