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How “The Great Race For Mercy” Became The Iditarod

A history of the race into the Alaskan wilderness.

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.

This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.”

―Jack London

Food For Thought

The Last Great Race

Atka barked in excitement as he stood next to Aga, his partner lead dog.

Behind them, their team of 14 other dogs lined up, all bouncing and barking in anticipation. Cold wind whipped through the ranks, but the dogs were unfazed. They had trained in harsher conditions and deeper snow. Their bodies ached with enthusiasm. They wanted to start running.

Some distance in front of and behind them, other teams of sled dogs waited in similar elation. All eager to be on the open snow again.

Atka’s name meant “King” in Inuit, the native Alaskan tongue. Aga’s meant “Mother”. They held an irreplicable bond with each other, the dogs behind them, and their owner.

Together, they would lead their pack the 998 miles from Anchorage to Nome…

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the 47th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Over 50 mushers and their teams of 12 to 16 dogs will take to the bitter Alaska wilderness and race to be the first across the finish line.

The race will take mushers anywhere from 8–15 days to complete. The current record for fastest time is 8 days 3 hours and 40 minutes. Based on weather conditions and speed it may take some even longer — the longest time to completion being over 32 days!

The Iditarod Trail is nearly 1000 miles long and changes from year to year depending on conditions. Blizzards regularly cause whiteout conditions and wind chill can reach -100°F.

To learn more about the Iditarod and to track mushers’ progress, go here.

Last year, we had the honor of interviewing a musher who tackled this great feat — Debbie Clarke Moderow. Listen to the interview below. 👇

Mission Daily

Life Lessons Learned from The Iditarod

In this exclusive interview, Chad sits down with 2-time Iditarod runner Debbie Clarke Moderow, author of Fast Into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail.

Debbie shares her story of resilience, the lessons she learned from running the Iditarod, and what her dogs taught her about trust and leadership.

(This is a must-listen for any dog lovers out there!)

🎧 Listen to the Episode 🎧

Deep Dive

The Real Story of Amblin’s Balto

“It all started in January 1925, when doctors in Nome began to see symptoms of a deadly infection — diphtheria. Anchorage, more than 500 miles away, was the closest place with supplies of lifesaving serum. Alaska’s brutal winters, where temperatures could plunge to 50 below and snow and ice are measured in yards, made travel impossible. Planes could not fly, and the sole path through the wilderness was a 650-mile freight route. It was the Iditarod Trail, which connected Nome to the railroad station in Nenana. By dog sled, the trip usually took about a month, too slow to head off an epidemic that could kill thousands. A relay was the only hope.

Twenty mushers volunteered for what would become known as the ‘Great Race of Mercy.’ One, Leonhard Seppala, had some of the best dogs around — huskies, imported directly from Siberia. Seppala chose his most experienced dog, 12-year-old Togo, as his leader. Another musher, Gunnar Kaasen, put his faith in a green youngster, 3-year-old Balto…”

Read the story that inspired the Iditarod race.

Add This To Your Collection

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod

Gary Paulsen’s works have been a family favorite for decades.

In Winderdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, Paulsen shares his experiences entering, training for, and running the Iditarod.

It’s a hilarious and insightful account of his journey as he and his team overcame storms, frostbite, moose attacks, hallucinations, and more. Despite it all, he and his dogs pushed on.

Check it out.


Meet The Mission’s Mascots

All this talk of doggos made us want to share ours…

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It’s Friday!

This week was Mindset Week on Mission Daily. In the final episode, Chad and Stephanie sit down to discuss the five tips you that will help level up your state of mind. Listen here.

We may have come to the end of Mindset Week, but don’t worry, dear listener, we’ve got more amazing content coming for you next week! Let us know what you thought about this week and what tips you have for leveling up your mindset on Twitter (@TheMissionHQ). You can find the full episodes and more at

Enjoy your weekend! 🤗

This was originally published on March 1, 2019 as The Mission’s daily newsletter. To subscribe, go here.

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How “The Great Race For Mercy” Became The Iditarod was originally published in The Mission on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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