Photos & Story by Leanne
March in Alaska means it is Iditarod time again. Each year the first weekend in March in downtown Anchorage goes to the dogs - about 1000 of them to be exact. The street is closed to traffic, snow is trucked in and groomed, dog trucks and mushers and handlers and dogs converge and line the avenue for the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. This year is the 39th running of the race from Anchorage to Nome and 62 teams started the race. A field comprised of 49 veteran and 13 rookie mushers (47 male & 15 female) from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and Jamaica made their way along a race trail through Anchorage lined with cheering crowds. Wattie McDonald (bib#38) from Stonehaven, Scotland was a fan favorite dressed in a kilt with his knees exposed to the single digit Fª temperatures Saturday morning. The Jamaican musher, Newton Marshall (bib#6), also drew cheers as he danced on his sled runners and waved to the fans as his team mushed down the street. There were crazy hats from Hugh Neff (bib#35) and Dee Dee Jonrowe (bib#2) stood out in her signature hot pink attire. Four time champion Lance Mackey (bib#17) left the start line hoping to make it 5 in a row.
The "real" start of the race was on Sunday afternoon on Willow Lake about 70 miles north of Anchorage. The tone was more serious as the mushers and their teams took off across the frozen country under bluebird skies. The first mushers will arrive in Nome 9 or 10 days after they leave Willow but the race isn't over until the last musher makes their way down Front Street and passes under the burled arch to receive the Red Lantern Award. Dallas Seavey (bib#21), winner of the 2011 Yukon Quest headed out of Willow along with fellow Quest competitors Hans Gatt (bib#23) and Sebastian Schnuelle (bib#31) for another adventure.
The first musher to reach the halfway point of the race at the ghost town of Iditarod and claim the prize of $3000 in gold nuggets was Trent Herbst (bib#4). Trent is a school teacher from Ketchum, Idaho and his 4th grade students assist him each year in his preparations for the race. Mitch Seavey (bib#28) of Seward severely cut his hand in Ophir and has withdrawn from the race. As of Sunday evening, 3/13/11, 9 mushers had scratched and were out of the race. John Baker (bib#53) of Kotzebue, AK won the race on March 15th at 9:46AM.
For more information about the Iditarod, the mushers and up to the minute race standings go to www.iditarod.com. If you are interested in purchasing photos of the Ceremonial Start or Restart of Iditarod 2011 taken by Leanne Quirk contact Once in a Blue Moose.