The Last Great Race on Earth, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, started Sunday with 85 teams each with 16 dogs in a race that will take them through some of the most desolate — and beautiful — landscape in Alaska.
The race, in its 44th year, launched with a staggered start from Willow, Alaska. Racers will travel just under 1,000 miles this year with the winner expected to cross the finish line in Nome in 8 to 10 days, according to Reuters.
Because this is an even year, the racers are taking the northern route. In odd years, the racers take the southern route. Each route begins with a ceremonial start in Anchorage and ends in Nome.
While both routes are part of the National Historical Trail, the Iditarod Board of Directors decided to alternate the northern and southern routes on even and odd years. According to the Iditarod website, this was to relieve the northern villages of Ruby, Galena and Nulato from having to deal with the race every year. During the years in which the southern route is taken, the racers actually pass through the ghost town of Iditarod, and Shageluk, Anvik, and Grayling villages get to participate.
The weather will play a big role in the race, with temperatures and wind gusts expected to hamper racers and their dogs as they traverse the many checkpoints, wind swept plains, and the coast of the Bering Sea.
“The challenge to the Iditarod,” three-time defending champion Dallas Seavey told Reuters, “is not only doing 1,000 miles across terrain that’s ever changing. It’s the adjustment of the weather at a time when we’re always pushing to the limits.”
Seavey, who won the race in 2012, 2014 and 2015 is currently in 2nd place as of 10:44 a.m, March 7.
A new truck and $50,000 awaits the 1st place winner. A total cash purse of $750,000 will go to the top finishers of the race.