The Iditarod began its 41st running on Saturday at 10 a.m. local time, with its ceremonial first leg of 11 miles. Self-styled as The Last Great Race on Earth, Alaska’s annual sled-dog competition will cover 998 miles this year. It traditionally starts in Anchorage on the first Saturday in March and finishes when the last musher reaches Nome, which most likely will be around St. Patrick's Day.
Sixty-six mushers made it to the starting line from their homes in Brazil, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Norway, and Russia, as well as the U.S. Sixteen of the mushers are women.
Among the mushers are Dallas Seavey, who became the Iditarod's youngest-ever champion at 25 last year. They also include John Baker, who holds the Iditarod record for the fastest time, as he covered the distance in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, and 39 seconds.
Meanwhile, most of the sled dogs on the mushers' teams are Siberian huskies. Each musher's team consists of between 12 and 16 sled dogs.
The Iditarod National Historical Trail runs across two mountain ranges, over the Yukon River, and along 150 miles of Norton Sound coastline.
The work of the mushers' supporters is being complemented by that of about 50 veterinarian volunteers who give all of the hundreds of dogs running the race quick checkups at its more than two dozen checkpoints, according to NPR.
The first 30 mushers to cross the finish line will split a purse of $550,000, with the champion winning a $50,400 check and a Dodge Ram pickup truck worth about $43,400, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Despite unseasonably warm weather this year, race officials said there is plenty of snow on the trail, the Associated Press reported via the LaCrosse (Wis.) Tribune.