ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Followers, canines and mushers returned in droves Saturday to downtown Anchorage within the midst of a snowstorm for the ceremonial begin of the Iditarod Path Sled Canine Race.
The ceremonial begin was canceled final yr because of the pandemic. This yr, followers attending the fiftieth operating of the race had been restricted of their interactions with individuals however nonetheless had been in a position to watch from behind fences as mushers left the beginning line two minutes aside.
Mushers took a leisurely jaunt by way of Alaska’s largest metropolis, waving at followers that lined downtown streets. The aggressive race for mushers and their canines begins Sunday in Willow, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Anchorage, with the winner anticipated about 9 days later in Nome.
Mushers needed to present proof of vaccination to race this yr, and they’re going to isolate at checkpoints in order that they don’t carry COVID-19 to the agricultural, largely Alaska Native villages alongside the almost 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) path to Nome.
Some villages opted to not be checkpoints due to the continuing pandemic, leaving mushers to bypass cities, whereas different preparations had been made in some communities. In White Mountain, the place mushers should take an eight-hour layover earlier than making the ultimate 77-mile (124-kilometer) run to Nome, the neighborhood constructing won’t be used to deal with mushers ready for the ultimate push.
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As an alternative, lumber was delivered, and an elaborate tent camp was being constructed, together with new outhouses, race marshal Mark Nordman stated.
There are 49 mushers on this yr’s race, together with defending champion Dallas Seavey, who’s in search of to make historical past as the primary musher to win six Iditarod titles. He’s tied with Rick Swenson with 5 victories apiece. Win or lose, the 35-year-old indicated that is most likely his final race for some time as he needs to spend extra time along with his pre-teen daughter.
Additionally within the race are two four-time winners, Martin Buser and Jeff King.
King, who final raced in 2019, stepped in simply this week to run within the place of Nic Petit, who introduced on Fb he had contracted COVID-19. Mitch Seavey, a three-time winner and Dallas’ father, can also be again this yr, as are 2018 winner Joar Leifseth Ulsom and 2019 champion Pete Kaiser.
Fifteen mushers withdrew earlier than the race began, together with 2020 winner Thomas Waerner, who wasn’t allowed to journey to the U.S. from his native Norway.
Musher Jaye Foucher withdrew after her sled canine staff in January veered onto a busy Alaska freeway and collided with a pickup truck, killing one of many canines and injuring three others.
Moose are a priority for mushers on the path this yr. A heavy snow yr in some components of Alaska has made moose aggressive towards folks within the backcountry, together with mushers.
On a coaching run final month, rookie musher Bridgett Watkins had 4 of her canines critically injured by a moose, which wouldn’t go away and at occasions stood over the canines. The incident solely ended when a pal shot the bull moose with a high-powered rifle.
Individuals for the Moral Therapy of Animals stays the race’s greatest critic and has precipitated some monetary hardship for the race by concentrating on big-name firms, which have dropped sponsorships. The Anchorage resort that has been the race headquarters for 3 a long time will drop its affiliation subsequent yr.
Officers with the Lakefront Anchorage Resort blamed the change on the pandemic’s impact on enterprise, however the transfer was introduced by its homeowners, Millennium Lodges and Resorts, a day earlier than PETA deliberate to protest outdoors the Millennium Knickerbocker Resort Chicago.
Countering that, Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach instructed reporters throughout a pre-race information convention that they’ve picked up six new sponsors this yr.
“I feel that’s a fairly large story for us,” he stated.
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