WASILLA - Forty-one mushers, including four former champions, stood in line to register for the 2006 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday at the annual volunteer picnic at Iditarod Headquarters.
Among the first signing up for the 34th annual 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome were former champions Mitch Seavey of Seward (2004), Martin Buser of Big Lake (1992, 1994, 1997 and 2002), Jeff King of Denali Park (1993, 1996 and 1998) and Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont. (1995, 1999, 2000, 2001)
"I've got to work this year," Swingley said. "My wife is taking the year off."
Swingley's wife, Melanie Shirilla finished 54th in 2005.
Thirteen other mushers, including five-time champion Rick Swenson of Two Rivers (1977, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1991), mailed in their registrations, bringing the total number of teams in the race so far to 54. Mushers still can register until Dec. 1 for the race that starts March 4, 2006.
Other longtime Iditarod veterans signing up were Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow, Ramy Brooks of Healy, John Baker of Kotzebue, Lynda Plettner of Big Lake, Lance Mackey of Kasilof and Dr. Terry Adkins of Sand Coulee, Mont. Matt Hayashida, who lives in Willow but trains his team in Skagway, is the only musher to register Saturday who has a Southeast connection.
Zirkle (2000), Brooks (1999) and Mackey (2005) all are former winners of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, another 1,000-mile sled dog race that runs between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Mackey is the son of 1978 Iditarod champion, Dick Mackey, and younger brother of 1983 Iditarod champ and 1997 Yukon Quest champ, Rick Mackey.
Another returning veteran is Gary Paulsen of Willow, the author of more than 175 books, many aimed at young people. He last ran the Iditarod in 1985. He moved back to Alaska from New Mexico last year.
"I never should have stopped running," he said. "I bought Tyrell Seavey's team when he got to Nome last year."
Asked if he had a sponsor, Paulsen laughed and said, "Random House."
"I've got a nine-book contract," he said. "I took the advance and put it into dogs."
Rachael Scdoris of Bend Ore., the legally blind musher who entered the 2005 race but did not finish, also signed up. She will have Iditarod veteran Tim Osmar of Ninilchik as her guide on the trail for the race.
Scdoris said she has been too busy making public appearances to train but will begin this fall.
She also landed in required paperwork for Osmar, a former Yukon Quest champion and son of 1984 Iditarod champ Dean Osmar, who did not attend the registration session. The trail committee last year agreed to waive fees for the musher who will guide Scdoris on the trail with the aid of a two-way radio.
Among the rookies signing up were Daytona Dayton, a talk-show host from Eagle, Idaho, who said she is paying Iditarod veteran Vern Halter of Willow $150,000 to help her train and run the Iditarod.
Lori Townsend of Willow was the first to sign up. She arrived at Iditarod headquarters Tuesday night and stayed until the signup.
She will benefit from a new rule that changes how the mushers' starting order is determined.
In previous years, mushers would draw for their starting positions. In 2006, mushers will pick their starting position in the order they signed up.
Townsend, who ran the race in 1996 and 1997, said she will pick a spot in the top five. Other mushers indicated they would wait until the musher's banquet just before the start of the race to pick their positions, with an eye on the weather.
Plettner said the best time to move dogs out of checkpoint is from 4 to 6 a.m. or 4-6 p.m., and would pick her starting time accordingly.
"You have to train like you race, and race like you train, so the dogs are comfortable with what's going on," she said.
Last year 79 mushers entered the race. The cost of entering is $1,850. The entry fee is returned to two mushers drawn at random on the first day of signup. Veteran Aaron Burmeister of Nenana and rookie Kim Kittridge of Eagle River were picked.