Tagish Lake Kennel
Yukon, Territory, Canada
There are lots of stories and mystery surrounding the beginnings of the 1,100 mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race. But you can boil it down to the determination of one man. Joe Reddington Sr.
Alaska was purchased from the Russians back in 1867, it was a vast, uninhabited land the Russians used for trapping. Sled dogs were instrumental in getting people across that vast uninhabited region. They brought supplies from village to village and even helped patrol the Western Alaskan wilderness as late as world war II.
Then came the advent of the Iron Horse. The snow machine. Now when Joe visited villages along the historic trade route of the Iditarod trail, he didn’t see dogs in front of homes, he saw a snow machine. Snow machines will never be as reliable and friendly as a team of dogs, and when the idea of a race to salvage the history and significance of mushing was brought to Joe, he ran with it.
Today the race spans 1,100 miles from just north of Anchorage, Alaska to the former gold rush town of Nome, Alaska. Dogs are once again in front of many of the homes in small villages around the north, Joe’s vision and determination paid off.
This year True Fleece is proud to sponsor Ed Hopkins of Tagish Lake Kennels during his bid to be the next Iditarod champion. I caught up with Ed at his Kennel in Historic Tagish, Yukon Territory, and asked him about the upcoming race.
M- I’m hanging out with Ed Hopkins from Tagish Lake Kennels, these are a bunch of his dogs in back of us. Hey Ed, how are you doing?
E- Good, how are you?
M- I’m excited about the Iditarod! You’ve got the 1,100 mile race coming up here, this weekend?
E- That’s right, this weekend we’ll have the ceremonial start in anchorage and then the restart in Willow.
M- That’s right, 30 miles north of Anchorage, is that where Willow is?
E- Yeah, 30-50 miles north.
M- Let’s talk about the dogs, what makes a good sled dog, what do you look for?
E- There’s so many things you look for in a sled dog. What I like is a good coat, good feet, and good mental strength too.
M- Yeah, they’ve gotta be in it for the long haul to make it 1,100 miles in the dead of winter.
E- Yeah, that’s right, they also have to be very durable too.
Camera pans to one of Ed’s dogs
E- That’s my main leader Dragon, a Lance Mackey breed. She’s a little superstar. Real durable, nice coat, nice feet, a gentle disposition. But don’t let that fool you, she’s tough.
M- What’s one of the craziest things that’s happened to you on the trail during your career as a musher.
E- One thing that really stands out was the 1994 Yukon Quest. I was coming through the Black Hills and was sleeping on my sled. I heard this gruff voice say, “Hey, are you gonna go by me or what?” And I said, “Yeah, okay I’ll go by ya,” and it was Cowboy Smith. And so, we’re going through the Black Hills and I didn’t realize that we were about to go down the switchbacks, which is a long straight grade with a lot of hairpin turns in it.
And, I said “yeah I’ll go by,” but at the same time we both started going downhill and at that point our two sleds locked together.
M- Oh no.
E- Oh yeah, so at this point we’ve got two sleds locked together with 24 dogs pulling us straight downhill.
M- Oh no!
E- And our sleds are locked and we can’t pull our sleds apart. So eventually, I don’t know what happened, maybe he was able to wrestle his sled loose by throwing a snow hook and I just had to call my dogs out and go whipping down this hill with these little switchbacks totally out of control.
So that was one of the things that stands out, one of the most adrenaline rushing things to happen. And that was all about about 45-50 below at 2am.
M- Oh, just 50 below?
E- Ah yeah.
M- So, what kind of temperatures are in store for you on this run?
E- Well, the Iditarod is known to be a little warmer, and it’s a lot lighter too. Could range anywhere from 10 above to 50 below. It all depends on where you are. It looks like a weather forecast says it’s gonna be warm, but there could be some valley that’ll be pretty cold still, I’ll find out when I get there.
M- That’s true, you’ll know for sure, then. That leads me into the next question, how does Merino wool help while you’re on the trail.
E- Merino wool is really really nice, because it keeps you warm, it keeps you dry, it breathes easy, and it doesn’t smell. You know because you’re working out quite a bit, and you can air it out and it’s almost like it’s brand new. I like it, I love it, I’ve worn merino wool for some time now and I love it.
M- How do you like the True Fleece Merino so far.
E- Ah the True Fleece is a better quality than what I’ve been wearing so far, that’s for sure!
M- Oh yeah?
E- Oh yeah. You can tell, the stitching is better, the knitting is a lot tighter and it’s definitely a little thicker too.
M- Alright, well, how do we follow you, through Tagishlakekennels.com?
E- Tagish Lake Kennels on our Facebook page, Avery Broman is looking out for that and she does a great job.
M- Alright Ed, good luck on the race and thanks!
E- Thank you.
You can watch the entire video at: https://youtu.be/8qCA1tLsq-U
Written by Mike Swasey