Friday, March 12, 2010

Answer: Alaskan sled dog questions

Yesterday I posed a couple of related questions.  The first was "What's the average weight of an Alaskan husky running in the Iditarod in 2010?"  

This is pretty simple.  The query [ Iditarod sled dog ] brings you quickly to the Wikipedia page, and the weight range of 45 - 66 pounds (20 - 25kg).

But the second question is a bit trickier.  "Who actually handed the vaccine to the doctors in Nome in 1925?"  

It's pretty well known that Leonard Seppala and his lead dog Togo were involved in delivering diptheria serum, but it turns out that Gunnar Kaasen was actually the last musher into Nome with the diptheria serum

How did I figure that out?  

It's not hard to figure out from the query  [ Iditarod history ] that Seppala was somehow involved in the race.  (Just read any article about the Iditarod, and that will give you his name.)  

But if you then read any of the many bios of Seppala on the web CAREFULLY (such as the Wikipedia entry), you'll find out that he actually wasn't the last guy in the chain of dog sled teams to Nome, but was the musher who went the longest distance through the most brutal weather.  (Not that any of the trip was a milk run.) 

So... The man who handed off the canister with the serum to the doctor in Nome was Gunnar Kaasen, who made the last leg of the journey with lead dog Balto.  (Oddly enough, Balto was actually owned by Seppala!)

And... for extra credit, how much do you think HIS dogs weighed, on average?

It turns out that Kaasen's team was all Siberian Huskies.  They weigh between 45-60 pounds--about the same as the Alaskan huskies.  

The teaching point for this challenge is that it's often very easy to assume you know more than you really do.  The Iditarod race celebrates Seppala's heroic mushing effort in 1925--but you shouldn't assume he was the hero who actually rode into Nome.  Be careful, and although your mother always tells you this, it's really true: check your facts!  

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