ANCHORAGE -- The mushers were relaxed. The dogs were raring to go.
So began the 30th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Saturday's ceremonial opening in downtown Anchorage was staged mainly for spectators and sponsors. The 64 teams set off into the wilderness for real at today's race re-start in Wasilla, 45 miles to the north.
The barks and howls of the dogs echoed through the streets as they pulled at their harnesses.
"My dogs are like kids cooped up waiting for Christmas," said Sonny King, a veterinarian from Spartanburg, S.C., running his sixth Iditarod.
"This is a fun morning," King said. "A woman dropped off breakfast for us."
Charlie Boulding of Manley drew the top starting position and was the first musher to leave the chute for the 20-mile run to Eagle River. Boulding, a perennial top-20 finisher, is running his 10th Iditarod.
Defending champion Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., wearing bib No. 8, was seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive victory. It also would give him his fifth overall win, tying him with Rick Swenson of Two Rivers for the most in Iditarod history.
The mushers will be seeking their share of the $550,000 purse, with the first to reach Nome -- 1,100 miles away -- collecting $62,857 and a new pickup truck.
The ceremonial start had the atmosphere of a block party, with vendors selling reindeer sausages and coffee. As fans milled about taking photographs, the mushers gave autographs to children bundled up against temperatures in the high 20s.
The biggest crowd was gathered around DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow. Jonrowe, running her 20th Iditarod, is a perennial top-10 finisher and a fan favorite.
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Posing for pictures, she accepted a good-luck charm from a little girl, answered questions from a TV crew and signed photographs for a fourth-grade class in Illinois and a second-grade class in North Carolina.
"I do enjoy this," Jonrowe said. "Without fans where would the race be? We really love our lifestyle and we owe it to the fans."
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