11 July, 2002
I found out more interesting facts about Nome today after spending much of my day in town. Nome is probably best known as the end point of the Iditarod, often called the "Last Great Race on Earth." On the last Saturday in March, mushers and their dogsled teams gather in Anchorage for the start of a race of nearly 1200 miles over frozen rivers and the Alaskan tundra to reach Nome. The shortest completed time was 9 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes and 19 seconds in 1995. In 1978, after two weeks on the trail, the winner came in one second ahead of the second place team!
There is an interesting story tied to the Iditarod Trail. By 1925, much of the gold was gone, and only 1400 people were living in Nome. Icebound for seven months of the year, with the nearest railroad more than 650 miles away, Nome’s only link to the rest of the world was by telegraph. Mail arrived from Anchorage by a relay of dog teams that covered the distance in about a month. In January of 1925, a diphtheria epidemic broke out in Nome. Diphtheria is an extremely contagious disease affecting the lungs and throat. The supply of antidiptheria serum quickly dwindled and there was only one doctor in town. When the call for serum went out from Nome, the town was under heavy snow, the temperatures were well below zero, and it was January, the time of the long twilight of Arctic winter. The only way to get the serum to Nome was by dogsled. On January 27th, with a temperature of minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the first of 20 dog teams set out to deliver the serum to Nome. On February 1, faced with blinding snow and gale force winds, the anchor team left for Nome. At one point, a fierce blast of wind lifted both dogs and sled into the air and the serum was temporarily lost in a snowdrift! On February 2, just before daybreak, the serum arrived in Nome, and by February 21 the epidemic was over. The lead dog Balto became a celebrity across the United States, and the city of New York erected a monument to Balto in Central Park. The inscription reads
"Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed anti toxin six hundred miles over rough ice across treacherous waters through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925."
ENDURANCE – FIDELITY – INTELLIGENCE.
In 1973, volunteers reopened the mail route from Anchorage to Nome, the same route that is now used for the Iditarod.
For my few days in Nome, a wonderful family has "adopted" me. I’ll tell you a bit more about them tomorrow, but right now I’ll explain the picture accompanying today’s journal. Banner and Taylor, the two boys in the family are holding two Alaskan king crabs given to their dad that day. It is crabbing season right now, and someone had more than he needed. Dinner was "surf and turf," king crab freshly caught and moose steak!
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