Known as the ”Last Great Race”, the Iditarod sled dog competition crosses 1000 miles of rugged and remote Alaskan wilderness, testing the endurance and grit of dogs and mushers alike. Held the first weekend of every March, mushers and their teams of 16 dogs compete against each other in a timed race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, each vying for top-finishing positions and, all the while, contending with the fierce unpredictability of the great white north.
This year’s 85th participant is Miriam Osredkar, daughter of Tony and Patricia Osredkar of Chardon, Ohio. This adventurous Slovenian American began her dog mushing career ten years ago as a dog sledding guide in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. What started as a fun seasonal job soon became her passion and, in 2011, Miriam moved up north to pursue this ambition with greater fervor. Since then, she has competed in numerous 200- and 300-mile races across Alaska and, in 2014, she participated in the Nadezhda Hope Race in the far eastern reaches of Siberia. Miriam is the first known Slovenian American to compete in the Iditarod. To put some perspective on this undertaking, there are more people that have summitted the heights of Mount Everest than have finished the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Aside from traveling in frigid arctic temperatures, there are many more challenges associated with this race. According to Miriam, one of the more difficult aspects of the race is sleep deprivation. Despite the implementation of mandatory rests – two eight-hour breaks and one 24-hour break- most mushers sleep only two to four hours within a 24-hour period. Time that is not spent on the sled runners is spent feeding and caring for the dogs, as well as preparing the sled for the next leg of the race.
The other challenge associated with this race, according to Miriam, is the time commitment. September to April is “all dogs”. Training begins in September with short three- to five- mile runs eventually increasing to 50- to 60-mile runs by December. In peak training season, Miriam trains her team approximately eight hours a day for five days a week. This doesn’t even factor in the time spent feeding, watering, cleaning the kennel, changing bedding or other aspects of general care and kennel maintenance. Her “off days” are spent preparing gear and food resupplies. Approximately 2000 pounds of resupplies are flown out to 26 checkpoints along the trail. The majority of the weight is dog food. During the race, the dogs will easily burn about 10,000 cal a day with each dog consuming over five pounds of food a day. Their main meals consist of a mix of high quality kibble, raw meat and fat and their snacks are typically small chunks of meat from fish to beef to chicken skins to tripe. Meat, which freezes solid in cold temperatures, must be cut into small bite-size pieces that can easily be chewed or quickly thawed in hot water. Many pain staking hours are spent at the meat saw cutting the appropriate portion sizes. The easy part, according to Miriam, is “when the race begins and I can just run dogs.”
Miriam will be running her rookie Iditarod race with a team of 16 Alaskan huskies (nine females and seven males) owned by her mentor, JoarLeifsethUlsom of Team Racing Beringia. Joar, originally from Norway, has placed in the Iditarod’s top 10 for the past three consecutive years. Joar will be racing the top canine contenders from his kennel while Miriam will be racing his younger, less experienced dogs, providing them with the necessary skills to be successful in future competitions.
Miriam and her dogs begin their journey to Nome on March 5, 2016. Follow their progress online at www.Facebook.com/miriam.osredkar and www.RacingBeringia.com.
Text by: Ursula Prosen | Slonnect.com