Minnesotan Emily Ford Aims to Be Second Black Woman to Finish Iditarod

Emily Ford hugs Laurakins and Rolls Royce after her finish at the 2024 Kobuk 440, which qualified her to compete in the 2025 Iditarod. (Photo by Whitney McLaren, MushingPhotos.com)

In April, I finished the last of a series of qualifying races that enables me to compete in the highly competitive 2025 Alaskan Iditarod race. I will attempt to become the second Black woman to cross the southern route of Alaska with a team of sled dogs, traveling more than 1,000 miles.

As a long-form race, there will be little sleep and tough terrain. It’s just you out there, taking care of 16 dogs. All of them need new booties at every stop — that means I will take off and put on 64 dog booties every time we stop. It might seem like a small task, but not when you are tired and cold.

I also expect the race will be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done. Alaska in the winter, along the interior and the coast, is mesmerizing.

After my partner Anna and I met, she found the kennel we now live at part-time in Alaska. The kennel owner, Kathy Fredrick, was looking for handlers for the 2023 season, and chooses all of the dogs that live at the kennel, with a keen eye for good leaders and well-bred dogs.

We have 36 dogs that we take care of. I am particularly keen on the “luxury car” litter. Four siblings — Rolls Royce, Beamer, Lamborghini (Lambo), and Porsche — have become a staple on the race team. We will aim to run 2,000 miles together before the start of the Iditarod.

I started off my adventuring life as a solo backpacker. I grew up in Brooklyn Park, but spent time on my grandparents’ farm in northern Minnesota. That prepared me for brutal snowstorms and ripping winds that created snow drifts that would swallow my little-kid body whole, if not for snowshoes to help me float. My mom was a classic Midwestern mother who bundled her kids up and brought us outdoors no matter the weather.

Eventually, I was spending 69 days hiking 1,200 miles through the Ice Age Trail, among others, and never questioned my ability to do so, because I was set up to believe that I could achieve anything. I love the sacred space that is the wilderness; no tree, stream, or wolf cares about my gender, my race, or where I land on the economic spectrum.

I have always considered dogs my best friends, and sought out dog-sitting jobs from college professors. On my website, I describe the personality of all of our dogs. Gabby is retired from racing, and recently turned 13. I love her so much.

Running with sled dogs is a slight departure from solo backpacking, but not as much as you think — you are not with other humans, living with full self-sufficiency in the backcountry, and do all troubleshooting on your own.

Now that I have qualified for the Iditarod, this summer is all about fundraising. The whole season will cost about $50,000. I pay for food, vet bills, flights, and much more. I have a flexible job, thankfully, and will return to Alaska from Minnesota in the fall for training.

Action = Change

If you are interested in sponsoring a dog’s food, harnesses, entry fee, or flight home after the race, visit emilyontrail.com to learn more.