Susan Butcher, Queen of the Mush

Mary
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No matter how you feel about the Iditarod, the annual Alaskan dog-and-driver race that covers more than 1,000 miles, you've got to admire Susan Butcher, arguably its greatest champion. From her site:

A child of the American upper middle class, she turned her back on the civilized world of Cambridge, Mass., to carve out a niche for herself and her beloved dogs in a cold, difficult corner of Bush Alaska.

Through her 20s and into her 30s, she lived an almost cloistered existence in the Interior with her life dedicated to one seemingly impossible goal, winning the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She spent days on end on the runners of a dog sled following huskies through the frozen taiga and barren wilderness north of Fairbanks. ...

Butcher won the first of her four Iditarods [in 1986]. She would go on to win three more in the next four years -- the most impressive string of victories in Iditarod history.

T-shirts soon proclaimed "Alaska: Where men are men and women win the Iditarod.''

Butcher passed away at 51 on August 5 after a long struggle with leukemia. In her honor we offer up the following facts:

* Teams often race through blizzards so thick that vision is essentially zero; the wind chill can get down to -100°F.

* Butcher was the second woman to win the race; the first, Libby Riddles, was a longshot who pulled it off just a year earlier.

* The Iditarod trail has a long and rich history. It was used by the Inuit for centuries, and later by miners after gold was struck at Nome, Alaska. The Iditarod itself, however, didn't begin until 1973.

balto.jpg* Mushing has quite a storied history. Here's our favorite, from Wikipedia: "The most famous event in the history of Alaskan mushing is the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the 'Great Race of Mercy.' A diphtheria epidemic threatened Nome, especially the Inuit children who had no immunity to the 'white man's disease,' and the nearest quantity of antitoxin was in Anchorage. Since the two available planes were both dismantled and had never been flown in the winter, Governor Scott Bone approved a safer route. The 20-pound cylinder of serum was sent by train 298 miles from the southern port of Seward to Nenana, where it was passed just before midnight on January 27 to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the package 674 miles from Nenana to Nome." The dog that finished the race, a black husky named Balto, became an overnight celebrity. You can still visit his statue, above, in Central Park.

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August 8, 2006 - 9:55am
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