“Musher after musher agrees that no one – racers or officials – knew what to expect.” ~Bill Sherwonit in Iditarod: The Great Race to Nome (Alaska Northwest Books, 1991)
Mushers’ Tales From the 1973 Race
On a cold morning in March, 1973, thirty-six mushers stood at the starting line in Anchorage, Alaska, looking down the trail toward Nome, over 1,000 miles away. No one knew what to expect; nothing of this caliber and magnitude had ever been attempted. Sled dog racing in Alaska, at the time, meant driving fast teams around a sprint course, the longest and most famous of which was merely 25 miles. This race, over 1,000 miles through some of the harshest land imaginable, was something else entirely.
Olaus Murie was a naturalist, author, and awildlife biologist who did groundbreaking field research, wrote in his 1973 book, Journeys to the Far North, (American West Pub. Co; 1973):
“Why do we look back to those days as something precious? Perhaps there was something there we do not yet understand. On those long dog trails, leading through miles of scrubby spruce forest, across lowland flats, over rolling hills, every traveler I met was a friend. We would maneuver our respective dogteams past each other in the narrow trail, plant a foot on the brake, and talk….Nothing weighty, these conversations. We were complete strangers, but in a sparsely settled land each person has more value. You’re glad to see each other. When you release your brake and your dogs perk up and yank the sled loose, you wave a mittened hand to your departing acquaintance with the warm feeling of a few shared moments….”
In 2007 author Helen Hegener set about tracking down and visiting the still-living mushers from the 1973 race who would share their stories, their memories of what it was like to be one of the original pioneers setting out on what has since become known as “The Last Great Race on Earth.” Many of the first mushers had already written their own books, and many others did not reply to inquiries, but the bulk of this book is comprised of the verbatim words of eight mushers who made that first journey to Nome in 1973, captured through recorded and videotaped interviews conducted over a span of several years. They tell a captivating true story of hardship, joy, disappointment, camaraderie, harrowing escapes, and a strong proud undercurrent of knowing they were a part of Alaska’s historic first Iditarod.
“And they still don’t know what happened, because no one’s ever asked us.” ~Ford Reeves, who teamed up with Mike Schreiber to run the 1973 Iditarod
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