Iditarod mushers hit the trail for start of Alaska wilderness race

Sun Mar 2, 2014 7:05am EST
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By Steve Quinn

(Reuters) - Iditarod competitors from all over the world will set off from a frozen lake on Sunday for the true start of Alaska's famed sled-dog race, a day after the 69 mushers and their canine teams made a ceremonial jaunt through Anchorage.

The nearly 1,000-mile (1,600-km) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that carried diphtheria serum by sled-dog relay to the coastal community of Nome, which remains the final destination in this 42nd edition of the event.

The official restart will be held on an ice-covered lake in Willow, a small community about 50 miles north of Anchorage, which on Saturday hosted the race's untimed, ceremonial start.

Fans reaching out to high-five competitors lined the streets of Anchorage. The next stage of the competition will be lonelier, as competitors brave darkness, steep climbs and temperatures well below freezing.

"For us, this is a lifestyle," said reigning champion Mitch Seavey, 54. "The Iditarod is the final exam. It validates what we work for year-round."

After Willow, the next checkpoint is 42 miles away at the tiny settlement of Yentna Station.

A total of 69 mushers, most of them from Alaska, will travel in stages of between 18 miles and 85 miles as they guide teams of dogs from Willow northwest through 21 other Alaska villages on the road to Nome.

Competitors have come from Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Sweden and even Jamaica.   Continued...

Jessica Hendricks' team races down the trail at the re-start of the Iditarod dog sled race in Willow, Alaska March 3, 2013. REUTERS/Nathaniel Wilder