Amanda Williams, local Cordova Times reporter, attends the ceremonial start to the Iditarod in Anchorage on Saturday, March 4, 2023. Photo courtesy of Amanda Williams

Update: Ryan Redington, the grandson of the race’s founder, won his first Iditarod on Tuesday after this story was written. 

As I am writing this, nine of the 33 Iditarod mushers and their dog teams had made it all the way to White Mountain, a mere 77 miles from the finish line in Nome. White Mountain, located along the Fish River, is the second to last stop before the race is complete. Safety will be next for the courageous souls, 22 miles from the end of the epic race. The terrain will be mostly along the coast of the Bering Sea, cruising beachside the majority of the way to Nome.

The dog mushers have faced challenges and victories along the way. Veteran musher and winner of the 2022 Iditarod, Brent Sass, scratched due to “periodontal health issues.” Gregg Vitello also scratched, citing it was in the “best interest of his team,” according to a press release from the Iditarod Trail Committee.

Ryan Reddington, veteran musher from Knik, Alaska, has been sweeping the awards along the trail route, including the Alaska Air Transit Spirit of Iditarod and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Fish First Award. Reddington was the first musher to arrive at the Unalakleet checkpoint in the early morning hours on Sunday, with 12 dogs in harness. Reddington received the “Ryan Air Gold Coast Award” for the feat. The keepsake includes one ounce of gold nuggets from the Bering Straits region.

The Iditarod race first ran all the way to Nome in 1973 and has been an event Alaskans hold dear to their hearts. The spirit of the race not only embodies the sport, but the life-saving aspects of dog-mushing and the extraordinariness of the Alaskan Husky.

“Nearly 100 years ago, the famous mission to deliver lifesaving serum from Nenana to Nome led by Leonhard Seppala, saved an entire community,” reads an excerpt from the official Iditarod website. “Since March 2020, communities throughout Alaska have been faced with the COVID 19 Coronavirus pandemic. Today, Iditarod and the 1925 Serum Run have many things in common. Now, more than ever, it’s important to channel the grit and determination that allowed teams of mushers to complete this herculean effort and deliver diphtheria serum that saved countless children’s lives. That spirit lives on in Alaska today and should be celebrated.”


The Cordova Times chatted with Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach about all things Iditarod: the iconic half century-old race with the incredible journey of human and dog against the elements.

Urbach, originally from Kentucky, has been at the helm for the last four years. What brought him all the way to the last frontier? The Iditarod did, of course.

“I sort of got recruited for this role … I knew a lot about sponsorship, media, leadership, running events and big, complicated supply chains and ecosystems, like the Iditarod is,” said Urbach.

Urbach shared that his background also had him overseeing events around the world, including the Ironman competition, which he also competed in.

It takes a village, as they say, to run an event as big as the Iditarod.

“We have about 1,500 volunteers that are here, many are from the Lower 48,” said Urbach. “They are really passionate about what they do. We go out on the trails to all 23 checkpoints. We will be flying people out now, leaving from the Willow airport.” The crew consists of lots of people that will be stationed strategically along the trail: supply chain support, communications staff and race judges.

Some folks will be “arctic camping” in the Alaska range, making sure the trail is usable for the mushers.

“We have people on snow machines ahead of the race now, that kind of mark the trail and build ice bridges were there is no trail,” said Urbach.

A handful of the checkpoints are considered ghost towns in the winter months, and Urbach shared they create runways for planes to land on and send out other logistical support for the Iditarod.

“It’s pretty remarkable what we do. There is no internet out there. We bring in all of our own satellite-powered signals and generator powered devices and USAT to get a signal in the middle of rural Alaska, so we can stream it live,” said Urbach.

Urbach shared that the mushers may race through the night on the trail, as the dogs like the temperature below zero. There are several licensed veterinarians on the trail to make sure the exceptional canines are in good health.

“In my next life, I want to come back as an Iditarod sled dog,” said Urbach. “They get incredible medical care, they get to run around with their buddies, they get handled more than the average dog by far every day, super food nutrition. Our kennels are blue zones for dogs, they are living to 18, 19 years old.”

The Iditarod means a lot to Urbach, he shared. To finish the race harkens the spirit of freedom and immense accomplishment.

“To finish the Iditarod, is like a spiritual transformation. You can see it … but at the finish there is a radiance that fires up their soul, they reunite with their families,” said Urbach. “Somewhere along the way, the musher — which is the weak link on the team versus the dogs — I am sure they smiled, I am sure they laughed, they probably cried because it’s so hard. The dogs have this abstract joy, you can see the sense of pride and accomplishment.”

At the beginning of the ceremonial start in Anchorage, the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon kept the audience in awe, as I waited in the wings for the que to sing the Alaska Flag song and the National Anthem. I had performed the song before at sporting events, but this one felt extremely special. Not only singing it as a U.S. Navy veteran, being there as a representative of the Cordova Times and in admiration of Alaska, a place that I have come to love and call my second home.