The 45th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began Saturday with a reminder of the past at the front of the pack.
Ryan Redington, the grandson of race co-founder Joe Redington Sr., was the first of 72 mushers to drive a team down Fourth Avenue for the ceremonial start of a 1,000-mile race that will soon move to more remote parts of Alaska.
As usual, downtown streets were closed to accommodate hundreds of barking dogs and thousands of adoring fans. Teams took off in two-minute intervals, and most of those waiting for their turn lined up on streets adjacent to Fourth Avenue, giving spectators a chance to take photos and get a close-up look at the drivers and their dogs.
Most mushers drove teams of 12 dogs on their 11-mile crosstown journey. Tucked inside their sleds were bundled-up Iditariders — people who won online auctions for the chance to ride across town with the musher of their choice.
Teams will expand to as many as 16 dogs when the race begins Monday in Fairbanks, where more than 1,000 sled dogs will be in harness. Typically the restart is in Willow, but last month officials rerouted the race to Fairbanks to avoid the snow-starved Alaska Range.
After two straight years with little snow in Anchorage, this winter's abundance of snow provided a suitably wintry backdrop for the ceremonial start.
Ryan Redington, 34, drew the No. 2 bib in Thursday's draw, where mushers selected their start positions by taking a numbered poker chip out of a fur mukluk.
Redington's sled was the second to leave the start line — Iditarod tradition puts an honorary musher in the first sled at the ceremonial start. This year's honorary musher is Leo Rasmussen of Nome, who has been the official checker at his town's famous burled-arch finish line since the race began.
Though Joe Redington Sr. didn't compete in that first race — among other things, he was busy trying to round up prize money — his son Raymie Redington was among the starters in 1973. Raymie has three sons racing this year — Ryan, Robert and Ray Jr.
Another musher from that inaugural race — third-place Dan Seavey — has a son and a grandson racing this year, and both are among the favorites.
Dallas Seavey, his grandson, is the defending champion who is seeking a fifth title, which would tie him for the race record with Rick Swenson. Mitch Seavey, his son, is a two-time champion who has finished second to Dallas in each of the last two races.
A competitive race is expected. All of last year's top-10 finishers are back, and five champions are entered. Besides the Seaveys, the race includes four-time champions Martin Buser and Jeff King and 2011 champion John Baker.