FAIRBANKS - Conditions couldn't have been any better as 29 teams lined up for the start of the 2000 Yukon Quest International Sled Race.
In temperatures hovering around 20 degrees, more than 4,000 spectators lined the banks of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks to watch the 29 sled dog teams begin their 1,000-mile journey to Whitehorse, Yukon.
Rookie George Carroll of Two Rivers was first out of the starting chute at 11 a.m., and every two minutes another team joined him on the trail. Rookie musher Deborah Bicknell of Juneau was the last team to hit the trail, leaving nearly an hour after Carroll.
The field consisted of 11 rookies and 18 veterans, among them Frank Turner of Whitehorse, the only former Quest champion entered in this year's race.
Turner won the race in 1995, when the course was run from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. If he should win this year, he would become the first musher to win the event going in each direction.
Turner said he wasn't sure what his team was capable of this year.
``A lot of times I think I've overtrained for this race, but this year I think the question is whether or not I'm undertrained,'' Turner said. ``I do know that this is a team I really enjoy being with. If we have a good time and I can keep a positive attitude, I think we should do very well.''
The mushers are competing for a $125,000 purse split among the top 15 finishers. The winner will take home $30,000.
While Turner is considered a favorite, several others in the field are considered top contenders. That list includes Peter Butteri of Tok, who finished third last year; Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, who was fourth last year; William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon Territory; and Jack Berry of Homer, who was eighth last year.
Rookie Cim Smyth of Fairbanks, who was the top rookie in the 1997 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, also figures to be in the running.
After leaving Fairbanks, the teams make a relatively flat 100mile run to Angel Creek Lodge, the first official checkpoint. The leaders were expected to reach the checkpoint late Saturday night.
From Angel Creek, the teams climb over 3,480-foot Rosebud Summit and 3,650-foot Eagle Summit before reaching the next official checkpoint at Central.
Then there is another long flat stretch that includes a 75-mile run from Central to Circle where the course runs up the mighty Yukon River 158 miles to Eagle, the last checkpoint in Alaska.
From Eagle, the teams will climb 3,420-foot American Summit before dropping down onto the Fortymile River and then going back onto the Yukon River to reach the midway point of the race at Dawson City, Yukon. Mushers are required to take a 36-hour break in Dawson.
Leaving Dawson, the mushers travel the longest distance between checkpoints - 203 miles to Pelly Crossing. Along that leg, they must climb over 3,800-foot King Solomon's Dome.
From Pelly Crossing, it's 75 miles to Carmacks and then it's another 79 miles to Braeburn Lodge, the last checkpoint before Whitehorse. Teams must take a mandatory 8-hour rest at Braeburn before making the final 100-mile run to the finish line.