March 3, 2012 by staff
Iditarod Race, A winter of heavy snow in Alaska is keeping trail breakers busy clearing the route of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race but no one can remove other weather-related challenges like jumbled ice along the state’s western coast and the heightened possibility of run-ins with grouchy moose.
And as always in the unpredictable trek through wilderness and Alaska Native villages, there are mountains to climb, forests and frozen rivers to cross – and maybe some blizzards and fierce winds to battle after the competition begins Sunday in Willow, 50 miles north of Anchorage. A ceremonial start in Anchorage along an 11-mile urban stretch Saturday will give fans a close-up view of the 66 teams hoping to reach the finish line in Nome, an old gold rush town on Alaska’s western coast.
Participants are from Alaska, four other states and four other countries. They include past winners, veterans, young guns and rookies.
“Literally, this is as strong a field as I’ve seen,” race marshal Mark Nordman said.
The contenders include defending champion John Baker, who won last year’s race in record time, and Hugh Neff, who comes in less than three weeks after he won the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race by just 26 seconds. Beside Baker, five other past Iditarod champions also are signed up. They include four-time winner Lance Mackey, the only musher ever to win both the Iditarod and the Quest in the same year.
“The competition is getting stiffer every time we race this race,” said Baker, who lives in the Arctic town of Kotzebue. “There’s a lot of good teams out there.”
Baker, 49, is the first Inupiat Eskimo to win the Iditarod and the first Alaska Native to win it since Jerry Riley did in 1976. For this year’s race, Baker’s 16-dog team will include 11 dogs from his winning run.
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