ANCHORAGE - Eighty-two teams and about 1,000 howling dogs lined up Saturday in downtown Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 35th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race - the longest sled dog race in the world.
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Defending champion and four-time winner Jeff King looked relaxed, sending his daughter to the coffee shop around the corner to get him a latte as he waited for his turn to let his dogs loose on the Iditarod trail.
Auke Bay musher Deborah Molburg-Bicknell started in 62nd position on Saturday.
Given the tough trail conditions this year - hard-packed snow and bare ground - King said he expects a bumpy ride. That's not a problem, he said.
"The Iditarod trail will never be easy," the 51-year-old King said.
Too little fresh snow shortened the ceremonial start to an 11-mile run ending in Anchorage. The restart, where the mushers get serious about racing, begins today in Willow, about 50 miles northwest of Anchorage.
This year's race carries a $795,000 purse for the top 30 finishers. The winner will get approximately $69,000 and a new pickup truck worth about $41,000. The mushers who finish out of the money will receive about $1,000 each to help with the cost of flying their dogs home.
King finished the 1,100-mile race last year in 9 days, 14 hours and 11 minutes. Four-time winner Martin Buser holds the 2002 race record of 8 days, 22 hours and 46 minutes.
Almost half of the mushers this year are rookies.
The field includes three, four-time winners who hope to join Rick Swenson as the race's only five-time winner. Doug Swingley, 53, the other four-time winner, placed second last year.
Swenson, 55, said he's not afraid.
"They're not going to get it. I'm going to get six," said Swenson, who last won in 1991.