Update, 1:30 p.m.: See you in Willow.
Eighteen-time Iditarod finisher Sonny Lindner left downtown Anchorage around 1 p.m. Saturday, the final musher to hit the trail in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Lindner will be last to go again Sunday when the race restarts in Willow at 2 p.m. Saturday's start was ceremonial; Sunday's start is when the clock starts ticking for the 69 mushers in the 1,000-mile race to Nome.
Both of Alaska's U.S. Senators were among the hundreds wishing the mushers godspeed. "I love them all," said Lisa Murkowski, who stayed near the start line giving hugs to as many racers as she could.
Update, 10 a.m.: A musher from New Zealand kicked off an Alaska tradition Saturday when Curt Perano led a field of 69 mushers onto the trail for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Howling dogs and photo-snapping fans filled downtown Anchorage streets for the event, the precursor for Sunday's real start in Willow -- some 50 miles from Anchorage.
The ceremonial start is all for show, so that fans and sponsors can get their Iditarod fix and renew acquaintances after a long winter.
"This is my whole social life in the winter, these two days," said Libby Riddles, the 1985 Iditarod champion.
Riddles isn't in the 1,000-mile race, but plenty of other past champs are. Defending champion Mitch Seavey and his son, 2012 champion Dallas Seavey, were among the first mushers to leave downtown Anchorage.
Other past champs in the field include Jeff King, Martin Buser, John Baker and Robert Sorlie.
Hundreds of fans lined 4th Avenue to cheer the mushers, listen to the barking of the sled dogs and enjoy the sunshine and blue skies.
We have 69 mushers ready to race to Nome.
We have a loaded field that includes the top 10 finishers from last year's race.
We have the usual supply of Seaveys. We have intrigue in the return of Robert Sorlie, the two-time champ from Norway back for the first time since 2007. We have a two-time runner-up in Aliy Zirkle, who is trying to once again make Alaska the place where women win the Iditarod.
We have everything you need for the perfect Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Except the perfect trail.
Ice, open water, soft snow and no snow await dog teams as they begin the race to Nome this weekend. High temperatures -- which in early February threatened to move the start of the race north to Fairbanks -- returned with a vengeance Thursday and could compromise several weeks' worth of volunteer labor on the trail.
"I heard it's pretty sketchy," said Dean Osmar, a veteran musher from Clam Gulch who has a number of dogs running the race, but isn't driving a team himself. "Warm weather we don't need. There's patchy snow from Rainy Pass to Nikolai. It's gonna be pretty treacherous."
Osmar said he told rookie Monica Zappa of Kasilof that if she can make it to Nikolai, the checkpoint at the end of the bumpy and possibly bare Farewell Burn, she can make it to Nome.
Conditions are hard, fast and icy south of the Alaska Range -- or at least they were before the latest heat wave. Joe Runyan, a champion-turned-race analyst, described it like this on iditarod.com: "The trail is an Olympic luge run, interrupted by inconvenient and terrifying descents into creek bottoms and natural detours around white spruce or boulders guarding crossings down the Dalzell Gorge."
The ceremonial start begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in downtown Anchorage. Mushers and their Idita-riders -- people who bid for a ride with the musher of their choice -- leave every two minutes and will travel 11 miles from downtown to Campbell Airstrip in the ultimate dog show. The clock isn't ticking for this part of the race -- it's all about pleasing fans and sponsors.
"We know how important the ceremonial start is for the fans and how important it is for the success and growth of the race," said Eureka musher Brent Sass, who pulled out of this year's race after suffering a head injury in the Yukon Quest. "I really enjoy it. I think the dogs like to get in the harness and pull whether it's seven miles or 1,000."
On Sunday in Willow, mushers and dogs will go through it all again, only this time the clock will be ticking and their destination is about 900 miles away. The first team heads out at 2 p.m.
Here are some things to know before they go:
WHO'S GOING TO WIN?
Osmar and Runyan teamed up to predict the top 10, but when asked who is on the list, Osmar rattled off about a dozen names.
"Sorlie, of course. The two Seaveys, Aliy, Ray Redington, Jake (Berkowitz), Joar (Leifseth Ulsom), Ralph (Johannessen), Aaron (Burmeister), (Sonny) Lindner, DeeDee. I've got about 15 in my top 10."
He paused to think about who he forgot.
"Jeff King! He's top five," Osmar said. "I know I'm gonna have some people mad at me, because there's about five more who are in my top 10."
WHO'S RALPH JOHANNESSEN?
He's the guy you might wish you drew in your office pool.
Johannessen is one of five mushers from Norway in this year's race. Sorlie, the champion in 2003 and 2005, is the one best known to Alaskans, but keep an eye on Johannessen. He's been mushing since 1973 and he's won all of Norway's major races.
"He's the real deal," Osmar said. "He's been beating Sorlie half the time."
WHO IS ON TEAM SEAVEY?
For the second time in three years, there's a hat trick of Seaveys in the Iditarod:
• 2013 champion Mitch Seavey, whose win at age 53 made him the oldest champ in history.
• 2012 champion Dallas Seavey, whose win at age 24 made him the youngest champ in history.
• Pinch-hitter Danny Seavey, Mitch's son and Dallas' brother, who was in Florida three weeks ago when the family called and told him to come home -- they needed him to drive a sled to Nome.
Danny, 31, was needed when Matt Giblin, who was planning to drive a team of young Seavey dogs, broke his ankle. It's been a couple of years since Danny has raced, but Mitch said his son is an accomplished musher and he'll do fine.
"It's like riding a bike," Mitch said. "Plus he harnessed and broke a lot of these dogs as yearlings."
In 2012, the Seavey contingent included family patriach Dan Seavey, then 74.
A four-Seavey race isn't entirely out of the question. Conway Seavey, 17, just won his second Junior Iditarod and will be eligible for the full race next year when he's 18. But Mitch doesn't see that happening. Danny isn't likely to return to full-time racing, and Conway is a pop singer and songwriter preparing for his first release, he said.
Asked to handicap the family's race within the race, Mitch didn't hedge.
"Dallas and I will be very competitive, and Danny will be semi-competitive," he said. "Of course, I think I'm the best."
For the first time since 2003, Lance Mackey is not running the race.
The four-time champion is skipping the race for health reasons. Mackey won four straight titles while battling cancer and its aftermath, which in his case has been ravaging.
Mackey will be missed by fans, who like how real and humble he is, and by members of the media, who like how quotable he is. And so we asked him what he likes about the ceremonial start.
"It is a must-do for the state and the sport," Mackey said. "The only mushers who don't enjoy it are also the ones without many fans."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Read about the race as it happens with our iditarod race blog, which includes photos, videos, and of course, race updates.More Iditarod coverage
By BETH BRAGG