With that - Gear up, armchair mushers. It's Iditarod time.
The Field: remember that each musher is an individual entrant, with a dedicated team of dogs. He or she will have successfully completed several mid-distances races and/or a prior Iditarod to qualify for entry this year.
Total mushers: 67 (51 Veterans / 16 Rookies)
Women: 16 (11 Veterans / 5 Rookies)
Men: 51 (40 Veterans / 11 Rookies)
Countries Represented: 4. Canada, USA, Norway, Sweden
8 mushers are from Canada: Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Nova Scotia.
56 mushers representing 8 US states: Alaska, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New York, Washington, and Montana.
Dogs Off the Start: 1,072. Assuming each musher pulls out with the maximum of 16. Mushers cannot swap out dogs. A dog that needs to leave the race must be left in qualified hands at a checkpoint. Each dog is micro chipped and has passed a physical exam including EKGs and blood work, and will also be urine tested for prohibited substances right before the restart.
The Trail: Mushers will be running the southern route for the first time since 2013. They'll run through 25 checkpoints (which doesn't include Golovin, depicted on maps but not an official checkpoint). There's a trail map in the blog's sidebar for when you need it. Trail conditions are reported as really good as of this writing, with ample snow base. Crews have been busy making sure trail markers are in place and downed trees removed. Drop bags of supplies were shipped out in mid-February and await each team at the checkpoints.
Race Miles: 987 from the restart in Willow to Nome
The Weather: Oh c'mon. Teams will cover that distance in anywhere from 8 to as many as 15 days for the last finisher, crossing the Alaska Range and Kuskokwim Mountains, racing up the Yukon River, and braving Norton Sound on the Bering Sea coast. It will, at some point, for any number of teams, be sunny, windy, snowy, rainy, cold, colder, frigid, and then probably windy again. I'll report it just like they take it - as it comes.
It promises to be an exciting race, no matter who you're cheering for. This will be Anna's 7th start, with six consecutive finishes behind her. For Kristy? Her 9th, with eight consecutive finishes behind her. Seeing Double also welcomes Kristy's husband Andy Pohl, making his rookie run to Nome with the 3rd team out of the kennel. All of the 67 teams on this year's trail come hoping to complete, but some have a more driven focus to compete. Eight of last year's top 10 finishers are at it again, so you'll see a lot of familiar names, including last year's winner Mitch Seavey (clocking the race's fastest finish in 2017), 3rd place finisher Nicolas Petit (who's been eating up the trail in this year's mid-distance events), repeat top contender Aliy Zirkle, and Norwegian Joar Leifseth Ulsom. But you can never discount the rest of the field in an event of this magnitude, especially with a couple of Redingtons, Jeff King, a Mackey, and a cat-in-the-hat like Hugh Neff running around out there.
I'm heading to Alaska soon to see the teams off the start. Look for updates as mushers draw their bib numbers at the banquet Thursday night. I'll be back with bios on the dog teams, as well as coverage from the Ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday. And then it's down to business on Sunday as teams restart from Willow Lake and the race begins in earnest.
Here are a few shots of the immense prep work the twins did leading up to this, as well as getting the dogs out to stretch their legs.