Last weekend kicks off this year's Iditarod

Wesley Schaefer/Sun Star Reporter
March 6, 2013

Jester, the lone female on Lance Mackey's team barks and smiles as she gets ready to run the race. Wesley Schaefer/Sun Star

Jester, the lone female on Lance Mackey’s team barks and smiles as she gets ready to run the race. Wesley Schaefer/Sun Star

On March 2, 1973 a group of mushers set off for a trip from Anchorage to Nome and ran the very first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Forty years later, 66 mushers took off down Fourth Street as they attempted the 41st running of the race. This years race follows the Southern route and stops in 25 places starting in Anchorage and ending in Nome. This one thousand mile race has been referred to as the Super Bowl of dog mushing and if you didn’t know better you’d swear some of these mushers are rockstars with the treatment Alaska gives them.

Along the way the mushers will have chances to resupply with the drop bags sent to the checkpoints ahead of time, but they are not allowed to have any outside assistance. This race will test the skill and endurance of these musher as well give the real athletes, the dogs, a chance to shine.

Each musher is allowed to start with no more than 16 dogs and each dog has trained all season for this. The love of running really shows in the excitement these dogs have as they are harnessed and hooked up to the gangline barking, jumping and howling as they want to get started.

The race has been set up into two starts, with a ceremonial start on Saturday morning in downtown Anchorage. The mushers go for 11 miles through the town starting on 4th street and ending at Campbell Airstrip. This section of the race is not counted towards the overall time and as a result the mushers take it slow stopping to chat with fans, take photos, and even grab snacks as they tailgate with the crowds that gathered to watch. After this the dogs are loaded up, given a good nights rest and on Sunday morning they are loaded up and taken to Willow Lake and the real deal starts.

The attitude is serious with a hint of stress, the atmosphere is buzzing with excitement and anticipation as the mushers finish their last minute packing. The dogs get a few last minute snacks and the mushers start to prepare the dogs first meals soaking for them to eat down the trail.

The mushers start at two minute intervals and as they hook the dogs to the lines its evident that it’ll take more than one or two people to hold the sled back. Some teams took eight or more people to hold back the sled while the mushers dragged the brakes through the snow to the chute.

When the musher stops at the banners they can see the flags flying from the countries that are represented this year. America, Canada, Russia, Jamaica, Brazil, Norway and New Zealand. They do one last walk up and down the team, they hug a loved one and shake hands or high five a sponsor or fan.

As the announcer reads the mushers bio the several thousand fans cheer and scream, the announcer counts down the last ten seconds, the musher hops on the runners and as they hit one and yell “go” the musher shoots down the line and sets off for the next 1,149 official miles of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

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