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More impressive than the Kessel Run
August 10, 2008 10:41 AM   Subscribe

All across Alaska, radio operators tore their earphones from their heads, swore under their breath, and ran out to find help. The telegram in their hands read: "AN EPIDEMIC OF DIPHTHERIA IS ALMOST INEVITABLE HERE STOP I AM IN URGENT NEED OF ONE MILLION UNITS OF DIPHTHERIA ANTITOXIN STOP MAIL IS ONLY FORM OF TRANSPORTATION STOP I HAVE MADE APPLICATION TO COMMISSIONER OF HEALTH OF THE TERRITORIES FOR ANTITOXIN ALREADY STOP THERE ARE ABOUT 3000¢WHITE NATIVES IN THE DISTRICT".

The call came from Nome, two degrees south of the Arctic Circle, icebound, and completely unreachable, save for a 1,085 km. overland trail that traversed several mountain ranges and seemed too dangerous to even contemplate. The date was 22 January 1925 and, with a mortality rate close to 100%, more than 10,000 people were at immediate risk of dying from diphtheria.

48 hours later, after discarding all other possibilities, a desperate plan was put in place to deliver the serum over that very trail via a relay of dog teams. Over the next 127 hours, 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs braved some of the harshest terrain on the planet to save those lives. They battled gale-force winds, ice fog, severe frostbite, ice storms, null visibility, and temperatures dragged down to -65°C by the wind to achieve what became famously known as the Serum Run to Nome. Some even became heroes in the process.

The Iditarod Race was named for that trail and pays homage to the Serum Run. A recreation of the event takes place every February, for those inclined to participate.
posted by Cobalt (34 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
mushing poodle sled-dogs in alaska.

seriously.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:02 AM on August 10, 2008


Balto! I've used a children's book based on his story in my summer reading classes for a few years. What a great story.
posted by inconsequentialist at 11:09 AM on August 10, 2008


A sled lady in the Iditarod
Faced cold like the wrath of a bitter god.
So one night she curled up
With her warm husky pups,
And it turned out they perfectly fit her bod.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:14 AM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


It just didn't pay to be one of the non-white natives, did it?
posted by Houstonian at 11:23 AM on August 10, 2008


Nome is well north of the Arctic Circle - but otherwise fine post.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:48 AM on August 10, 2008


No, it isn't. Never mind.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:48 AM on August 10, 2008


Man, now an Anchorage - Nome flight is only 88 minutes. Take an iPod, sit back with some coffee, read a magazine, and next thing you know you're there. What we take for granted...
posted by tinkertown at 12:15 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Balto actually later visited New York and saw his statue dedicated.

That's one of my favorite statues.
posted by nickyskye at 12:30 PM on August 10, 2008


Thanks for that, I never knew the Iditarod had a backstory.
posted by refrigerateafteropening at 12:43 PM on August 10, 2008


And now in the memory of those natives infected by careless white explorers, we annually abuse hundred of dogs.
posted by orthogonality at 12:59 PM on August 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


Iditarod? That's for wusses. Iditabike!
posted by fixedgear at 1:00 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


3000 cents! That's like 30 bucks!
posted by Balisong at 1:03 PM on August 10, 2008


Balto's awesome and all, but it's sad how little credit Togo gets, given that he ran 261 miles in total - over some of the most dangerous parts of the run - to Balto's 53. Balto was just at the end line.
posted by bettafish at 1:14 PM on August 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, bettafish, that's an awesome link for Togo. I recommend reading the whole article bettafish linked. That sounds like an amazing dog.
posted by kalessin at 1:55 PM on August 10, 2008


I thought this was now and called a women in fairbanks.
posted by parmanparman at 2:23 PM on August 10, 2008


I thought this was about spam, especially with "ONE MILLION" spelled out in all caps.
posted by jrockway at 2:38 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some nice old photographs of Balto, Togo and more.
posted by nickyskye at 2:46 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Check out this photograph of Balto and the Quackenbush twins, closer. Now that's an interesting hair style.

More than I wanted to look at. Balto stuffed. Togo stuffed. And quite charming, more about the Togo story.
posted by nickyskye at 2:56 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I never thought a good post would consist of 80% caps but this is awesome.
posted by Mitheral at 4:56 PM on August 10, 2008


Nice first post, Cobalt!
posted by oneirodynia at 6:01 PM on August 10, 2008


Yaaaay, thanks!
posted by Cobalt at 6:09 PM on August 10, 2008


My first thought upon seeing the telegram was that the story of some grand hoax was going to emerge. Griefers have made me too cynical. The reality is much more interesting.
posted by grouse at 6:33 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


And now in the memory of those natives infected by careless white explorers, we annually abuse hundred of dogs.

it's not abuse to do what you were born and bred to do - and i might add that it was the natives who invented mushing, not careless white explorers
posted by pyramid termite at 7:16 PM on August 10, 2008


The decision outraged William Fendtriss "Wrong Font" Thompson

That is the greatest nickname ever. Not to be confused with Thomas Aloysius "Comic Sans" Terwilliger or Charles Ulysses "Bad Kerning" Smythe.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:25 PM on August 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


Those pictures of Togo don't resemble the Siberian Huskies that I've known. Has the breed been changing or are Siberian Huskies warning: cuteness not what I thought they were?

I've always wanted a Siberian when I'm able to have a dog; I'll have to track down one of Togo's descendants now, thanks guys!

From bettafish's link, The harness snapped and fell into the water, but Togo jumped into the water, took the traces in his jaw, and pulled the floes together until it was safe for the rest of the team to jump.

Smart dog.
posted by porpoise at 7:33 PM on August 10, 2008


Porpoise, when I went dog sledding in northern Norway a few years ago, the dogs the operators swore by were cross-breeds of one sort or another. There were definitely no big furry Huskies or Malamutes to be seen. Just little ambiguous muttley-type balls of unimaginable energy that could. not. wait. to get harnessed up and ripping at full tilt across the snow covered fields, with me hanging on at the back for dear life.

Though Norway isn't necessarily a dog sledding powerhouse from what they told us, and this was a ride soley for the touristicos. YMMV.
posted by nudar at 10:07 PM on August 10, 2008


it's not abuse to do what you were born and bred to do

Exactly - an ex gf of mine's mum used to breed and race Huskies (in Australia, I know, don't ask) and they said the hardest part of the multi-day racing was getting the damned dogs to calm down at night and realise the racing was over until morning. Once the doggies get going they don't like the stopping, even at night.
posted by nudar at 10:14 PM on August 10, 2008


When I first read this post (not expecting history), I thought to myself "Diptheria? what year are we in?"

Turns out, the answer is 1925.
well done for a first!
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 10:50 PM on August 10, 2008


Those pictures of Togo don't resemble the Siberian Huskies that I've known.

Togo's coloring is Agouti (and is he handsome? my word!) which is not favored among show dogs, but he was certainly a Siberian. Seppala's stock practically defined what a Siberian was.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:25 AM on August 11, 2008


A nearly perfect post.:
Title is nerdy reference?
Possibly obscure topic?
pop culture links
reason for more excitable elements to throw up their hands and generate controversy?
folks who don't read the whole thing think it's a spam thing.
folks who DO read it notice the 3000 White people thing.
some animal lovers disapprove of "working dogs"
posted by Megafly at 12:43 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Although I knew this story, leading this post with the text of the message made it really stand out. Nice work.
posted by tommasz at 12:48 PM on August 11, 2008


Awesome, I'm a sucker for dog stories, the children's book about Hachiko nearly made me cry.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2008


Thank you for the comments and favourites, everyone. I'm very, very happy you liked it.
posted by Cobalt at 6:13 AM on August 12, 2008


Recent news on the man's best friend front, not quite FPP worthy.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:29 AM on August 13, 2008


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