March 20, 1985: Libby Riddles wins the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She was the first woman to win the 1,130 mile long race. There are actually two routes used for the race. The northern route is run on even numbered years and the southern route is run on odd numbered years. Both follow the same trail for 444 miles from Anchorage to Ophir. They then head in opposites directions until merging again at Kaltag and following the same path for the last 441 miles to Nome. The exact miles, therefore, vary from year to year ranging from 1,112 to 1,131 miles depending on the exact route.
The race itself was first run in 1973 and begins on the first Saturday in March each year. There are typically teams of 16 dogs pulling the sled laden with supplies and the handler. The fastest time to date was accomplished in 2002 by Martin Buser who made the trip in 8 days, 22 hours, 47 minutes, and 2 seconds. The race commemorates the “Great Race of Mercy” from 1925 when Nome was iced in and in desperate need of Diphtheria antitoxin. There were no planes available, no train tracks to Nome, no roads, no way for a ship to arrive at the iced in port. Dogsleds delivered the serum with the last relay of the journey seeing Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog, Balto, pulling into town on February 2 at 3 AM, ahead of schedule.
The race now has 26 checkpoints on the northern route and 27 on the southern route. Mushers must sign in at all checkpoints. Supplies are purchased in Anchorage and then flown into various checkpoints as the mushers dictate. When they check in, they pick up waiting supplies. Some mushers rest themselves and their teams, other push onward. There are three mandatory rests along the Iditarod: one mandatory 24 hour layover to be taken at any checkpoint, one eight hour layover along the Yukon River, and one eight hour stop at White Mountain.
Libby Riddles was born April 1, 1956 in Madison, Wisconsin. She moved to Alaska when she was 17. Her first race was in 1978 where she won first place in the Clines Mini Mart Sprint race. She finished 18th and 20th in the 1980 and 1981 Iditarod races. At that point, she decided to breed her own dogs. After winning the race in 1985 using her own dogs, she decided to spend the next six years living as an Alaskan Native.
“To lead the Iditarod under a full moon without feeling rushed, or looking over my shoulder, it was a wonderful evening.” - Jeff King, 4 time Iditarod winner
“This [dog sled racing] is something that’s in my blood that has been passed down.” – Darin Nelson, Iditarod musher
“I tell diabetic kids that if I can run a dog sled across the state of Alaska for 1,150 miles, then you can get off the couch and do anything a non-diabetic can do.” – Bruce Linton, two time contestant, also diabetic
“I eat beans and rice while my dogs eat steak and eggs.” – Martin Buser, four time Iditarod winner.