One of my favorite annual events is set to get underway this weekend as the 2019 Iditarod kicks off on Saturday. As usual, the race will hold its ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, with some of the top dog sled mushers from around the world embarking on a 1000-mile race through the heart of Alaska in the dead of winter. The event is always a test of endurance, determination, and skill with plenty of drama throughout, with this year’s version promising to be no different.
Following the ceremonial start from Fourth Avenue and D Street in Anchorage, the dogs, mushers, and their gear will be transported to Campbell Airstrip where the race will resume on Sunday. From there, it’s another 987 miles to Nome, the finish line for the Iditarod each year. For 2019, the teams will take the southern route, which runs through the towns of Iditarod (naturally!), Shageluk, and Grayling, before returning to the traditional path at Eagle Island. From there, it’ll be a straight shot to the Yukon and on to Nome. The top finishers are expected to reach that point in about 9 or 10 days, including mandatory 8 hour and 24 hour rests.
After last year’s race the Iditarod looked like it was facing some serious challenges, most notably a lack of financial backing. This year, it looks like a leaner, more streamlined operation, with a smaller field and smaller purse going to the winner. 52 mushers will take to the line on Saturday in what promises to be a wide open field. Past champs like Jeff King, Mitch Seavey, Martin Buser, Lance Mackey, and last year’s winner Joar Leifseth Ulsom are back of course, and there is plenty of other talent looking to breakout. Veterans to keep an eye on include Ally Zirkle, Nicolas Petit, and Ryan Redington.
The 2019 edition of the Iditarod is looking up for other reasons too. In recent years, a lack of snow has caused organizers to change the route and event starting point at times. This year there is plenty of white stuff on the ground so the teams should find easy mushing across the length of the route. Weather reports look good for the start too, although a lot can change over the course of the race itself.
One name that is conspicuously absent from the list for a second year in a row is Dallas Seavey, who has won the Iditarod on four previous occasions and is its youngest champion ever. Dallas had quite a winning streak going but was accused of (and cleared of) doping his dogs two years ago, which caused him to sit out last year’s race and take part in the Finnmarkslopet in Norway instead. That 744-mile (1197 km) race is one of the true dog sled classics in Europe and Seavey led much of the way in 2018 before finishing third in his rookie debut. He’s coming back to prove he can win on foreign soil, so it should be fun to follow his progress once again. It gets underway next week.
If you want to follow the Iditarod bookmark the race’s official website. You’ll find all kinds of great information about the event and once it gets underway the leaderboard makes it easier than ever to follow the mushers and their dog teams. As usual, it should be a fun race to watch unfold.
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