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Photos: Iron Dog 2013 racers along Alaska's Iditarod Trail

Tim Jauhola of Fairbanks applies medical foam tape to his face before the start of the Iron Dog. The tape keeps his face from getting frostbitten during the 2,000 mile race, where the leaders average a speed around 90mph. Feb 17, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Chad Dow and his girlfriend Shawna Melansan before the start of the Iron Dog. Dow, a rookie from Fairfield, Maine, was looking forward to whatever comes his way during the 2,000 mile race. Feb 17, 2013
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Former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin waiting to wish good luck to her husband, former Iron Dog champion Todd Palin, before the start of the race in Big Lake. Feb 17, 2013
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Blair Sheldon, 4 years old, plays on the seat of his dad Norman's snowmachine before the start of the Iron Dog race. Feb 17, 2013
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Iron Dog rookies George Lambert and Norman Sheldon fist bump before they begin their 2,000 mile race. Feb 17, 2013
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Ryan Johnson and Andy Lachinski head out of the shoot during the start of the 2013 Iron Dog snowmobile race. Feb 17, 2013
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Iron Dog 2013 team #35, Hill and Juhlin, race across Big Lake shortly after leaving the start line. Feb 17, 2013
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Iron Dog race fans cheer on competitors as they take off from Big Lake. Feb 17, 2013
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Emily and Clint Earns and friends cheer on Iron Dog competitors from outside their rented cabin on Big Lake. Feb 17, 2013
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Tanana brothers Aaron Marks and Arnold Marks Jr. race through the trees just outside of the Big Lake start during day one of the Iron Dog. Feb 17, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Loren Holmes

One of the world's truly great road trips left Big Lake, Alaska Sunday as 38 teams blasted off on the famed Iditarod Trail in the start of the Iron Dog -- the world's longest, toughest snowmobile race.

Forget about the latter for a moment. The pro-class racers in the Iron Dog -- including Todd Palin, husband of national political celebrity and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- will get more than enough attention in the days ahead as 38 teams vie for $210,000 in price money along a 2,000-mile-plus, sled-bashing, body-pounding, potentially bone-breaking dash from the starting line on a frozen lake 60 miles north of Anchorage. Driving west, they’ll reach the remote historic, gold-mining town of Nome near the tip of a peninsula in the Bering Sea by mid-week.  After a short rest, they’ll turn east towards Fairbanks, the self-proclaimed golden-heart city near the center of the 49th state, where they’ll finish on Saturday.

Consider, instead, what lies ahead for these 29 forerunners on the trail: 

  • The windswept and snow-drifted muskegs of the Alaska Range foothills.
  • The wild-and-serpentine trail through the beaver ponds and big-spruce forest on the climb up the rugged valley of the inappropriately named Happy River toward Rainy Pass.
  • The towering peaks of the Alaska Range.
  • The bison-filled regrowth of forest on the Farewell Burn, the site of what once was the largest wildfire in North America.
  • The smooth, frozen (hopefully) surface of the Kuskokwim River leading into the Interior.
  • The land gone lonesome in what was once the gold-rich "Inland Empire'' of the Alaska territory.
  • The mighty Yukon River, so big and so full of history, that flows west through the Interior toward the Bering Sea coast.
  • And the coast itself, a place beautiful in its desolation on a sun-blessed day and downright intimidating in a storm.

Read more: A world class road-trip across Alaska | Iron Dog roars off Big Lake toward Nome