Alaska’s gruelling sled dog race under way following year of scandal
Revelations of doping and protests from animal rights activists have tarnished the event which should last nine days for the winner.
Competitors took to the snowy trail as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicked off in Alaska following a trying year for the annual event.
Musher Cody Strathe of Fairbanks and his 16-dog team were the first to take off across frozen Willow Lake, about 75 miles north of Anchorage.
Before taking off on the trail, Mr Strathe said he was excited to be the first to leave. He said he had a harmonica in his pocket and he plans to teach himself to play during the race.
“I have plenty of time while I’m out there,” he said, adding he will play “bad harmonica music” to his dogs along the way.
Sixty-seven teams are signed up for the 1,000-mile trek over mountain ranges, frozen rivers and other dangerous terrain. The winner is expected to reach the finish in the old Gold Rush town of Nome in about nine days.
The race is taking place after organisers spent much of the year dealing with multiple problems, including a champion’s dog doping scandal, the loss of a major sponsor and escalating pressure from animal rights activists.
On Sunday, it was all about the race ahead.
Anja Radano of Talkeetna, Alaska, said she was excited to run her first Iditarod with her team, including two dogs named after carnival rides, Skeeball and Tilt-A-Whirl.
“My mind, personally, is just that I get out on the trail and hopefully, I don’t forget anything important,” said Ms Radano, who is originally from Germany.
The race had its traditional ceremonial start on Saturday with a short sprint through Anchorage that gave fans a chance to get up close to the teams.
A dog on the team of Norwegian musher Lars Monsen got loose and bolted from his trailer kennel before Saturday’s event. The dog, Hudson, was later found and was securely leashed in Willow as Mr Monsen geared up, with just one thing on his mind heading into his third Iditarod.