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Eighty-five mushers have set off to conquer the toughest terrain this nation has to offer. They are vying to become the first to reach Alaska's western coast with their sled dog teams. It is the annual Iditarod race to Nome.
Scott Janssen is an undertaker from Anchorage. He is known as the Mushing Mortician. He was the first to leave across Willow Lake in the staggered start. That was on March 6.
Dallas Seavey was only wearing a long-sleeved shirt as he packed his sled under blue skies and warm temperatures. He said it felt just like another day for him and his dogs. The team is doing its thing.
That could be bad news for the field. That is because Seavey has won three out of the last four races.
"If we have a good race, we should have a good finish. If we can maximize this team, we'll get there fast," he said of the dash for the finish line under the burled arch in Nome. The winner is expected to take about nine days. The teams must travel over two mountain ranges and the Yukon River. They must battle fierce winds along the Bering Sea coast.
Seavey said there are "a lot of really good teams. There are a lot of people who could win. There are a lot of people that maybe should win that won't. That's actually why we go run the race. And we'll figure it out in a couple of weeks," he said.
Besides Seavey, six other former champions are in the race. They include four-time winner Lance Mackey.
Last year, Mackey struggled to finish the race. The cancer survivor has a condition that affects blood circulation in his hands. He also had problems caring for his dogs last year. His brother is musher Jason Mackey. He helped with dog care so Lance could finish the race.
When asked if his hands were good for this year's race, Lance Mackey said, "Well, to a degree."
He has had continued treatment on his hands. He had surgery last month that took out a nail bed on one finger. He said the pain level has been reduced a bit. He said he was ready to get the race started.
"If we don't have a good run this year, it's not the dogs' fault. This team has what it takes. It's up to me now to show the world, and they deserve it," he said.
Also in this year's race is two-time champion Robert Sorlie of Oslo. He leads a large Norwegian contingency among the mushers. However, Mats Pettersson will tell you there are eight Norwegians in the race. And not nine like many people believe.
"I feel a little bit lonely," he said because everyone believes he's Norwegian, too. "I have to tell every guy I'm Swedish."
Adding to the international flair of the race is Kim Franklin. She is a 49-year-old musher from Herts, England.
This is her second race to Nome. She's still considered a rookie after being withdrawn at the Rohn checkpoint in 2008. She had to qualify for the Iditarod last winter.
"It sounds like it's going to be a hard, fast trail. And it's going to be a rough start to the race, I think," she said. She added that her goal is to keep everything under control.
"I just want to run a slow, steady, safe race," Franklin said.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does Dallas Seavey have an advantage?
Write your answers in the comments section below