Alaska’s famous long-distance sled dog race, the Iditarod, began on Mar. 7th despite the fear of COVID-19.
“Last Great Race” occurs every year in early March, starting in Anchorage, Alaska, and ending in Nome, Bering. Teams include an average of 14 dogs trekking in a sled “covering 1,000 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer,” according to Iditarod.
Because of the pandemic, the route was modified 100 miles shorter to avoid villages, according to CNN. The number of Mushers (drivers of the dogsleds) was reduced from 70 to 50 competitors.
2019 winner Peter Kaiser made the trek in 9 days, but it can take 12 or more days to complete this grueling event.
Fan favorite and the 2018 Iditarod champion, Joar Leifseth Ulson, believe that pandemic protocols would not make much difference once the race begins.
“It’s not like we are very social people,” Ulsom said to Reuters. “We spend most of our time out with the dogs.”
According to Yahoo! life, the sled dogs need to be lithe and agile while still having thick coats and tough feet. They require a healthy appetite and the ability to rest and recover efficiently. Alaskan huskies are specifically bred for these reasons.
“They are made to run, recover, pull, and withstand arctic conditions,” Musher Kristy Berrington said. “They love what they do and give 110 percent effort.”
Iditarod’s chief executive, Rod Urbach, promises that all participants, staff, and volunteers will take COVID-19 tests and operate within an Iditarod bubble.
This year’s competitors include Ulson and three other returning champions, Kaiser, Dallas Seavey, and Martin Buser.
Also competing are Aliy Zirkle, planning to retire after this year’s race, and Jessie Royer, who finished third the past two years.
This is kind of a different year. It’s going to be a little odd going on the trail,” Ulson said.
The race will stream on the Iditarod on March 7, starting and ending in Willow, Alaska, completing the first-ever “Gold Trail Loop”.