Sixty-four dog teams pushed off Monday on the frozen Chena River, launching the 31st Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race along a new route drawn up because of Alaska's unusually warm winter.
Mushers and dogs lining up for the "restart" were enjoying snow, something they didn't have for Saturday's ceremonial start in Anchorage. Amid the din of barking dogs, several thousand fans turned out to witness the Iditarod's first appearance in Fairbanks. An unusually warm season and lack of snow have created the oddest Iditarod since the 1,100-mile race to Nome began in 1973. It's the first time the race has started so far north, and a revised route that extends the trail by 70 miles leaves a lot of unknowns, even for veteran mushers.
"I don't know what to expect, and that's the neat -- and intimidating thing -- about this year," musher Jon Little said before setting out on the trail.
Even Fairbanks, 260 miles north of Anchorage, has had warmer temperatures and less snow than usual. But compared to Anchorage, Fairbanks is a winter wonderland. Musher Aliy Zirkle, who lives in nearby Two Rivers, said her dogs have had plenty of training. Many of her peers have been forced to train on ice, with four-wheelers or far from home. Some mushers were worried about the potential to get lost on the new route, with tight corners and a maze of swamps along one section. Tim Osmar, who is running his 16th Iditarod, wasn't worried.
"I'm just real happy they figured out a way to get to Nome," he said. "The trick is to keep your attitude up."
Mushers are vying for a $600,000 purse. The winner will take home $68,571 and a new truck.