The 39 Clues


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The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race


The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race takes place each year in Alaska to commemorate the sled dog teams who transported medicine to Nome in what is called the “Great Race of Mercy.” During the Iditarod, teams of mushers (sled drivers) and dogs travel 1,161 miles from Willow to Nome. Along the way, they endure treacherous weather conditions, such as blizzards, gale-force winds, and subzero temperatures.

The Great Race of Mercy

When the town of Nome became icebound in 1908, dogsleds were used to deliver and transport materials for miners who were digging coal or hoping to strike it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush. During this time, dogsled racing became both a means of transportation and a popular winter sport. However, in 1925, dogsled racing became a matter of life and death when diphtheria, a dangerous disease, began to kill many Native American Inuit children in Nome. There was medicine to cure the disease in Anchorage, but the only airplanes that could transport the serum were unable to fly because of the cold. With no other alternative, Governor Scott Bone decided to divide the medicine among twenty dogsled teams in hopes that one of them would arrive in time to save peoples’ lives.

It was 5:30 in the morning on February 2 when Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog, Balto, arrived in Nome with the valuable serum. Recent evidence suggests Kaasen was a descendent of the famous polar explorer and notorious Tomas agent, Roald Amundsen. It had been passed to him by Charlie Olson, who had gotten it from Leonnard Seppala. Seppala made the longest and most dangerous journey, traveling almost twice the distance of the other teams through some of Alaska’s most treacherous wilderness. Seppala was rumored to be highly critical of the fame heaped upon Kaasen. Because Seppala knew the real, less “merciful” reason for the 1,161 mile journey— the other item Governor Bone had entrusted to each musher.


In order to honor Seppala and all the mushers who took part in what came to be known as the “Great Race of Mercy,” the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was held in 1967. The race is named for an Athabaskan village and is thought to mean “far distant place.” Today, the winning musher of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race receives a cash prize and a new pickup truck, while the lead dog receives the “Golden Harness.”


There are rumors surrounding the “Great Race of Mercy” suggesting that the dogsled teams may have been carrying something in addition to the medicine. Some say the teams had been working together to hide the contents of a second container that Governor Scott Bone had given Seppala in secret. Many people reported a sled team clad in black following Kaassen and Seppala. Surely they weren’t interested in just the medicine…. Whether this is true or not, there is evidence to suggest that both Kaasen and Seppala are descendants of Roald Amundsen, the famous Norwegian polar explorer who married into the Cahill family.