Volunteering for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

First, a few words on the Iditarod from Wikipedia:

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome. Mushers and a team of 16 dogs… cover the distance in 9–15 days or more.  The Iditarod began in 1973 as an event to test the best sled dog mushers and teams but evolved into today’s highly competitive race…

Teams generally race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause the wind chill to reach −100 °F (−73 °C). A ceremonial start occurs in the city of Anchorage and is followed by the official restart in Willow, a city 80 miles north of Anchorage… The trail is through a harsh landscape of tundra and spruce forests, over hills and mountain passes, and across rivers. While the start in Anchorage is in the middle of a large urban center, most of the route passes through widely separated towns and villages, and small Athabaskan and Iñupiat settlements. The Iditarod is regarded as a symbolic link to the early history of the state and is connected to many traditions commemorating the legacy of dog mushing.

Slightly over a year ago, I was sitting in my friend’s living room when he mentioned that he had once volunteered on the Iditarod Trail.  He said it was cold, dark, and the smell of wet dog lingered in his nose for weeks… but it was an amazing experience.

Ever since learning about the 1,000 mile dog sled race when I was a small child, the race has been at the back of my mind.  My pet dog used to pull me around our yard in my sled and I would imagine I was an Iditarod musher (never mind the fact that my dog was facing the wrong direction and not in a harness, and not moving very quickly, but hey- the sled moved!)

Upon hearing my enthusiasm for the race, my friend informed me that first year volunteers don’t go out on the trail- most of them have to work at least one race at the Iditarod Headquarters in Anchorage before being sent to a remote checkpoint.

While finishing my season in Antarctica, one of my top priorities was to get registered as an Iditarod volunteer in hopes of earning a spot on the trail in 2016.  Only 4 days after landing in Anchorage, I had my first shift at the Iditarod Headquarters in Communications and Statistics.  After my second shift, I was informed that I will be working the White Mountain checkpoint near Nome, Alaska.  Here, I will greet every musher and submit check-in/out times as well as inform HQ of any important developments in the race.

I am looking forward to spending time in the beautiful Arctic Circle while learning more about a race that has fascinated me since I was a child as well as learning about a culture that is far different from my own.  Although I will not be able to post blog updates from White Mountain, I will keep a record so that I can share the experience when I return at the end of the month.

It’s a beautiful life!

For more information on the history of the Iditarod, please visit the Iditarod website.

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4 thoughts on “Volunteering for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

  1. Hi Kayleigh,
    Glad to hear you’re back in Alaska! I missed your small window in Anchorage, but I’m still hoping you might be able to visit my class when you return from up north. The students are very excited and ask all the time when you’re coming. Hope to see you soon!

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    • Hello! Yes, this trip to the Iditarod Trail was an unexpected adventure but I’m safe and sound back in Anchorage today! I sent an email to (what I believe is) your address- did you get it? If not, let me know. I would love to meet your class!

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