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  • Writer's pictureAmy L Smith Photography

The Last Great Race | {The Serenity Project}

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

1,049 miles, give or take. That's how long the Iditarod - The Last Great Race is. Mushers and their teams start out in Willow, AK, and make the trek into storms, over frozen rivers and through ranges, gorges and passes, arguably, some of the most treacherous, yet breathtaking scenery on the planet, to be the first to make it to the burled arch in Nome. The history and tradition of this trail and race, along with the sense of community and sportsmanship amongst the mushers is something very special. Average time it takes is around 10 days start to finish, with numerous checkpoints and mandatory rest periods scattered throughout. I can only imagine what a high point it is for some of the remote villages to have the teams come into their communities, if only for a brief stop.

Start chute at the very beginning of the race trail.

I am lucky enough to have gotten to see the start of each of the Iditarod races since moving to Alaska nearly 3 years ago. It is something to get excited about - kind of like the build up to the Super Bowl, you could say. We pack up food and drink to share with friends and make sure our snow machines are good-to-go for a weekend of riding the trails. The day of the race is when everyone gets to their spot on the trail and set up their "tailgate" to snack and wait for the teams to come by, yelling out cheers of good luck and safe travels. We have planted ourselves on a lake each time, as it really gives us a great vantage point and I have a good potential for some great shots as they come past our spot. Sitting there in the snow, with my cameras in my lap, getting all excited every time a team came into view is so fun and such a perfect scenario. This year, I sat for a moment and just took it all in. "Here I am, at the Iditarod, watching history unfold" After being able to see it up close like this, it is on my bucket list to volunteer one year and be out on the trail somewhere to really be a part of it.

The Iditarod "Air Force" keeping track of the teams as they make the journey to Nome. They transport supplies and pick up dogs if mushers have a member of their team that needs to go home and rest, etc.

Our "tailgait".

It never ceases to amaze me how excited the mushers are and even more so, how excited the dogs are to get out there and run. They are bred for this and it's what they do! If the dogs don't want to run anymore and they are done, they don't run. There was a team just last week who had quite a large lead. The musher had pushed his team and ran them hard. After several days, they had had enough and laid down and refused to get back up. They were done, and he knew they were done, and withdrew from the race. It happens. The musher's number one priority is their dogs. I completely believe that. They rely so heavily on one another and really do take care of each other. The stories we hear throughout the race about what's going on out on the trail is something we look forward to learning about every night on the news. This past Monday, this year's last team made it to the burled arch and won the Red Lantern award that is given to the last finisher of the race each year. It is a symbol of perseverance and accomplishment for finishing the race.

Some happy teams - dogs and mushers- doing what they love to do!

Nic Petit and his team. The pups that laid down and were d.o.n.e. He withdrew and let another musher whose sled was damaged use his so that he could better finish the race.

In December, I visited a dog sledding camp (something I highly recommend), run by a former Iditarod musher. Although a little rough at times, the riding on and getting to drive the sled were experiences that I will not soon forget. The peacefulness of sliding across the snow, hearing only the pads of the dogs paws and the runners of the sled was surreal...and that was as a newbie, not knowing what I was doing, trying to remember commands and how not to fall off and what to do if I did!

Peter Kaiser - no one knew it at the time this picture was taken, approx. 20 minutes after the beginning of the race, that he and his team would be the 2019 Iditarod Champions, finishing in 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes and 6 seconds.

Just imagine what it would be like out there alone with your team, the northern lights dancing over your head with Denali all lit up in the background, and the personal satisfaction that you are out there living life to it's fullest and fulfilling a dream as you make your way to that burled arch in Nome...

The Serenity Project is a collaborative photography project featuring words and images from several amazing artists that in some way, bring them encouragement or a sense of peace and calm and it is our hope that the feeling is conveyed and passed on to you. Please continue the circle by going to Nadeen Flynn Photography, Northern California Fine Art Photography, to find out what goodness she has to share this month.

49 views5 comments


Mar 21, 2019

Amy, I can tell from the photos what a great time this is for you. When we were on our Alaska cruise, we were able to go by Susan Butcher's camp. I swore I would start watching it on TV and have not done it yet. Thanks for letting us see it through your eyes.


Mar 21, 2019

This looks like such an amazing event to attend! I bet next year they will be ing you to volunteer your amazing photography skills! 😉


Mar 21, 2019

Such amazing images, Amy. I am so glad that you are able to witness this race in person. This is a race that is on my bucket list.


Mar 20, 2019

Wow these are amazing Amy! What an incredible event and stunning location!


Mar 20, 2019

Oh wow Amy! I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to be out there with a team of dogs gliding across the snow and Denali in the background.... not to mention the Northern Lights unfolding across the sky. What a wonderful thought (dream). You have painted an amazing picture both in words and images. Beautiful.

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