WILLOW, Alaska (AP) — A New Zealand man will be the first musher en route to the town of Nome when the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins Sunday.
Curt Perano and 68 other mushers will begin the world's most famous sled dog race by crossing frozen Willow Lake about 50 miles north of Anchorage.
It's a staggered start, meaning one musher leaves every two minutes. The order was drawn at a musher's banquet Thursday night in Anchorage, and Perano got the leading spot.
The finish line is on Front Street in Nome, which runs parallel to the Bering Sea coast. Standing between the mushers and the finish line are about 1,000 miles of unforgiving Alaska terrain, including two mountain ranges, untamed wilderness, the mighty Yukon River and the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast.
Among those in the field are Mitch Seavey, last year's champion, and his son, Dallas Seavey, the 2012 winner.
"The last two winners might create more media interest," Dallas Seavey said before the race started. "But it doesn't mean that we're necessarily the two most competitive racers this year."
Adding to the uncertainty of this year's race is an influx of Scandinavian mushers, including two-time champion Robert Sorlie.
The Sunday event in Willow is officially called the race's "restart." It follows a ceremonial start Saturday in downtown Anchorage.
At that fan-friendly event, mushers talked to people and had their pictures taken for hours before their names were called to the start line. They then took their sleds on a leisurely 11-mile run on urban trails within the city, oftentimes with an auction winner, called an Iditarider, on the sled.
Mushers then trucked their dog teams and equipment up the Parks Highway to this community, which on clear days offers a stunning view of nearby Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak.
The race turns serious Sunday, and mushers were busy preparing their sleds for the race.
The Iditarod has a late-afternoon start, which allows fans from both Anchorage and Fairbanks, about 250 miles to the northeast, to make the trip.