Thirteen mushers took off into a howling wind Friday night, leaving the starting chute of Kuskokwim 300 in Bethel.
The temperature was minus-10 when the race started at 6:30 p.m. and the wind chill was minus-38. The forecast called for more of the same over the next two days as teams race their way up the Kuskokwim River from Bethel to Napaimute and back.
Three-time and defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey had the early lead, taking 1 hour, 16 minutes to get to the first checkpoint at Kwethluk. William Johnson and Jackie Larson were each a minute behind, with Martin Buser one more minute back.
The mushers are pursuing a purse of $100,000, including $20,000 for the winner, which brought out a star-studded field for the Kusko.
Mackey drew bib No. 1 and left the start line at 6:30 p.m. along with Johnson. Mushers left in pairs at two-minute intervals.
Racers are required to take a six-hour layover at either Kalskag or Aniak and another four-hour layover on their return journey to Tuluksak, 48 miles from the finish. Race updates can be found at www.k300.org.