The best sled dog teams in the world gathered in Alaska over the weekend to launch the 2013 Iditarod. The race held its ceremonial start in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd in downtown Anchorage on Saturday and had its official restart yesterday in Willow. Now, the racers and their dogs are out on the historic Iditarod Trail racing a 1000-mile long journey that will culminate at the finish line in Nome.
Dubbed “the Last Great Race,” the Iditarod is not just the most popular sporting event in the state of Alaska but also a nod to its rich history. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the race which began in 1973 as a salute to a famous dog sled run that took place in 1925. It was during that historic run that Norwegian musher Gunnar Kaasen, and his famous lead dog Balto, came to prominence when they delivered a supply of diphtheria medicine to Nome in time to save the lives of dozens of children. The sled dog teams that compete in the race today still follow in their footsteps on their final push into that same city.
Since this is an odd numbered year, the mushers will take the southern route on their way to the finish line. The race alternates the route each year in order to help protect the trail from wear and tear, while also sharing the event with different small towns along the way. As recently as a few weeks ago there were some concerns about the condition of the trail as at the time there didn’t seem to be enough snow along certain sections. That has changed however and the full route is now well covered in powder from Anchorage to Nome.
Defending champ Dallas Seavey, the youngest winner in Iditarod history, is the odds on favorite to repeat again this year, but he’ll face stiff competition along the way. His father Mitch is a former champ himself and four-time winners Jeff King and Lance Mackey are always a threat to arrive in Nome at the front of the pack. 2011 winner John Baker holds the course record, finishing in just 8 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds. He’s eager to climb back to the top of the leaderboard as well, while Aliy Zirkle hopes to become the first woman to win the race in 23 years.
Depending on trail and weather conditions the mushers will now take somewhere between 8-16 days to complete the course. You’ll be able to follow all of the action and drama of the race as it unfolds at Iditarod.com.
[Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek and the AP]