40th Iditarod race off and running in Alaska
WILLOW, Alaska (AP) — To a rousing send-off from fans, dozens of dog-sled teams took to the trail for the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, embarking on a near thousand-mile journey through the Alaskan wilderness.
The 66 mushers and their dog teams will spend roughly eight days trying to be the first to reach the old gold rush town of Nome. Nicole Petit, a 32-year-old native of Normandy now living in Girdwood, Alaska, was the race’s early leader. He was the first musher to pull into the Finger Lake checkpoint, about 100 miles northwest of Willow, about 5 a.m. Monday.
“They look like this is what they live for,” said Leigh Hopper, 53, a registered nurse from Hendersonville, Tenn., as she watched mushers get their dogs ready for Sunday’s start. “They can’t wait to get out there and run.”
Ray Redington Jr., 36, picked the first spot during the draw. He’s competing in his 11th Iditarod and finished in seventh place last year. He said he hopes to do even better with his team, most of them veteran Iditarod dogs.
This year’s competition is “tough, very tough,” with the racing teams becoming more professional and serious about winning, he said. “They’re getting better. So am I.”
His younger brother, Ryan Redington, 29, is competing in his eighth race but had to wait to get on the trail after picking the last spot. He looked relaxed as he left the chute, actually sitting on the seat of his sled while smiling and waving to the crowds.
Mr. Baker said that after winning last year’s race on his 16th try, he considered retiring but realized there were too many people counting on him to run again.
When he isn’t training for the race, Mr. Baker spends his time traveling to Alaska villages and giving Eskimo children a message: Work hard, follow your dreams, and you can do it.
Kids treat him a bit differently now that he’s an Iditarod champion.
“They were quiet and listening for once,” Mr. Baker said.
Mr. Mackey acknowledged feeling deeply disappointed by his 16th-place finish last year. He has said he won’t let himself feel that way again, no matter what the outcome, though he’s in it to win it.
“This team is as good as any team here,” Mr. Mackey said.