SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The 51st running of the “Last Great Race on Earth” got underway in Alaska last weekend. The first musher is expected to finish on Tuesday.

In this week’s Flashback Friday, we take you back to 2004 and hear from a South Dakotan who ran the 32nd Iditarod.

It’s all around you in Alaska. The flowing ice, the falling snow, the vast, seemingly endless mountains. Mother Nature can make grown men act like children. March is a special time in this frozen land, when man and beast battle the beauty of blizzards, blankets of snow, and time itself in temperatures that start above but hover well below the big O.

Iditarod 32 was the 17th time South Dakota Native Vern Halter found himself in tow of his canine cohorts. Chances are it won’t be his last.

“At some point in time, you have to kind of say, well I’m not really a factor anymore. I kind of feel like I can still be a factor right now, but I mean there’s a certain point in time you just gotta say, well what. You gotta turn it over to the next generation.”

This is the land where moose wander free, and eagles sit perched, scoffing at the men and women who battle the elements.

“It’s a long ways. You know, the first three, four days you could hurt a dog team if you’re not careful. Trying to get racing. It’s the second week that’s tough.”

For those who know little about this race, it’s easy to wonder about animal cruelty. The distance, the elements, the competition, is it healthy for these dogs and their handlers?

For those who venture onto it, the trail can be tough, but for these dogs, this is what they were born to do.

Battling Mother Nature is never easy. Preparation and determination can only take you so far. Having an appreciation for this battle between beauty and beasts helps to ease the burden of this thousand-mile race.

With Eye on KELOLAND, in Alaska, I’m Dave Sniadak.

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