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Pandemic Forces Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race To Make Changes

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've all had to adapt in the age of COVID-19. But imagine getting a rapid coronavirus test processed at a remote Alaskan outpost with no heat and no Wi-Fi.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSHER: You guys ready?

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSHER: All right. All right.

MARTIN: That's what's happening with the Iditarod dog sled race this year. They're mushing right now, in fact. The race started Sunday with some big changes.

ROB URBACH: We had to reinvent the route.

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Rob Urbach is the CEO of the Iditarod. Normally, the course runs roughly a thousand miles from Anchorage in the south to the northwestern city of Nome, with occasional stops in villages along the way.

URBACH: There is a heightened sense of concern of even traveling through village land, landing on village airstrips. So we did a loop course this year.

DETROW: The Iditarod is calling it the Gold Trail Loop. The 850-mile route starts and ends in Willow, a town 90 minutes north of Anchorage. That means mushers will have to cross the Alaska range twice. And there are a lot fewer amenities along the way.

URBACH: These towns are just ghost towns now. I mean, they're literally just abandoned gold mining towns.

DETROW: So they've had to make do.

URBACH: Usually, there - at a checkpoint, there's some building or a cabin. And it has these wonderful things like heat, electricity and running water. And now we have to put our own campsite.

MARTIN: There's the question of testing everyone involved.

URBACH: We're testing in 12 locations and just getting the test kits to the right place at the right time. It's been a labyrinth.

MARTIN: So they went with a test that uses Bluetooth to return a result in about 20 minutes.

DETROW: As Rob Urbach says, all the challenges are in keeping with the tradition of the event.

URBACH: What the Iditarod really stands for is overcoming the odds and the indomitable spirit of Alaska.

DETROW: The winner is expected to cross the finish line next week.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSHER: Hey. Let's go. Merle (ph), Lucy (ph), gee, gee, gee. Good dogs. Good dogs.

(SOUNDBITE OF CODES IN THE CLOUDS' "HALDERN, EARLY HOURS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.