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Eighty-five mushers have set off to conquer the toughest terrain this nation has to offer, 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, an undertaker from Anchorage who is known as the Mushing Mortician, was the first to leave across Willow Lake in the staggered start March 6.
Dallas Seavey was only wearing a long-sleeved shirt as he packed his sled under blue skies and warm temperatures, and he said it felt just like another day for him and his dogs, doing their thing.
That could be bad news for the field 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 after traveling over two mountain ranges, the Yukon River and battling the fierce winds along the Bering Sea coast.
Seavey said there are "a lot of really good teams, there's a lot of people who could win. There's 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, there are six other former champions in the race, including four-time winner Lance Mackey, who struggled to finish the race last year. The cancer survivor also has a condition that affects blood circulation in his hands, and he had problems caring for his dogs last year. His brother, musher Jason Mackey, 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, including a surgery last month that took out a nail bed on one finger. He said the pain level has been reduced a bit, and 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, in my opinion, and I know what kind of dogs it takes, 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, who leads a large Norwegian contingency among the mushers. However, Mats Pettersson will tell you there are eight Norwegians in the race, and not nine.
"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, a 49-year-old musher from Herts, England.
This is her second race to Nome, but 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, adding her goal is to keep everything under control.
"I just want to run a slow, steady, safe race," Franklin said.