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Tailgate party sends Iditarod on the way

Kyle Hopkins,Beth Bragg,Casey Grove
Four-time champion Martin Buser and Iditarider Damian Sharp acknowledge fans during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Trent Herbst of Ketchum, Idaho drives his team down Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Kris Hoffman of Steamboat Springs, Colorado drives his team down Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Mitch Seavey of Seward greets fans along the trail during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dallas Seavey of Willow passes the mile four mark during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow and Iditarider Beverley Nelms of Texas make the turn onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Angie Taggart of Ketchikan and her Iditarider Marthalee Beckington of Virginia reach for hot dogs at mile four of the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A musher cruises past the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium Building en route to the Tudor Road bridge during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, acknowledges fans singing "O Canada" as he passes the mile four muffin checkpoint during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Hugh Neff of Tok promotes reading with Cat in the Hat garb at mile four of the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Lachlan Clarke of Buena Vista, Colorado cruises the trails adjacent to the Wesleyan Drive neighborhood during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, left, follows Mitch Seavey of Seward through the mile four muffin checkpoint on the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Scott Janssen of Anchorage greets well-wishers on the trail along Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Linton takes a tumble riding the second sled for husband Bruce Linton of Kasilof as the team takes the Cordova Street turn from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage. Melissa, the principal of K-Beach Elementary School in Soldotna, was unharmed but anticipates getting an earful when she gets home. "Friends said if there's a picture in the news of someone taking a spill, it will be her," Bruce related afterwards.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Fans ascend the berm to get a good view as dog teams make the turn from Fourth Avenue onto Cordova Street during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Owens' dogs lead the Nome musher's team onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Karen Duchow greets mushers cruising the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Fans line up two deep on the Cordova Street berm to photograph mushers making the turn off Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Tom Thurston of Oak Creek, Colorado cruises through the mile four muffin checkpoint as the trail parallels a neighborhood during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers approaches the mile four muffin checkpoint along the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Allen Moore of Two Rivers greets fans during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Musher Mike Santos and his handler wave to the crowds during the ceremonial start Saturday morning. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Judy Currier's team pulls towards Campbell Airstrip after making the turn near Goose Lake. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
A young fan yells encouragement during the race start on Saturday. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The dogs of Unalakleet musher Paul Johnson cross the new bridge over Chester Creek following recent trail work adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Four-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake hits the brakes as his team turn onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Scott Janssen makes his way over the bridge over Northern Lights Saturday morning. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Gerald Sousa's dogs work their way through the crowd as the Talkeetna musher is offered hot dogs and water on the approach to the Tudor Road bridge during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Angie Taggart of Ketchikan acknowledges fans as her team turns the corner onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle and her handler keep the sleds upright during a fast turn after the bridge over Northern Lights. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Jessica Hendricks team pulls across the Northern Lights bridge Saturday morning during the ceremonial start through Anchorage. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
A team of another kind was on the Iditarod trail Saturday morning, with man pulling a young musher. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The dogs of five-time winner Rick Swenson cross the new bridge over Chester Creek installed during recent trail work adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Martin Buser's handler puts pressure on the sled during the hill towards the bridge over Northern Lights. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Wattie McDonald's second sled was flying the Scottish flag as well as the Alaska flag during the ceremonial start Saturday. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Hugh Neff, rider and handler mush across the bridge over Northern Lights Saturday morning. Neff supports the Read Across Alaska program and the Cat in the Hat is a common character on his sled. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Wattie McDonald sports a kilt during the ceremonial start in Anchorage, Saturday. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
Parties line the route of the Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage. Mushers are treated to hotdogs and other treats along the way. The 2011 Iditarod got unde rway March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
A Pabst Blue Ribbon beer was a treat received by musher Ed Stielstra during the ceremonial start Saturday. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, AK heads down 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kris Hoffman of Steam Boat Springs, CO leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, AK heads down 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Four time champion Lance Mackey turns backwards on his sled to greet fans near Goose Lake, Saturday morning. The 2011 Iditarod got under way March 5, 2011 with the ceremonial start through Anchorage.
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Fans cheer and request dog booties near Mulcahy Stadium. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Russ Wilmot directs musher traffic as they line up for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011. This is Wilmot's 30th Iditarod.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Gerald Sousa's team is ready to race as they get ready to leave the start line 2nd to last during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sonny Lindner's team run down Cordova Street. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
McLeoad, one of Sven Haltmann's dogs, waits to run. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Jessie Royer of Fairbanks drives down a hill on Cordova Street. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
The ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Lance Mackey of Fairbanks, AK leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Justin Savidis' dogs rest. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Scott Janssen, of Anchorage, AK before the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
A young race fan watches the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011 from a window above grizzly's gift store.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kristy Berington of Kasilof, AK visits with one of her team as she puts booties on them before the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Karin Hendrickson of Willow waves the the crowd. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Kris Hoffman of Steam Boat Springs, CO leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Clara Bankston with her mink coat her sister Eunice Lane made and Jerry Bankston with a black bear coat watch the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod sled dog race in downtown Anchorage on Saturday March 5, 2011. Bankston harvested the bear.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Judy Currier of Fairbanks sets out from the start line. Sixty-three teams mushed through the city of Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Four-time champion Martin Buser and Iditarider Damian Sharp acknowledge fans during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Trent Herbst of Ketchum, Idaho drives his team down Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Kris Hoffman of Steamboat Springs, Colorado drives his team down Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Mitch Seavey of Seward greets fans along the trail during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dallas Seavey of Willow passes the mile four mark during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow and Iditarider Beverley Nelms of Texas make the turn onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Angie Taggart of Ketchikan and her Iditarider Marthalee Beckington of Virginia reach for hot dogs at mile four of the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A musher cruises past the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium Building en route to the Tudor Road bridge during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, acknowledges fans singing "O Canada" as he passes the mile four muffin checkpoint during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Hugh Neff of Tok promotes reading with Cat in the Hat garb at mile four of the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Lachlan Clarke of Buena Vista, Colorado cruises the trails adjacent to the Wesleyan Drive neighborhood during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, left, follows Mitch Seavey of Seward through the mile four muffin checkpoint on the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Scott Janssen of Anchorage greets well-wishers on the trail along Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Linton takes a tumble riding the second sled for husband Bruce Linton of Kasilof as the team takes the Cordova Street turn from Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage. Melissa, the principal of K-Beach Elementary School in Soldotna, was unharmed but anticipates getting an earful when she gets home. "Friends said if there's a picture in the news of someone taking a spill, it will be her," Bruce related afterwards.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Fans ascend the berm to get a good view as dog teams make the turn from Fourth Avenue onto Cordova Street during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Owens' dogs lead the Nome musher's team onto Cordova Street from Fourth Avenue at the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Karen Duchow greets mushers cruising the trail adjacent to Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Fans line up two deep on the Cordova Street berm to photograph mushers making the turn off Fourth Avenue during the ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday March 5, 2011 in Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

Think of Saturday's ceremonial start of the 2011 Iditarod as the tailgate party of the "last great race."

It doesn't influence the game any, but there's plenty of hot dogs and Pabst Blue Ribbon and snowballing anticipation for what's to come.

A few notes from the sidelines as a parade of 16-dog teams navigated snow-packed city streets and trails, launching the 39th running of the Iditarod:

BORN TO RUN

Straight from a Hollywood script comes the story of Marlon and Brando.

Wheel dogs for Talkeetna musher Heather Siirtola, Marlon and Brando are in the Iditarod because of the Iditarod.

Back in 2007, Siirtola and her team were waiting for their turn to race down Fourth Avenue for the ceremonial start when Fast Eddy and Minnie put on a little pre-race show.

"I thought the female was out of heat, because she'd been in heat for three weeks," Siirtola said. "Well, she surprised me. She snuck one in there, and so did he. With a lot of people taking pictures."

From that union came Marlon, who is black with a white bib, and Brando, who is brown and white.

Siirtola, who's racing in her fourth Iditarod, has a number of dogs with Hollywood-inspired names because, with the exception of Brando, many of the dogs she has raised are black and white.

"So I named them after black-and-white movie stars," said Siirtola, whose kennel also includes Bogart, Hepburn and Monroe.

BEER ME

Mushers and Idita-riders are always treated to a free lunch along the 11-mile route to Campbell Airstrip. This year fans handed foil-wrapped hotdogs, assorted baked goods, bottles of water and, in one case, cans of PBR to passing competitors.

SPLITTING THE VOTE

Lisa Murkowski didn't just sit on the fence when asked to name her favorite musher Saturday. The U.S. senator took up long-term residency on it.

"I'm rooting for Lance (Mackey) because I would love for him to make history with his string of wins. I'm rooting for John Baker because I love John Baker, and he was so close last year, and he so thought he was going to make it and then he had that terrible issue on the trail. I'm rooting for DeeDee (Jonrowe) because I adore DeeDee, and I root for DeeDee every year, and I so believe in her and how she has, through personal issues and all that she has dealt with, she has the strength of an individual that is just beyond comparison. As a strong Alaskan woman, I love strong Alaskan women. I love the fact that Aliy Zirkle, she's on the outside, but she could perhaps make something happen this year. I adore Martin Buser (too)," she said.

WINNER'S JACKET

Even at remote Campbell Airstrip, the end of the line for Saturday's run, fans clamored for Mackey, pressing from behind an orange plastic fence as the musher signed autographs. Among the posters: "Cinco de Mackey: Sir Lance-a-Lot."

One of Mackey's leaders, Maple, ran the Anchorage route wearing the "Golden Harness" she won in 2010.

FREE AGENTS

"I'd love to finish top 20, but the competition is out of control," said Wyoming musher Billy Snodgrass, who pulled muffin crumbs from the pocket of his parka after finishing the ceremonial run through Anchorage.

There may be fewer teams this year, he said -- 62 mushers are starting the race, compared with 71 in 2010 -- but the top dogs are back.

Literally. Just because a musher didn't return to the Iditarod doesn't mean his or her strongest dogs aren't running with a different team.

"You can bet that some of Jeff King's dogs from last year are on someone's team. They're not sitting at home on a chain," Snodgrass said of last year's third-place finisher.

Although he's finished three Iditarods, Snodgrass has never raced on the southern route that mushers take in odd-numbered years. It's known for punishing headwinds along the Yukon River, Snodgrass said. "You go to places where no one goes except (on the) Iditarod."

A SMALLER FIELD

Martin Buser, a four-time champion and the record holder for fastest finish, said the smaller-than-usual field of mushers was "a sign of the times."

"You want to make sure that the sport doesn't die, but we have a lot of young people coming up," Buser said. "Hopefully the Iditarod (Trail Committee) sees the wisdom in lowering the entry fee next year a little bit. They're talking about it and there's a pretty strong rumor that they'll reduce the entry fee a little bit."

This year's trail was rumored to be a fast one, Buser said.

"But, you know, all that can change," he said. "A storm or a little bit of a blow can obliterate the trail, and we'll be breaking it back out. So we'll see, we'll have to deal with it as it comes."

Hans Gatt, who finished second in last year's Iditarod, likes the smaller field.

"There's just not as much going on, and the banquet was quicker," he said. "It's going to be better in the checkpoints, not as hectic in the beginning."

FIRST DUDE'S A FAN

The former First Dude of Alaska, Todd Palin, was spotted walking down Fourth Avenue wearing a seal skin hat and shades with a small entourage in tow.

"It's always a treat for any Alaskan to be down here and talk to mushers and listen to what their strategy is," said Palin, who recently finished second in the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmachine race across Alaska. "They can probably give me a head's up on the trail conditions."

Palin said he'd been to quite a few Iditarod starts. The most memorable was when he rode through Anchorage in Martin Buser's sled.

"Sarah was weathered in in Juneau, and I was able to fill her shoes that day," Palin said.

EXTREMITIES

Rookie Nicolas Petit of Girdwood is running with Chugiak veteran Jim Lanier's dogs. Lanier placed 24th last year at age 69 but withdrew from this year's Iditarod. Most of the team has been to Nome more than once, Petit said.

The rookie stood by his dog truck, quiet as he waited for the ceremonial start. "This is the stressful part," he said. "So much stuff going on."

Scottish musher Wattie McDonald and his dog handlers wore traditional kilts for the start, and at least two of them -- Barry McWilliam and Gordon Ross from Aberdeen, Scotland -- went mostly barelegged.

The temperature hung in single digits as the start time approached. The pair said they weren't cold at all.

The key is keeping your core warm and the extremities follow, Ross said.

"They follow, or they fall off," he added.

BARROOM WITH A VIEW

Ducking into Darwin's Theory provided respite from the cold but not from the downtown crowds. The bar was elbow-to-elbow from the time it open at 10 a.m. and promised to remain rockin' all day and all night, because once the dogs cleared out of downtown, the reindeer would arrive.

The first Saturday in March is one of the busiest days of the year for the G Street bar, said owner Darwin Biwer.

"It's definitely our longest day," he said, thanks to the morning's Iditarod festivities and the afternoon's Running of the Reindeer madness.

G Street serves as a staging area for dog teams, so there's always mushers, dogs and fans right in front of Darwin's. People were waiting to get in when the bar opened, Biwer said: "You can see the noseprints on the windows."

Read Iditarod Live, the Daily News sled blog, at www.adn.com/iditarodlive. Twitter updates: twitter.com/iditarodlive. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.

Video: 2011 Ceremonial start
2011 musher leaderboard
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By KYLE HOPKINS, BETH BRAGG and CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News
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