Iditarod: Could ‘Toughest Race on Earth’ be the first great show about the Last Great Race?

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Spoiler alert: Lance Mackey, shown here with lead dog Larry, wins. (AP Photo)

The Discovery Channel began airing “Toughest Race on Earth: Iditarod” last night, and it’s been met with a bevy of reviews this morning.

The Iditarod, of course, is known as “The Last Great Race on Earth” and began in 1973 as a tribute to the 1925 cross-country dog sled trip from Anchorage to Nome to deliver a diphtheria vaccine to Nomeites.

While the endurance test that is the Iditarod obviously can’t hold a candle to the three miles I knocked out yesterday on the treadmill at the FFC, it’s still pretty challenging. As the narrator tells you, these mushers, along with a dozen sled dogs, are “pitted against the worst nature has to offer” during a voyage that can take anywhere from 9 to 14 days.

My parents are former residents of Nome — the end point of the race. They moved there my sophomore year of college. I spent part of a summer there in 2002 waiting tables, painting the insides of mobile homes and rehabbing a hardwood floor or two. I remember the experience well — unfortunately. Nome feels like the end of the Earth. Exile. Siberia. A third-world country to a then-21-year-old from the cozy Chicago ‘burbs. I wasn’t there during the Iditarod, but my parents spoke highly of that time of year and, to be sure, they were bigger fans of the hamlet than I.

Media outlets have offered mixed reviews while jumping at the opportunity to cast puns in the direction of the documentary, which airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. CST.

The show got three stars from New York Daily News TV critic David Hinkley along with the headline: “Iditarod: Mush ado about sledding.” Quite pithy, Hinkley. Quite pithy, indeed.

In its review, Variety chooses to focus on a brief cameo from Sarah Palin, the future mother in law of the most famous former high school hockey player of all time. Hinkley points out that the Alaska gov’s name was actually misspelled in the original pilot.

For a real expert opinion though, visit Iditablog.com. They’re linking back to their accounts of the race coinciding with the parts that make it on the show.

One thing’s for sure: I’ll be watching — if only to catch a glimpse of a town I’d rather forget.

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