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Now the real race begins: Iditarod heads to Willow after sunny Anchorage preview

Beth Bragg
Yvonne Dabakk of Oslo, Norway, descends Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Siberian huskies Fritz, left, and Ruby lead the rookie team of Lisbet Norris across a bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Scott Janssen keeps control of his sled rounding the corner near Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42. It was warm and sunny for mushers, dogs and spectators on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Allen Moore of Two Rivers, AK crosses over Northern Lights Boulevard during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, AK takes a couple of hotdogs as he approaches the Tudor Road bridge. The ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 was warm and sunny on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Karen Hendrickson, of Wasilla, AK reaches out for a hotdog during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42.It was warm and sunny on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Jim Lanier passes through the party near the Native hospital during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42. It was a warm and sunny day Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News The second sled with JoarLeifseth Ulsom, of Norway, cruises by festive pink flamingos on the trail just east of University Lake. The ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 was warm and sunny on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Ramey Smith of Willow, AK approaches the muffin checkpoint near Wesleyan Drive during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42. The day was warm and sunny Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Karen Ramstead drives her team past the muffin checkpoint and under the many flags. The ceremonial start for Iditarod 42 was warm and sunny on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Anne Raup
Anne Raup / Anchorage Daily News Stuffed dogs sit in a chair alongside the trail during the ceremonial start for Iditarod 42.The day was warm and sunny Saturday, March 1, 2014 for humans and dogs alike.
Anne Raup
The dogs of Peter Kaiser of Bethel cross a bridge on the Chester Creek Trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Richie Diehl of Aniak descends Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Rookie Nathan Schroeder of Chisholm, Minnesota, greets fans after descending Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Fans greet four-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake on the Chester Creek Trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Cindy Gallea of Wykoff, Minnesota, is greeted along the Chester Creek Trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
John Dixon of Fairbanks is chased along the Chester Creek trail by Cindy Abbott of Irvine, Ca., during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway waves to fans along the Chester Creek trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Travis Beals of Seward cheers for a trailside videographer along Chester Creek during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of Marcelle Fressineau of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, trot down the Chester Creek trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
A dog in the team of Anna Berington of Kasilof is sprayed by slush kicked up by another dog during warm temperatures along Chester Creek during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Two-time and defending Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey, right, and his wife Janine prepare to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014. Idita-Rider John Radtke is in the sled.
Bill Roth
Volunteer Russ Wilmot directs a dog team towards the starting line during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran Jessie Royer of Darby, MT, tends to one of her dogs as mushers prepared to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Jason Mackey of Wasilla eats a hot dog while crossing a bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod rookie Charlie Bejna drives his team towards the starting line for the first time during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sled dogs in the team of Iditarod veteran John Dixon near the bridge over Tudor Road during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey interacts with fans gather at Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran Newton Marshall of St. Anne, Jamaica, has his picture taken with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Aliy Zirkle who finished second in the past two Iditarod's jogs up to the starting line for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran Kelly Maixner of Big Lake holds his 8-month-old son Vendelin during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Veteran musher Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska, gets his gangline ready prior to the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Christian Turner of Australia prepares to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Christian Turner of Australia drives his dog team down 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Two-time Iditarod champion Robert Sorlie of Norway hits the trail during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
2013 Iditarod Rookie of the Year Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway prepares to cross Tudor Road during the Ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod rookie Tommy Jordbrudal of Norway prepares to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Veteran DeeDee Jonrowe prepares to leave 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Veteran Iditarod musher Hugh Neff at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran DeeDee Jonrowe at Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Iditarod veteran Scott Janssen crosses Campbell Airstrip during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bill Roth
Jeff King greets visiting fan Amanda White of Dexter, Maine during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Musher Gus Guenther of Clam Gulch responds to fans as he crosses East 15th Avenue at the top of Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
An old freight sled is pulled down the trail prior to the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Gus Guenther of Clam Gulch heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Lev Shvarts of Willow emerges from the Chester Creek Trail tunnel beneath the Seward Highway during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof emerges from the Chester Creek Trail tunnel beneath the Seward Highway during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Jake Berkowitz of Big Lake cruises the Chester Creek Trail tunnel beneath the Seward Highway during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Danny Seavey of Seward negotiates a turn at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Katherine Keith of Kotzebue makes the turn at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Thursday, April 11, 2013, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Crowds watch mushers on 4th Avenue. Sixty-nine mushers and their dog teams celebrated the start of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race by greeting fans and taking a ceremonial ride across Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Marc Lester
The dog team of Dan Kaduce of Chatanika heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Two-time champion Mitch Seavey of Seward heads down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Michael Williams, Jr. descends the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of musher Yvonne Dabakk of Oslo, Norway peek over the lip of the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Newton Marshall of St. Anne, Jamaica acknowledges fans while descending the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Fans greet Jamaican musher Newton Marshall at the bottom of the Cordova Street hill near East 16th Avenue during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers greets fans at the top of Cordova Street Hill at East 15th Avenue during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
DeeDee Jonrowe drives her team down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Four-time winner Jeff King greets fans as he descends Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Scott Janssen of Anchorage, top, catches up to Allen Moore of Two Rivers on the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Chris and Sabra Sturgis of Palmer prepare a sign for sons Samuel 9, and Sawyer, 5, as they watch the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, next to Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Rookie musher Christian Turner of Karratha, Western Australia, greets fans near Mulcahy Stadium during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Two-time champion Robert Sorlie of Hurdal, Norway greets fans near Mulcahy Stadium during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Matt Failor of Willow crosses the bridge to Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Hugh Neff of Tok crosses the bridge to Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The brightly-shod dogs of Alex Buetow of Fairbanks cross the bridge to Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of Canadian musher Karen Ramstead are decked out in appropriate colors as they cross the bridge to Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage. Ramstead hails from Perryvale, Alberta.
Erik Hill
The lead dogs of Ken Anderson of Fairbanks round a corner at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of Mike Ellis of Two Rivers trot the trail during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Wade Marrs of Wasilla winds up with a handful of snow while greeting fans at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Tongues lolling, the dogs of Abbie West of Two Rivers belie the effects of warm weather during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Abbie West of Two Rivers leans over to greet fans at Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The dogs of Sonny Lindner of Two Rivers enter the stretch of trail along Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Fans greet the end of the show as final musher Sonny Lindner of Two Rivers passes through Goose Lake during the ceremonial start for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage.
Erik Hill
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Bob Hallinen

See you in Willow. Nome too, God willing and the creek don't rise.

Mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began their 1,000-mile journey to Nome with an 11-mile cruise through Anchorage on a brisk, sunny Saturday.

Big on spectacle and short on sport, the ceremonial start was a preview to the real thing, which begins Sunday in Willow. Dog teams will depart in two-minute intervals beginning at 2 p.m. -- and unlike Saturday, they will keep going and going and going, and the clock will be ticking.

Ahead is a trail made treacherous by mild weather. That part about the creek rising? In this Iditarod, open water is a real threat. Stretches of barren ground are practically a guarantee. Obstacles like rocks and branches, usually blanketed by snow, litter portions of the trail.

But Saturday was smooth sailing for the 69 mushers and their teams, the guests of honor at Anchorage's biggest annual party.

Crowds filled downtown streets for up-close views of dogs and drivers. Vendors hawked hot dogs and hot coffee, and fans snapped selfies with their favorite mushers. Many more spectators clustered along the trail for tailgate parties, enjoying blue skies and temperatures in the 20s.

"This is my whole social life in the winter, these two days," said Libby Riddles, the 1985 Iditarod champion who was there to take in the scene and renew old acquaintances.

The ceremonial parade began with Curt Perano, a New Zealand man hoping to reach Nome for the third time, and ended with Sonny Lindner, a Two Rivers man shooting for his 19th finish.

In between were 67 other racers, all of them with an agenda.

Some are in it to win it.

"I don't see any reason I can't win the race," said Willow's DeeDee Jonrowe, who owns 16 top-10 finishes, including one from last year. "My team is deep with leadership. We haven't had many races, so that's an unknown. But there's no real flaws in the team."

"I know I have a competitive team and a competitive race plan," said Canada's Hans Gatt, third in 2011 and a four-time Yukon Quest champion. "They are absolutely built for this trail."

"This is the most mature team we've ever had," said Two River's Allen Moore, whose wife Aliy Zirkle is running 12 of the dogs that took Moore to a second straight Quest victory last month. "They all have run multiple thousand-mile races. With a little bit of luck and (no) injuries, she'll be there at the end and have a chance to win."

Others have grand goals that don't involve winning. Karen Ramstead of Perryvale, Alberta, is racing her 11th and final Iditarod, and she hopes it ends with her sixth finish.

Ramstead has scratched five times, always out of concern for her purebred Siberian huskies, whose gorgeous faces and fur deserve a Best of Show award.

"Other mushers have a bad year and they finish 40th. I have a bad year and I scratch. I'm here for the dogs," she said. "I proved long ago that I'm tough enough. It's all about the dogs. My fans understand that. They get that about me.

"For me, it's about getting the dogs to Nome in a happy, respectful way."

Then there the mushers on a mission.

Monica Zappa, a rookie from Kasilof, is mushing to save Bristol Bay. Ramey Smyth, a veteran from Willow, is mushing for drug and alcohol sobriety. Hugh Neff, the 2012 Quest winner from Tok, is mushing for increased state funding for public schools. Matt Failor, a two-time finisher from Ohio, is mushing for esophageal cancer awareness. Zirkle and Big Lake's Martin Buser are promoting vaccine awareness by carrying vials of diphtheria vaccine in their sleds -- an homage to the 1925 serum run, in which teams of sled dogs relayed life-saving antitoxin from Nenana to Nome, which was imperiled by a diphtheria outbreak.

There are almost as many causes as there are mushers.

"What I wanted to do was have something to give back, because as mushers, you take a lot," Zappa said, explaining her Save Bristol Bay campaign. "And the dogs love salmon."

Zappa is running Tim Osmar dogs from the Kenai Peninsula. Osmar, her partner, is a commercial fisherman; two years ago they adopted Bristol Bay as a cause and have taken their message throughout Alaska and the Lower 48.

Zappa was happy about an EPA decision last week that could halt the proposed Pebble Mine.

"I think they waited to do that for Iditarod week," she said.

Smyth, a regular in the top 10, said he has crusaded against drug and alcohol abuse for years.

"I grew up in Alaska and I've seen the damage these things do to families -- the emotional, financial and generational costs," he said.

"I know young people look up to the (Iditarod) stars in this state. I think that everyone out here should stand for something."

Neff's outreach involves education, which made him a natural to promote the cause of Great Alaska Schools, a group pushing for increased state funding of public schools.

"I'm a kid at heart, and I've been talking to kids for 10 years now," said Neff, who, as usual, wore a Cat in the Hat hat on his trip through Anchorage. "I visit 40 to 50 schools a year. I tell them to live a life of adventure, take risks and seek the best life they can."

Failor delivered two messages on Saturday. His truck and sled had signs promoting cancer awareness and organ donation.

The organ donation message was inspired by his Idita-Rider, Mary Kutney, an Eagle River nurse practitioner who had a kidney transplant 19 months ago

"A coworker gave it to me," Kutney said. "Her son has juvenile diabetes and she figures what comes around goes around. Someday he may need a kidney."

Being an Idita-Rider was on her bucket list, and she and husband Ken Kutney decided this year was the time to do it. They bid on Failor because he and Ken share the same high school alma mater in Mansfield, Ohio -- St. Pete's Catholic High School.

Failor lives in Alaska now, and his mom and sister made the trip north to see him off. His sister Katie helped get T-shirts and signs made to raise awareness for esophageal cancer. She worked with a woman whose husband died at age 44 from the disease, leaving behind three children, including a 10-year-old boy who loves the Iditarod.

"I said, OK, we've got to do this," Katie said.

Riddles, who hasn't raced the Iditarod for years, doesn't remember quite as many causes on the trail back in her day. But she gets it. She said it probably helps mushers attract sponsors, "and it involves mushers in the community more."

Abbie West is a Quest veteran and Iditarod rookie whose lives a back-to-basics life in Fort Yukon, where she and partner Josh Cadzow raise chickens and goats, run a fish wheel and use their sled dogs to haul wood and check trap lines.

Asked if she is mushing for a cause she said no, and then reconsidered.

"For my sanity," she said.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

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By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com