Dog-sled teams set off on Alaska's 1,000-mile Iditarod race

Mon Mar 7, 2016 2:53am EST
 
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By Steve Quinn

JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - Mushers and dog sled teams from around the world embark on the first leg of Alaska's grueling Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, starting a nearly 1,000-mile (1,609 km) journey through the state's unforgiving wilderness.

Now in its 44th year, the race commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that delivered diphtheria serum by sled-dog relay to the western coastal community of Nome on the Bering Sea.

This year's Iditarod features 85 mushers and teams each made up of 16 dogs. They will set off on staggered starts from the town of Willow, an hour's drive northwest of Anchorage, where a ceremonial start was staged on Saturday. The winner is likely to cross the finish line eight to 10 days later.

The race, which covers 975 miles (1,569 km) this year, is the test of extreme endurance. It features desolate stretches of up to 85 miles between checkpoints and unpredictable wind gusts as the trail hits the Bering coast. Last year temperatures along the route plunged to 60 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (-51 Celsius).

Still, veteran musher Jeff King, 60, would not have it any other way. He has won four Iditarods, posted 19 top 10 finishes and 14 top five conclusions.  

“I’ve finished with pneumonia, I’ve finished with the flu, I sprained an ankle and a knee to the point of where I didn’t think I could go on,” he said. “But I finished.”

King last won the race in 2006. Since then, two-time defending champion Dallas Seavey has posted three victories in four years, including a record performance in 2014, when he clocked in at eight days, 13 hours, four minutes and 19 seconds.

“The challenge to the Iditarod,” Seavey said, “is not only doing 1,000 miles across terrain that’s ever changing. It’s the adjustment of the weather at a time when we’re always pushing to the limits.”   Continued...

 
Travis Beals' team leaves the start chute at the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, Alaska March 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Nathaniel Wilder