Growing up in California, I first fell in love with mushing through a picture book about Balto, the famous Siberian husky. The true story—which I turned to again and again—began in January 1925. Children in the village of Nome were dying of diphtheria, and with every attempt to deliver supplies of antitoxin in the thick of an Alaskan winter—by plane, by train—ending in failure, an epidemic seemed imminent. With the community growing increasingly desperate, the local trappers proposed a far-fetched solution: a sled dog relay to mush the medicine from camp to camp. And though many dogs—and many humans—played heroic parts in the relay (a dog named Togo led his team through the toughest and longest stretch of trail), it was Balto, the lead dog, who ran the final stretch to Nome.
The medicine arrived safely. The children were saved. And dogsledding—a niche mode of transportation throughout the frozen North—immediately became part of the public imagination. When I finished the book, I turned back to the first page.
More than 40 years later, the 1,000-mile Iditarod race was created, in part, to memorialize the relay and to preserve the tradition of long-distance dogsledding in a culture fast turning to snowmobiles for winter transportation. But who, I wondered, would want to drive a machine when you could travel by dogsled?
The 47th Annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicked off on March 2nd at 10 a.m. with 52 teams.?Vogue?spoke to five mushers during pre-race training.