"The what?" "The who," you ask?
Only the most historic sled dog race in Alaska, the great-grandaddy of them all, the All Alaska Sweepstakes. This one goes back to 1908 and ran up until the end of World War I. The last time it was run was in 1983, when the then dominant musher, Rick Swenson, took it. The News Miner had a decent story on it this morning; however, zippo on the front of the ADN. And I must say, boo AND hiss.
Only 17 mushers are competing.
It's a 408 mile race from Nome to the old mining area of Candle and back. And it's not your groomed-trail Iditarod or your bone-chilling cold Yukon Quest. This my friends, is mushing on the Seward Peninsula.
The winner is the musher who completes the trip in the least time (starts are staggered.) Mushers are not bound to take mandatory rests. The race isn't going from village to village. If the weather stays uneventful, as the forecast seems to indicate, it could be a tight race among the big names. If you get wind and ground storms, it will be about who has the experience in those conditions and whose dogs are toughest.
And, perhaps, the musher who best knows and cares for their dogs.
The Nome Kennel Club adopted the historic rules with some clarifications and they're quite interesting. In particular, regarding the issue of dog care.
You can't drop dogs and win the race:
- You can carry a dog in the sled if it is unable to continue. But you have to carry that dog the whole way to Nome or until it is healthy enough to continue in harness.
- Vets at checkpoints can evaluate a dog and determine it is unable to continue and keep it at the checkpoint for care. You can finish the race, but then you are not eligible for first place and you are fined 10 hours of time.
- If a dog dies (oh, how I hate the word 'expires') you can continue the race... but you are not eligible for first place and you are fined 10 hours of time.
Another rule I found interesting concerns big game animals:
At the moment, Jim Lanier is leading the race into Topkok, followed by Nome musher Connor Thomas."There may be numerous wildlife along the trail. In the event that an edible big game animal, i.e., moose, caribou, muskox, is killed in defense of life or property (DLP), the musher must gut the animal and report the incident to a race official at the next checkpoint. Following teams must help gut the animal when possible. No teams may pass until the animal has been gutted and the musher killing the animal has proceeded. Any other DLP animal killed must be reported to a race official, but need not be gutted."
(Side note: it is heartening to see all the local mushers in this race. You have Thomas, Cari Miller, Kirsten Bey, Jeff Darling and Aaron Burmeister from the Nome area - Burmeister being a Nomegrown musher who has since relocated to Nenana - along with Ed Iten from Kotzebue.)
I'm having a blast listening to updates on the radio and have to wonder when the big name mushers will make their move.