Iditarod Ceremonial Start Wows Crowd, Draws Protest

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March 3, 2018

The ceremonial start in Anchorage has begun the festivities for the 46th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, with an 11-mile parade, exciting fans gathered in the cold but normally cold temperatures.

2018 Iditarod ceremonial start

A total of 67 teams will be on the starting line in Willow, on their way to the finish line 988 miles later in Nome. Teams will run the southern route this year, for the first time in five years. Race organizers usually alternate between the northern route and the southern route, with the southern route being run in odd-numbered years; however, unfriendly weather for the past four years has convinced race organizers to keep on the northern route.

2018 Iditarod PETA protest

On hand for the ceremonial start also were members of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The group has long protested the race and wanted this year to protest in person, in order to call attention to the five dogs that died during last year's race. A dozen protesters stood next to mock headstones bearing the names of the dogs that died last year. PETA members also plan to be at the finish.

A 2-year-old dog that was part of the team of a Norwegian musher ran away a few hours before the ceremonial start but was found a few hours later. The dog was unharmed and was reunited with its team after help from the public, some of whom recognized the dog from seeing a picture that the musher posted online.

Defending his title of a year ago will be Mitch Seavey, a three-time winner. His son Dallas, who placed second last year, will not be racing because four of his dogs tested positive for a banned painkiller last year. (Seavey was not punished, but race rules have been changed to include punishment for mushers whose dogs show evidence of being given drugs.)

Starting again as well will be Martin Buser, a four-time champion. Buser won in 1992, 1994, 1997, and 2003.

Another four-time winner, Jeff King, will suit up again this year. The 25-time finisher won in 1993, 1996, 1998, and 2006.

Sure to be in the front of the pack for much of the racer is Aliy Zirkle, who finished second three straight years, 2-12–2014.

Aaron Burmeister is back as well, after taking two years off. A 16-time competitor and perennially a high-placed finisher, Burmeister was third the last time he raced, in 2015. 2018 Iditarod DeeDee Jonrowe

One person sure to draw applause along the way is DeeDee Jonrowe (right). The 64-year-old from Willow is competing in her 36th and final race. She has 16 top-10 finishes, including second place in 1998 and fourth twice, in 1997 and 2006. She and 15 other women will toe the starting line.

A total of 16 first-timers will be on the starting line.

The total amount of cash being handed out this year is $500,000. The winner, in addition to receiving the most money, will get a truck.

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David White