Update: Arnold Demoski is reported to have taken responsibility for the Iditarod incident, according to KTUU. The 26-year-old Nulato resident has been charged with “two counts of third degree assault, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of reckless driving and five counts of fifth degree criminal mischief.” He was reportedly driving drunk.
“Demoski says he does not remember the collisions. He also says he didn’t return to harass Zirkle later on the trail but says he wanted to check to make sure she was okay. He didn’t have the courage to approach her and feared people would learn he had been drinking and driving,” KTUU reports.
Original story: One dog is dead and three have been left injured in the wake of a bizarre attack on participants of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. A 3-year-old male sled dog, Nash, is reported to have perished in the Iditarod attack, according to a release issued by race officials. Two-year-old Banjo and 3-year-old Crosby are said to have received injuries as well as medical attention at a checkpoint.
“I’ve got big problems,” 60-year-old Jeff King, the owner of one of the teams the dogs belong to, stated in a KTVA video, hosted on YouTube, as he pulled into the checkpoint at the City of Nulato, Alaska, appearing weathered and distraught. “I was hit by a snow machine. I have one dead and several hurt.”
Earlier, New Hampshire native Aliy Zirkle arrived at the Nulato checkpoint with a similar story. One unnamed dog on Zirkle’s team was reported to have suffered non-life-threatening injuries. For reasons unknown, a snowmobiler not only attempted to run the two Iditarod participants off of the trail, but also staged an outright attack against them.
The Iditarod was first staged in 1973 by Joe Redington, Sr. and Dorothy Page, as reported by the Courthouse News Service, and billed as “The Last Great Race on Earth” — an answer to a time of change in the North as people were faced with the advent of gas-powered, mechanical snow machines, which dog sleds simply could not compete with in practical terms. Despite their efficiency, snowmobiles are not without their drawbacks. A snowmobile will never ward off a prowling bear, nor will it bark with glee upon receipt of its owner’s mere attention. Snowmobiles are also noisy, and while not a massive source of carbon, sled dogs, one would imagine, produce less. The Iditarod might be thought of as one entire state’s reaction to an unstoppable force, as well as a celebration of the past.
The 2016 field includes 85 teams, 78 of which are listed as still being in the race by the event’s website. Aliy Zirkle is currently listed as running in third place and Jeff King in ninth; Brent Sass is the leader. The Iditarod is held each March and follows a route from Anchorage to Nome described as being the historical “gold rush and mail trail.” The trail traverses the Alaska and Kuskokwim mountain ranges, which feature 3,000-foot-high peaks.
Dog sledders usually finish the race in as few as nine and as many as 15 days. The Iditarod record is eight days, 13 hours, four minutes, and 19 seconds, set by Dallas Seavey in 2011, as reported by ESPN. Seavey is also the youngest person to ever win the event. By comparison, in 1974, Carl Huntington won the race with a time of 20 days, 15 hours, two minutes, and seven seconds, described as the “slowest” winning time in the history of the proceedings.
There are two routes employed in the mid-section of the race, a northern route used in even years, and a southern route used in odd years. The actual town of Iditarod, after which the race is named and is said to mean “distant place,” is located on the southern route. During the event’s formative years, only the northern route was used; having two routes allowed more communities, as well as the original, to take part in the race. The two routes are reported to differ in length by 23 miles. The northern is reported to be 975 miles long, and the southern, 998 miles. Twenty-six checkpoints are reported to be in use for 2016.
According to the race’s website, each team has an average of 16 dogs, resulting in over 1,000 dogs departing from Anchorage on the Iditarod Trail each year. In 2004, 77 teams finished the race, the highest number ever.
[Photo by Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport/Getty Images]