The Iditarod is a challenge like no other. After all, where else can you tackle 1,000 miles of the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but a sled and a team of dogs to guide you?

In our previous episode, Short Notice, we explored the story of Sean Underwood – a rookie who stepped in for Iditarod legend, Jeff King, just a few days before the 2020 race. The challenges posed for a novice in an event like the Iditarod are obvious. Navigating the terrain. Managing your team of dogs. Strategy, tactics and planning. The Last Great Race on Earth is a race like no other.

Yet even experienced mushers can encounter challenging situations in the Iditarod. Every race throws up its own story – its own trials and tribulations – that a musher must navigate. 

By the 2020 iteration of the race, Matthew Failor had already completed multiple Iditarods. He thought he was prepared for almost any eventuality he could encounter on the trail. But for Failor, and a few of his fellow competitors, this race would provide a unique scenario that no amount of preparation could have accounted for.On Pins and Needles explores Failor’s journey – from pursuing a degree in photography at Ohio State University, to a Iditarod veteran with a decade of experience under his belt – and his experiences in the 2020 race.

What will you learn in this episode?

In this episode of A Life of Dogs, Matthew Failor offers incredible insight into the life of a musher, and what it means to race in the Iditarod. You’ll learn about:

  • Failor’s advice to anyone considering embarking on a career in mushing

  • Why he is so passionate about the Iditarod

  • A health scare for one of Failor’s dogs, and how the veterinary care available to dogs competing in the Iditarod saved their life

  • What mushers do during the mandatory 24 hour rest period in the race

  • How Failor and his team of dogs had to demonstrate resilience in the face of some incredibly harsh conditions on the trail
a life of dogs sled dogs

The importance of veterinary care in the Iditarod

Like any athlete at the top of their game, sled dogs need to be in optimum physical condition to operate at their maximum potential. It is also essential that they receive the veterinary care required if they need it.

In our previous episode, Peak Performance, we spoke with veterinarians, mushers and organizers about the safety protocols and veterinary procedures in place at the Iditarod. There was no better demonstration of this than in Failor’s recounting of a health scare for one of his dogs, who suffered gastric dilation (also known as bloat). This condition is unpreventable and can be life-threatening, but the quick work and organization meant that the dog was able to be flown to Anchorage for surgery.

The road to Safety

The Iditarod trail is full of breathtaking scenery, with Alaska’s natural beauty on show throughout the race. While it may be hard for us to envisage what it must be like to be on the back of a dog sled with the Northern Lights in full view, Failor paints a vivid picture throughout this episode of what it is like to take part in this race.

The natural landscape presents challenges for Iditarod competitors, too. The Alaskan terrain is unforgiving and treacherous. Biting wind chills; frozen rivers; impassable snow banks. Just one of these factors can be difficult for mushers to overcome – but what when they all conspire to occur at the same time? 

You may recall that our last episode, Short Notice, left off with Sean Underwood approaching the finishing stretch of the Iditarod – but there was one more twist left in his journey. That same twist would befall Matthew Failor, too. In our next episode, we’ll be knitting together the stories of these two Iditarod competitors – a rookie and a veteran, both trying to make their way to Safety.

Bonus Content

We caught up with Matthew Failor after the 2021 Iditarod! Check out this bonus interview below.

A special thanks to Matthew Failor for participating in this interview. Matthew and his wife own Alaskan Husky Adventures, offering dog sled experiences. Check out their website or follow them on Facebook.

We would like to thank our episode sponsors.  Be sure to visit them to learn more and show them your support.  Without their continued support our podcast wouldn’t be possible.

Royal Canin


Highland Canine Training, LLC


Podcast Transcript

Show transcript to follow shortly!

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