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Photos: Iditarod 2015 ceremonial start

Driving a team of Siberian huskies, Rob Cooke of Whitehorse led a pack of 78 Iditarod mushers out of downtown Anchorage on Saturday morning.

Thousands of spectators lined the streets downtown for the ceremonial start of the 43rd Iditarod as about a thousand howling, tail-wagging sled dogs paraded through town. More spectators gathered at popular viewing spots along the 11 miles of trail to Campbell Airstrip.

Cooke, 48, is a two-time finisher of the Yukon Quest but an Iditarod rookie. He drew the No. 2 bib at Thursday's banquet, making him the first musher on the trail. Cooke is one of 20 rookies competing in the 1,000-mile race to Nome.

By tradition, the No. 1 bib goes to the race's honorary musher, who this year is Philip Esai, a longtime volunteer who died last May at age 72.

Only this year the race doesn't go from Anchorage to Nome.

For just the second time in 43 races and the first time since 2003, officials moved the race start north in order to find suitable trail conditions.

A winter's worth of mild temperatures means nearly barren ground south of the Alaska Range. And so instead of holding the restart Sunday about 70 miles north of Anchorage in Willow, as is usually the case, mushers and their dogs will head 360 miles north to Fairbanks for a Monday re-start.

Read more: Iditarod mushers head off in wet, sloppy conditions, led by Canadian