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The Last Great Race on Earth

You can’t compare it to any other competitive event in the world! A race over 1150 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer. She throws jagged mountain ranges, frozen river, dense forest, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast at the mushers and their dog teams. Add to that temperatures far below zero, winds that can cause a complete loss of visibility, the hazards of overflow, long hours of darkness and treacherous climbs and side hills, and you have the Iditarod. A race extraordinaire, a race only possible in Alaska.

From Anchorage, in south central Alaska, to Nome on the western Bering Sea coast, each team of 12 to 16 dogs and their musher cover over 1150 miles in 10 to 17 days.

It has been called the “Last Great Race on Earth” and it has won worldwide acclaim and interest. German, Spanish, British, Japanese and American film crews have covered the event. Journalists from outdoor magazines, adventure magazines, newspapers and wire services flock to Anchorage and Nome to record the excitement. It’s not just a dog sled race, it’s a race in which unique men and woman compete. Mushers enter from all walks of life. Fishermen, lawyers, doctors, miners, artists, natives, Canadians, Swiss, French and others; men and women each with their own story, each with their own reasons for going the distance. It’s a race organized and run primarily by volunteers, thousands of volunteers, men and women, students and village residents. They man headquarters at Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome and Wasilla. They fly volunteers, veterinarians, dog food and supplies. They act as checkers, coordinators, and family supporters of each musher.

The Spirit of Alaska!

More Than a Race…

It’s a Commemoration

The race pits man and animal against nature, against wild Alaska at her best and as each mile is covered, a tribute to Alaska’s past is issued.

The Iditarod is a tie to — a commemoration of — that colorful past.

The Iditarod Trail, now a National Historic Trail, had its beginnings as a mail and supply route from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the interior mining camps at Flat, Ophir, Ruby and beyond to the west coast communities of Unalakleet, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain and Nome. Mail and supplies went in. Gold came out. All via dog sled. Heroes were made, legends were born.

In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life saving highway for epidemic-stricken Nome. Diphtheria threatened and serum had to be brought in; again by intrepid dog mushers and their faithful hard-driving dogs.

The Iditarod is a commemoration of those yesterdays, a not-so-distant past that Alaskans honor and are proud of.

An Event for All Alaska

Anchorage is the starting line — a city of over 250,000 people, street lights, freeways and traffic. From there the field of dog teams which grow in number each year, runs to Eagle River, Checkpoint # 1. After a restart in the Matanuska Valley at Wasilla, the mushers leave the land of highways and bustling activity and head out to the Yentna Station Roadhouse and Skwentna and then up! Through Finger Lake, Rainy Pass, over the Alaska Range and down the other side to the Kuskokwim River — Rohn Roadhouse, Nikolai, McGrath, Ophir, Cripple, Iditarod and on to the mighty Yukon — a river highway that takes the teams west through the arctic tundra.

The race route is alternated every other year, one year going north through Cripple, Ruby and Galena, the next year south through Iditarod, Shageluk, Anvik.

Finally, they’re on the coast — Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain and into Nome where a hero’s welcome is the custom for musher number 1 or 61!

The route encompasses large metropolitan areas and small native villages. It causes a yearly spurt of activity, increased airplane traffic and excitement to areas otherwise quiet and dormant during the long Alaskan winter. Everyone gets involved, from very young school children to the old timers who relive the colorful Alaskan past they’ve known as they watch each musher and his team. The race is an educational opportunity and an economic stimulus to these small Alaskan outposts.

The “I” logo, a trademark of the Iditarod Trail Committee, Inc. and the Iditarod Race, was designed by Alaskan artist Bill DeVine in the early years of the race. The design is done on a white background with blue thread for the dog and inner outline. The Outer outline is done in red. The design is used on a shield in some instances and that variation was used on wooden trail markers in the earlier races.

On the Trail

Every musher has a different tactic. Each one has a special menu for feeding and snacking the dogs. Each one has a different strategy — some run in the daylight, some run at night. Each one has a different training schedule and his own ideas on dog care, dog stamina and his own personal ability.

The rules of the race lay out certain regulations which each musher must abide by. There are certain pieces of equipment each team must have — an arctic parka, a heavy sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, musher food, dog food and boots for each dog’s feet to protect against cutting ice and hard packed snow injuries.

Some mushers spend an entire year getting ready and raising the money needed to get to Nome. Some prepare around a full-time job. In addition to planning the equipment and feeding needs for up to three weeks on the trail, hundreds of hours and hundreds of miles of training have to be put on each team.

There are names which are automatically associated with the race — Joe Redington, Sr., co-founder of the classic and affectionately know as “Father of the Iditarod.” Rick Swenson from Two River, Alaska, the only five time winner, the only musher to have entered 20 Iditarod races and never finished out of the top ten. Dick Mackey from Nenana who beat Swenson by one second in 1978 to achieve the impossible photo finish after two weeks on the trail. Norman Vaughan who at the age of 88 has finished the race four times and led an expedition to Antarctica in the winter of 93–94. Four time winner, Susan Butcher, was the first woman to ever place in the top 10. And of course, Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod in 1985.

There are others — Herbie Nayokpuk, Shishmaref; Emmitt Peters, Ruby, whose record set in 1975 was not broken until 1980, when Joe May, Trapper Creek, knocked seven hours off the record… the flying Anderson’s, Babe and Eep, from McGrath.. Rick Mackey, who wearing his father Dick’s winning #13, crossed the finish line first in 1983, making them the only father and son to have both won an Iditarod… Joe Runyan, 1989 champion and the only musher to have won the Alpirod (European long distance race), the Yukon Quest, (long distance race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, YT) and the Iditarod… Terry Adkins, retired from the United States Air Force, the only veterinarian on the first Iditarod and one of the two musher to have completed 20 out of 23 Iditarods. (The other is Rick Swenson.) The list goes on, each name bringing with it a tale of adventure, a feeling of accomplishment, a touch of hero. Each musher, whether in the top ten, or winner of the Red Lantern (last place) has accomplished a feat few dare to attempt. Each has gone the distance and established a place for their team in the annals of Iditarod lore.

For all the up to date information

The Official Iditarod Web Site


Wasilla duo wins Iron Dog

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Published on Saturday, February 14, 2009 10:53 PM AKST

FAIRBANKS — When he saw Tyler Aklestad’s body sprawled out on the Tanana River ice on Saturday, Todd Minnick prepared to do what any Tesoro Iron Dog racer would do — stop and help.

It didn’t matter that Aklestad and Minnick were battling for the lead of the world’s longest snowmachine race only 100 miles from the finish line and were separated by only a matter of seconds after almost 1,900 miles of racing.
If a fellow Iron Dogger is in trouble, you stop, even if the title is on the line.

Johnny Wagner/News-Miner Nick Olstad speaks to his grandparents over a cellular phone wedged in his balaclava after he and teammate Todd Minnick won the 2009 Tesoro Iron Dog on Saturday afternoon, February 14, 2009, at the ceremonial finish downtown on the Chena River.

“I seen Tyler laying on the ice and I turned to go over there to see if he was OK,” Minnick said.

The next thing he knew, Minnick and his snowmachine were “cartwheeling” down the river, having hit the same three-foot high wind drift that Aklestad did. He landed on the frozen ice not far from Aklestad.
“There we were, both laid out on the river,” Minnick said.

Like two boxers who had each landed a big punch and gone down at the same time, both Minnick and Aklestad pulled themselves up off the ice for one final flurry that will go down as one of the most exciting Iron Dog finishes in the 25-year history of the race.

Riding a pair of Polaris Dragons, Minnick, 29, and Olstad, 23, held on to win the Iron Dog in record time, edging the Ski-Doo team of Aklestad and Tyson Johnson by just 3 minutes, 18 seconds.

Their time of 37 hours, 19 minutes, and 8 seconds over the 1,971-mile trail shattered the previous course record of 38:07:57.

“We finally did it,” Minnick said, accepting a victory hug from Wasilla friend Gov. Sarah Palin, who was at the Chena River finish line in downtown Fairbanks waiting for her husband, Todd, who finished in sixth place with partner Scott Davis.

It was Minnick’s first Iron Dog win in 10 tries while Olstad, also of Wasilla, earned his second Iron Dog crown. The victory, worth $25,000 of the $160,000 purse, also broke a four-year reign by Arctic Cat racers. The last time a pair of Polaris riders claimed top Iron Dog honor was 2001.

“We rode ‘em hard,” Minnick said of the black, red and white 600cc Polaris Dragons he and Olstad drove to victory.

More than half of the windshield on Minnick’s machine was missing as a result of his crash between Manley and Nenana.

“It was pretty pristine before that,” Minnick said of his sled.
Davis, who with Palin set the previous course record in 2007, wasn’t surprised to see the record fall. Trail conditions were near-perfect this year with a layer of fresh snow cushioning the trail the entire way.

“I’ve never seen it that fast,” said Davis, who finished almost four hours behind.
The second team to leave the starting line, Minnick and Olstad led the race almost from wire to wire. They took the lead about five miles from the starting line held it for the next 1,700 miles. They led Aklestad and Johnson by 38 minutes at the halfway point in Nome.

“There was a lot of pressure leading the whole time,” Minnick acknowledged. “We couldn’t slack off at all.”

It wasn’t until  Thursday on the 120-mile run from Ruby to Tanana on the Yukon River that Aklestad and Johnson, who had been slowly closing the gap on Minnick and Olstad, caught up and passed them briefly.

Only 1 minutes, 42 seconds separated the two teams when they left Tanana on Saturday for the final 232 miles to the finish in Fairbanks.

Minnick and Olstad maintained their slim lead for the first 100 miles Aklestad and Johnson caught and passed them about 30 miles out of Manley while Olstad was stopped.

Minnick and Olstad re-took the lead after both Aklestad and Minnick crashed. Aklestad hit the snow drift first and he was traveling faster than Minnick. Aklestad estimated he was traveling about 80 mph when he hit what he described as “a really bad wind drift on an open section of trail that I hit way too hard.”

Aklestad’s Ski-Doo landed on upright on its back end and the impact stretched his track out, he said. After that, the track was “bubbling up” at high speeds, forcing Aklestad and Johnson to back off, Aklestad said.

Even so, Aklestad and Johnson managed to re-take the lead when Olstad was forced to briefly stop again.

But Minnick and Olstad caught up and passed them about 25 miles from Nenana and led into the final fuel stop. They left Nenana a minute ahead of Aklestad and Johnson and managed to stretch their lead by another two minutes enroute to Fairbanks.

“We pushed as hard as we could but we couldn’t catch them,” Johnson said. “Our only hope was that they blew a belt or something.”
Even when Aklestad and Johnson passed them on Friday and again on Saturday, Minnick said he and Olstad never panicked.

“We knew our machines were faster on top end speed and that’s how it worked out,” Minnick said.

For the soft-spoken Olstad, it was his second Iron Dog victory. He won with Marc McKenna as a rookie in 2005. Olstad has finished the race twice in five tries, both times as a champion, but he seemed happier for Minnick than himself.

“I’m glad Todd could get one,” Olstad said.
For the snake-bitten duo of Aklestad, 23, and Johnson, 29, it was their second runner-up finish in the last three years. They placed second in 2007, too, the only other year in the five they raced together that they have finished the race. They did everything they could to win, Johnson said.

“Any other year we probably would have been hours ahead if it wasn’t for those guys,” Johnson said of Minnick and Olstad. “We pushed it as hard as we could.”

The fact that they beat the course record by 45 minutes didn’t ease the disappointment of finishing second.
“That’s not what I enter the race for,” Aklestad said.
McKenna and Dusty Van Meter finished in third place, 47 minutes and 2 seconds behind the winners, almost the identical time they trailed Minnick and Olstad  at the halfway point in Nome. Their time of 38:06:06 also broke the old course record.

“We got a half hour behind on the first day and didn’t feel like pushing hard enough to make it up was the right thing to do,” said McKenna, who won last year’s race with Eric Quam before teaming up with Van Meter, a three-time champ, this year. “Those guys in front were running hard and clean.”
Quam and his new partner, rookie Brad Helwig of Anchorage, finished in fourth place in 39:02:46, fending off a late challenge by Fairbanks’ Tyler Huntington and Mike Morgan of Nome, who finished five minutes behind Quam and Helwig at 39:57:46.

Huntington and Quam actually caught up to Quam and Helwig about 10 miles from Nenana but Huntington ran out of gas and had to stop and pour more fuel into his tank that he was carrying on his machine. The same thing happened on Friday after Huntington and Morgan passed Quam and Helwig on the way to Tanana.

“It’s kind of a heartbreaker,” said the 23-year-old Huntington, “I’m a little disappointed.”

One of the race’s top up-and-coming racers with three consecutive top seven finishes, Huntington said will be taking a break from the Iron Dog following the birth of his second child in two years.

“This is it for awhile,” he said.

Johnny Wagner/News-Miner Race fans gather around Nick Olstad, left, and Todd Minnick after the duo claimed a victory in the 2009 Tesoro Iron Dog on Saturday afternoon, February 14, 2009, at the ceremonial finish downtown on the Chena River.

Welcome to the Sutton General Store & Jonesville Cafe

sitka halibut fishing

Located in downtown Sutton on the Glenn Highway

A great place to stop for meals or supplies on the Glenn Highway. The Jonesville Cafe is the home of the valley’s best burgers made with quality lean beef. We feature real home cooking and is ar famous for our homemade pies.

In the mood for some eggs in the afternoon? Breakfast is served all day!

On Saturday nights we server fresh baked pizza.

Stop by the General Store for supplies:

  • Groceries
  • Ice cream
  • Souvenirs
  • Showers
  • General supplies
  • RV & semi parking

sitka halibut fishing

The views are incomparable in the Matanuska Valley

Sutton Alaska: A Bit of Local History

Sutton is a small Community that was founded in 1918 as a station on the Matanuska Branch Railroad, as well as a wash plant site for the US Navy’s Chickaloon Coal Mine. Sutton’s growth was then spawned by development of several nearby coalmines in the 1920’s, which produced coal to meet a significant portion of Alaska’s energy needs through the mid 1960’s.

Evan Jones Coal Mine, Located just north of Sutton, was the largest and the most productive of the Matanuska coal producers with an average employment exceeding 100 miners. For nearly half a century, the Evan Jones Coal Mine supplied coal to various customers that included the Alaska Railroad, Local Military and Utility power plants as well as domestic heating for customers with total sales exceeding six million tons.

The Alaska Railroad switched to diesel powered locomotives during the early 1950’s and local Military and Utility power plants converted to natural gas in the late 1960’s which eliminated local demand for coal causing the Evan Jones Coal Mine to close in 1968 with little hope of ever re-opening. Today, more then thirty years since the closure of the Evan Jones Coal mine, there is renewed interest and optimism that once again the high quality coal of the Matanuska Valley could pay a meaningful role in meeting Alaska’s growing energy needs.

Visit our site

Things to do
This is one of the best places in Alaska to experience a glacier up close.

  • Hiking: You are welcome to hike the glacier trails on your own. Trails are located within the park area offering a variety of skill and fitness levels. Guided glacier hiking is also available.
  • Camping: Spend a few days exploring the park. Camping areas available near and within park.
  • Ice Climbing: Guided ice climbing is available as well as basic ice climbing instructions. Matanuska glacier is an excellent glacier to learn the basics of ice climbing. We do recommend you be in fairly good shape for this adventure.

  • Fields of fireweed bloom along the glaciers edge

    Photograph: The drive to Matanuska Glacier is an adventure in itself. The Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway follows a path carved by ancient glaciers. Following the braided Matanuska River for over half its length, this Byway winds through 135 miles of the most impressive terrain on earth. Winters present you with a splendid sky show when the Northern Lights dance among the snow-capped mountains, while summers bring you endless days to roam in fields of wildflowers and ancient forests.

What to bring:
Lot’s of film or memory cards for the digital shutter bugs. Hiking boots, a day pack, sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, jacket and rain gear. Hat (for wind). Even in the long summer months the weather is unpredictable and changes quickly. Be prepared for any kind of weather.