Alaska's tropical winter adds new challenge to this year's Iditarod

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2003

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

Although the above is often thought to be the official motto of the United States Postal Service, that statement actually was written in about 430 B.C. by the Greek historian Herodotus to describe the perseverance of the mounted messenger service used by Xerxes, king of Persia.

It also could be used to describe mushers and dogs participating in this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Snow, cold and dark days are typical fare for the racers. This year, though, they've had to contend with the unusual challenge of a warm winter in Alaska. Lack of snow and lots of rain have combined to change the course of the race.

There will still be the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, but the race will restart Monday in Fairbanks.

The change likely will be taken in stride by mushers and dogs. After all, the Last Great Race is about adaptability as much as it is anything else. That ability to take it all in stride and deal with whatever surprises Mother Nature may have in store on the trail are the hallmarks of a winning Iditarod team.

Plus, if the race were easy and predictable, it wouldn't be appealing. It wouldn't be the race that is inextricably tied to Alaska's identity as a place that nourishes independent, hearty and self-sufficient free spirits.

As in the past, the Kenai Peninsula will have mushers on the trail. Jim Gallea of Sterling, Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, Jon Little of Kasilof, Dean Osmar of Clam Gulch, Tim Osmar of Ninilchik, Mitch Seavey of Seward and rookie Tyrell Seavey of Seward all are signed up for the 1,000-plus-mile race.

We wish them well. They have lots of fans pulling for their success.

Happy (and safe) trails to all the mushers.

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