- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

WILLOW, Alaska (AP) - A New Zealander was the first musher en route to the town of Nome when the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began Sunday.

Curt Perano and 68 other mushers began the world’s most famous sled-dog race by crossing frozen Willow Lake about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Anchorage.

It was a staggered start, meaning one musher left every two minutes. The order was drawn at a musher’s banquet Thursday night in Anchorage.

The finish line is on Front Street in Nome, which runs parallel to the Bering Sea coast. Standing between the mushers and the finish line are about 1,000 miles of unforgiving Alaska terrain, including two mountain ranges, untamed wilderness, the mighty Yukon River and the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast.

Among those in the field are Mitch Seavey, last year’s champion, and his son, Dallas Seavey, the 2012 winner.

“The last two winners might create more media interest,” Dallas Seavey said before the race started. “But it doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily the two most competitive racers this year.”

Adding to the uncertainty of this year’s race is an influx of Scandinavian mushers, including two-time champion Robert Sorlie.

“I don’t think we’re trying to take it over,” Sorlie said.

Instead, there are so many Scandinavians here because the Iditarod is the world standard for long-distance dog races, he said.

The influx of five Norwegians, or “invasion” as Yvonne Dabakk of Oslo described it, is likely just a coincidence, she said.

Dabakk said she believes all had independent plans to race the Iditarod, “and it was this year.”

She is a rookie this year, and she wants the prize given to all first-year mushers to finish the race: a belt buckle.

If she gets it, the buckle goes to her husband. “Without him, I couldn’t be on the trail line at all, so I’m going to get him a buckle,” Dabakk said.

Aaron Burmeister wants to be the first musher from Nome to win the Iditarod.

We haven’t had a winner from Nome yet. I’m working as hard as I can to be able to do that,” he said.

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