Reporter Gred Medred's opinions have become a lot more interesting, or at least more relevant, now that he is writing for the on-line newspaper "The Alaska Dispatch". When he was writing for the printed Alaska Daily News many of his Iditarod pieces struck me as "fluffy". His work for the Alaskan Dispatch is considerably more pointed. For example, his article on rookie Hank Debruin's "scratch" broke a story that has garnered a lot of interest in dog mushing circles.
Today I was referred to another article he wrote that is equally relevant and pointed, and one that I hope will get some attention down at ITC headquarters. Posted on March 25th, Medred wrote "Iditarod in Danger of Losing Bush Alaska." The headline accurately describes the premise of the story and the article makes a strong case for that premise. "The Iditarod used to belong to Bush Alaska. One of Joe Redington's dreams in founding the race was to keep the dog mushing tradition out there alive. When I covered my first Iditarod in 1983, I sometimes scrounged up dog teams in villages so I could go run dogs in my free time. Now you can't find enough dogs in many villages to put together a team."
In my opinion, the most damning point made by Medred is the alleged slighting of a former Iditarod Champion. Medred wrote "Athabascan Emmit Peters from Ruby, one of the greatest champions the Iditarod has ever known, couldn't get into the Iditarod Banquet in Anchorage this year. There weren't any tickets left. Someone did finally find him one, but the next day he couldn't get onto Fourth Avenue downtown to say "hi" to the many Iditarod racers who remain his personal friends. Peters didn't have the right badges to hang around his neck. He tried to explain to one of the Iditarod guards charged with keeping the riffraff off the avenue clogged with riffraff that he was a past Iditarod champ, but that got him nowhere. Likewise, he was reportedly kept out of the finishers' chute in Nome when he went there to greet mushers at the end of the race."
Although the I'rod claims to commemorate the 1925 "Great Race of Mercy" today's racers have little in common with the men who risked their lives and their livelihoods to carry life-saving diphtheria serum to Nome. The majority of those men were Native Alaskans. They grew up and lived in the bush, and running sled dogs was just another part of their routine tasks of daily living. Of 71 mushers in this year's Iditarod, there were six from rural Alaska, only four of them Alaska Natives.
Some anthropologists define a frontier as a usually remote borderland in which two or more cultures compete for dominance. That is very much an accurate description of early 21st century Alaska. Those of us who are residents of "road system Alaska" have a very poor understanding of the culture and needs of "bush Alaska", and vice versa. We just don't have a whole lot in common.
One of the few things we DO have in common is our dogs. Historically dog mushing was practiced by people of all ethnic backgrounds in Alaska and in fact throughout the boreal region of North America. White, Eskimo, Indian, Metis, urbanite or bush rat - it was all the same - everyone ran sled dogs because it was the only practical way to get from one place to another.
Medred concludes his article with 10 suggestions for way the ITC can once again engage the rural residents. Most of his suggestions are practical and inexpensive. I hope someone down in Willow is reading and paying attention. The I'rod has been losing favor among dog mushers for some time now, and it's been rumored that a large proportion of the top 20 mushers who spoke at the finish banquet stated they will not be returning to the race. There are indeed other long-distance races that are perceived to be more "musher friendly" and more in keeping with the spirit of arctic adventure. It won't help the race if they also lose favor among the villages through which the race must travel. If the ITC doesn't open their eyes and gather their feces into a common location, it is quite possible the I'rod may indeed become the "last" great race.
In case you missed the link above, Medred's article can be accessed by clicking HERE.