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Iditarod mushers hit the trail, ceremonially, in Anchorage

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Posted: Saturday, March 3, 2012 10:52 am | Updated: 6:08 am, Wed Jan 30, 2013.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - It was all laughs, smiles and barks during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday morning.

The fan-fest annually precedes the real start of the race, scheduled for Sunday 50 miles north of Anchorage in Willow.

"I think it's great," said Susan Chan of Little Rock, Ark. She was in Anchorage for a Rotary conference which ended just before Saturday's event.

"Of course, the dogs are the main attraction, but really the mushers, of course, they're in charge of the whole thing. Without them, we wouldn't be having a race," said Chan, who was bundled up in a parka as light snow fell in the city.

For the ceremonial start, streets are closed in downtown Anchorage to allow fans to watch the mushers prepare their dog teams. There is a staggered start with a musher and a person riding in his or her sled - called an IditaRider - who won an auction for the ride.

Dogs lead the musher and rider on a leisurely 11-mile jaunt through the city. Fans not lining the streets downtown also pick out their favorite viewing spots along the city's sled dog trail system.

Like many in attendance, Chan had her picture taken with mushers. She also met four-time champion Lance Mackey just after watching highlights from the 2010 race - won by Mackey - in her hotel room.

The start of the Iditarod coincides with the end of Anchorage's nine-day winter festival, the Fur Rendezvous.

Helen Rice of nearby Wasilla attended the ceremonial start for the first time ever.

"It's just full of excitement and it's fun to meet so many people from so many different places in the world," she said near the starting chute.

She normally attends the race's official start, or restart as it's known, a day later in Willow.

That's when the 66 mushers and their sled dog teams begin the 1,000-mile trek across Alaska. The finish line is in the old gold rush town of Nome, on Alaska's western coast.

"It's very different," Rice said of the Willow event. "The restart's very serious, that's where the race starts. This is just a lot of fun, a lot of excitement, as an old fashioned Fur Rendezvous should be."

The Iditarod field this year includes mushers from Alaska, four other states and four other countries.

The contenders include defending champion John Baker, 49, who won last year's race in record time, ending Mackey's four-year string of consecutive victories.

Baker said he doesn't feel any pressure as the defending champion.

"I'm hoping to do the very best that the dogs can do, and if they do that, then we'll be actually in fine shape," he said.

Baker was the first Inupiat Eskimo to win the Iditarod and the first Alaska Native to win it since Jerry Riley did in 1976. For this year's race, Baker's 16-dog team will include 11 dogs from his winning run.

For his part, Mackey says he is hoping others believe his time has come and gone for winning Iditarod races.

"You keep hearing all these rumors that I'm done, I've had my time," he said. "Great. I hope that's the mental attitude everybody has and they're not paying attention to me 'cause I'll be the guy that creeps up on them."

Beside Baker and Mackey, there are four other past Iditarod champions competing. Also in the field is Hugh Neff, who less than three weeks won the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race by just 26 seconds.

Organizers earlier this year cut out the Happy River Steps, a notoriously steep and dangerous series of switchbacks between the Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints. But on Saturday, they said the alternate route, a winter road created by a mineral exploration company, was no longer a better option because of snow. Organizers said the original trail through the Steps would be used.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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2014 Iditarod Start Order

Bib No. 1 is honorary

2) Curt Perano, Central Otago, New Zealand

3) Paige Drobny, Fairbanks, Alaska

4) Gus Guenther, Clam Gulch, Alaska

5) Dan Kaduce, Chatanika, Alaska

6) Mitch Seavey, Seward, Alaska

7) Michael Williams, Jr., Akiak, Alaska

8) Yvonne DabAlaskak, Oslo, Norway

9) Newton Marshall, St. Anne, Jamaica

10) Aliy Zirkle, Two Rivers, Alaska

11) Richie Diehl, Aniak, Alaska

12) Tommy Jordbrudal, Longyearbyen, Norway

13) Kelly Maixner, Big Lake, Alaska

14) Dallas Seavey, Willow, Alaska

15) Michelle Phillips, Tagish, Yukon, Canada

16) DeeDee Jonrowe, Willow, Alaska

17) Jeff King, Denali, Alaska

18) Monica Zappa, Kasilof, Alaska

19) Allen Moore, Two Rivers, Alaska

20) Scott Janssen, Anchorage, Alaska

21) Christian Turner, Karratha, WA, Australia

22) Robert Sorlie, Hurdal, Norway

23) Aaron Burmeister, Nome, Alaska

24) Ellen Halverson, Wasilla, Alaska

25) Nathan Schroeder, Chisholm, MN

26) Charley Bejna, Addison, IL

27) Jessie Royer, Darby, MT

28) Cim Smyth, Big Lake, Alaska

29) Nicolas Petit, Girdwood, Alaska

30) Rick Casillo, Willow, Alaska

31) Lev Shvarts, Willow, Alaska

32) Linwood Fiedler, Willow, Alaska

33) Karin Hendrickson, Wasilla, Alaska

34) Justin Savidis, Willow, Alaska

35) Paul Gebhardt, Kasilof, Alaska

36) Martin Buser, Big Lake, Alaska

37) Jake Berkowitz, Big Lake, Alaska

38) Jim Lanier, Chugiak, Alaska

39) Jason Mackey, Wasilla, Alaska

40) Jan Steves, Edmonds, WA

41) Lisbet Norris, Willow, Alaska

42) Cindy Gallea, Wykoff, MN

43) Peter Kaiser, Bethel, Alaska

44) Mats Pettersson, Kiruna, Sweden

45) John Dixon, Fairbanks, Alaska

46) Cindy Abbott, Irvine, CA

47) Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Mo i Rana, Norway

48) Travis Beals, Seward, Alaska

49) Ramey Smyth, Willow, Alaska

50) Marcelle Fressineau, Whitehorse, YT, Canada

51) Ray Redington, Jr., Wasilla, Alaska

52) Anna Berington, Kasilof, Alaska

53) John BAlaskaer, Kotzebue, Alaska

54) Ralph Johannessen, Dagali, Norway

55) Elliot Anderson, Big Lake, Alaska

56) Kristy Berington, Kasilof, Alaska

57) Matt Failor, Willow, Alaska

58) Hans Gatt, Whitehorse, YT, Canada

59) Karen Ramstead, Perryvale, AB, Canada

60) Alex Buetow, Fairbanks, Alaska

61) Hugh Neff, Tok, Alaska

62) Danny Seavey, Seward, Alaska

63) Katherine Keith, Kotzebue, Alaska

64) Robert Bundtzen, Anchorage, Alaska

65) Ken Anderson, Fairbanks, Alaska

66) Mike Ellis, Two Rivers, Alaska

67) Wade Marrs, Wasilla, Alaska

68) Mike Santos, Cantwell, Alaska

69) Abbie West, Two Rivers, Alaska

70) Sonny Lindner, Two Rivers, Alaska

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