It’s hard for us to imagine the lives of Nome’s early residents during winter. Each fall, the last steamship left Norton Sound, pulling out of sight as it headed south for warmer climes. The hardy souls that remained settled in for months of deep snow, blizzards, harsh winds and darkness.
The Bering Sea froze, locking Nome in its icy grasp. Rivers froze too, becoming convenient roads for mushers in and out of town. In those days, dogs were prized workhorses and could cost hundreds of dollars each. Anything that needed to be transported in winter came by dogsled, including necessary supplies, medicines and postal mail.
Dog team drivers were heroes to the young children of Nome, especially once dog sled races became popular. In 1925, when a diphtheria epidemic hit the town, 20 mushers participated in the ultimate dog sled race. Its purse – saving children’s lives by getting serum to Nome – was more valuable than any amount of money.
The storied Serum Run of 1925 was followed by newspapers the world over. The danger mushers faced in blizzard conditions and the race against time as more children became ill revealed the spirit of Alaska during those times: The teamwork and trust between mushers and their dogs. The perseverance on the trail, fighting against frostbite and dangerous ice conditions until the next roadhouse came into view. The dedication, with mushers taking care of their dogs before themselves, no matter how exhausted they were.
This spirit is highlighted again every year in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an event that not only commemorates the Serum Run, but also the mushing lifestyle that began to fade when airplanes and snowmachines became commonplace.
For at least ten days a year, the world again focuses on the great Iditarod trail and the gritty determination of mushers and their teams. And each year, children can again look to dog team drivers as heroes.
Connect with the Spirit of the Iditarod:
March – You’ll feel the spirit of the Iditarod everywhere you go if you visit Nome in March. The entire community gets involved, with Iditarod events planned over a two-week period. Browse locally made crafts at the Iditarod Craft Show, learn about dogs and mushing at educational sessions, enjoy local entertainment and sporting competitions, and more. And of course, you’ll have to hang out with the crowds on Front Street, cheering mushers as they finish the grueling race under the burled arch.
Other times of year – Visit the Iditarod Burled Arch near Nome City Hall at 1st and Division. Learn more about the Iditarod and Nome’s mushing past at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, where you can see a dog sled used in the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race in 1973.