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Mushers in the Truest Sense : Iditarod: Competitors will find sloppy conditions early on because of unusually warm weather. Race begins today.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The weather has been good and that’s bad for the 69 sled dog teams scheduled to start the 21st Iditarod Trail race from Anchorage to Nome this morning.

The record is 10 days 19 hours 17 seconds set by Martin Buser last year, but earlier races took as long as 20 days, depending on weather and trail conditions. Buser set his record on the northern route used in even-numbered years. The record for the 1,161-mile southern route is 11:02:05 set by four-time winner Susan Butcher in 1987.

Butcher, Buser and five-time winner Rick Swenson are among this year’s entries competing for a $400,000 purse, with $50,000 going to the winner. Butcher said this week that recent training and scouting runs showed a contrast in conditions.

The last 230 miles to Nome, she said, were “the best I’ve ever seen it . . . absolutely fantastic. Now, the portion (out of) Anchorage, it’s terrible. They’ve had nothing but warm weather, so their snow conditions are bad. It’s very icy. The entire first third of the race is going to be quite treacherous. We’ll be running over bare ground in some places.”

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A lack of snow will improve the speed but not the handling, Butcher said.

“The dogs have four-wheel drive and are quite sure-footed. If they have have to run over boulders or rocks or trees that are bare, they have no trouble with it. But a musher on the end of that sled is like the kid on the end of a whip at a skating rink. When the dogs go around a corner really fast, it’s tough on the sled driver to keep that sled upright and control the speed of the team.”

Race organizers have been grooming the trail this week, removing obstructions and filling mooseholes--literally, “where moose have stomped big holes in the trail,” Butcher said.

Butcher, 38, won the race in 1986, ’87, ’88 and ’90. She was slowed by ill dogs in ’89 and turned back by a blizzard in ’91, finishing third after leading most of the way, as Swenson won his fifth title.

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“Last year was a matter of running too many dogs in their later years,” she said of her second-place finish. “I had a lot of 9-year-old dogs. They were good, but I was running a team of (Boston) Celtics. I didn’t have prime age dogs.”

Her husband, David Monson, also is a successful musher and was considering running this year’s race in Butcher’s place, but she decided to do again it only two weeks ago.

“I have a relatively young team,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting to go out there with some unproven dogs. But when we enter a race now, we don’t just enter to go along and smell the flowers. We want to win. I’ve made it over some pretty bad trail before, so I’m confident that my team and I can do it again.”

Iditarod Notes

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Sleds can start with as many as 20 dogs, although most opt for fewer. No new dogs can be substituted during the race, but about a third are dropped off along the way. . . . Each musher must start with two sleds to reduce early speed when the dogs are fresh. The second sled may be discarded at the second checkpoint after 63 miles. . . . Because of an overriding concern for the dogs--mostly Alaskan huskies bred for running strength--the mandatory rest time has been extended this year. Although most mushers try to average 12 hours of rest for their dogs every 24 hours, there also is one mandatory rest stop of 30 hours--up from 24--at any of the first 25 checkpoints at the mushers’ discretion and a 12-hour stop at White Mountain, 77 miles from the finish. . . .The teams will leave Anchorage starting at 10 a.m. PST at two-minute intervals, drawn by lottery.

The 1993 Iditarod Race

A step-by-step look at the 1993 trail, upon which 69 sled dog teams will attempt to travel a distance of 1,161 miles through the Alaskan wilderness from Anchorage to Nome.

mileage Total Checkpoints Between Race Miles Anchorage to Eagle River 20 miles 20 miles Eagle River to Wasilla 29 miles 49 miles Wasilla to Knik 14 miles 63 miles Knik to Rabbit Lake 52 miles 115 miles Rabbit Lake to Skwentna 34 miles 149 miles Skwentna to Finger Lake 45 miles 194 miles Finger Lake to Rainy Pass 30 miles 224 miles Rainy Pass to Rohn 48 miles 272 miles Rohn to Nickolai 93 miles 365 miles Nickolai to McGrath 48 miles 413 miles McGrath to Takotna 23 miles 436 miles Takotna to Ophir 38 miles 474 miles Ophir to Iditarod 90 miles 564 miles Iditarod to Shageluk 65 miles 629 miles Anvik to Grayling 18 miles 672 miles Grayling to Eagle Island 60 miles 732 miles Eagle Island to Kaltag 70 miles 802 miles Kaltag to Unalakleet 90 miles 892 miles Unalakleet to Shaktoolik 40 miles 932 miles Shaktoolik to Koyuk 58 miles 990 miles Koyuk to Elim 48 miles 1,038 miles Elim to Golovin 28 miles 1,066 miles Golovin to White Mountain 18 miles 1,084 White Mountain to Safety 55 miles 1,139 miles Safety to Nome 22 miles 1,161 miles

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