Kasilof's Dusty VanMeter will be in a familiar place when the Iron Dog begins Sunday morning at Big Lake.
He and partner Marc McKenna of Anchorage are the defending champions of the 2,031-mile snowmachine race from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks. Both have logged plenty of miles training and racing on the race trail.
But VanMeter's experience comes with a twist. When he first started racing, it was with real dogs, not iron ones.
VanMeter, 43, is a former Junior Iditarod champion. He won the 150-mile race for mushers under 18 in 1987.
And when it comes to thrills, he said, both kinds of dogs deliver.
"It is the same adrenaline rush racing dogs at 10, 15 miles an hour (as) it is running (snowmachines) at 80 because you bred the dogs, you raised them, fed them, did everything to make them your team and you are out there racing against someone doing the same speed," he told the Peninsula Clarion earlier this year.
Last year, VanMeter and McKenna set the Iron Dog speed record, completing the trip in 35 hours, 38 minutes, 56 seconds to beat the 2006 record of 35:48. They 56.97 miles per hour, sometimes topping 90 mph in effort that can require the use of nearly every muscle and leave a driver soaked in sweat.
"It'd be 40 below, I'd take my jacket off and I'd be drenched," VanMeter told the Clarion. "You are just taxing yourself so much. At the end of the race, it is an elated feeling of, 'I did it.'
"It is an accomplishment to even finish this race. Think about it -- you are going 2,000 some miles across Alaska in the middle of nowhere."
VanMeter and McKenna will be the 23rd team to leave the start line Sunday at Big Lake. Teams will leave in two-minute intervals beginning at 11 a.m., when Bret Brown of Anchorage and Cody Kubitz of Eagle River begin their journey.
A total of 38 teams are racing for more than $200,000 in prize money, with $50,000 going to the winners. The race will pause for 36 hours in Nome, with a banquet for racers scheduled there on Wednesday night. The race ends Saturday in Fairbanks.