The 42nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race gets underway in Willow, Alaska Sunday.
On Saturday, mushers lined out their dog teams in downtown Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start of the race.
This year’s race includes six former champions and at least 20 mushers vying for a top-10 finish.
New Zealander Curt Perano, otherwise known as the Kiwi Musher, took off first from the ceremonial start line in downtown Anchorage. He was followed by 68 others. Some are running the race for the experience. Others, like Aliy Zirkle are long-time veterans looking for a win. The Two Rivers musher spent most of Saturday morning shaking hands and posing for photos with fans like Florida tourist Syvilla Morse. “I have run before once or twice…OK, 13 times,” she joked when Morse asked Zirkle if she’d run the race before.
“Have you won?” was the next question. “Actually no, I haven’t quite won yet, but thank you for asking,” Zirkle responded.
Zirkle is running the team that led husband, Allen Moore to a second consecutive Yukon Quest Championship this year. She’s finished the last two Iditarods in second place behind a Seavey. In 2012, she was beat by Dallas Seavey. Last year, his father Mitch managed to stay ahead for the win.
He says he’s running one of his best teams for this his 21st Iditarod.
“Sometimes we start with dogs that we think are sound,” Seavey said. “But when you get out there a couple days, maybe that old injury flares up again. Any of those guys I’m just leaving home.”
This year’s field is deep. There are six returning champions and countless top-10 finishers among the 69 teams running. Ray Reddington, Junior has run the race 12 times and finished in the top-10 three times. He is well aware of what he’s facing.
“Every year, we say it’s the best field there is, but I think it’d be hard to compare any years to this one,” he said.
The race follows the northern route and he says there is one thing in particular he’s looking forward to.
“We’ll have some good food at Galena I hope. You know, we always do!” Reddington said.
But Galena is more than 500 miles down the trail. Before teams get there, they’ll face a guaranteed rough trail over the Alaska Range. There are reports of snow free rocks in the notorious Dalzell Gorge and open water near Rohn. Glare ice and hard-packed trail will also challenge sled dogs and mushers alike.