At last year's Iditarod, Wasilla's Andrew Nolan was the first musher to leave the downtown Anchorage starting line. He was transporting precious cargo — Leo Rasmussen, the official checker at the Nome finish line since the first Iditarod back in 1973.
Rasmussen was the honorary musher in 2017, and Nolan was the reigning Junior Iditarod champion. It's an Iditarod tradition that the junior champion drives the sled that carries the honorary musher on the 11-mile ceremonial run through Anchorage.
Nolan is back this year, riding solo. And hoping to travel nearly 100 times as far this time.
He's 18, which makes him eligible for the 1,000-mile race to Nome. Until this year, Nolan had to content himself with running the 150-mile Junior Iditarod, something he did four times. His presence in last year's race ended when the short ceremonial run did.
Two of Nolan's dogs, Rocky and Heart, are fresh off a fourth-place finish in last week's Junior Iditarod. They ran on the team of Grace Nolan, Nolan's 16-year-old sister.
Nolan said most of his dogs are from Wade Marrs' kennel in Willow. Despite all of his Junior Iditarod experience, he didn't decide until this summer to attempt the run to Nome.
"I got a lot of pressure from Wade," he said.
There's no pressure now though. Nolan said Marrs told him to "go have fun," and Nolan's goal is to do that, and get as many dogs as he can to Nome.
He's leaving it up to the dogs to decide the team's pace and strategy.
"I'm a rookie. I don't know what I'm doing," Nolan said. "If it looks like they want to race, we'll race."
Leading the parade of teams at Saturday's ceremonial start was Bailey Schaeffer, who won last week's Junior Iditarod by less than a minute.
Riding in her sled was Pam Redington, the wife of honorary musher Joee Redington, who died last year. Joee Redington was the son of Iditarod co-founder Joe Redington Sr., a veteran musher and a well-respected dog man.
Schaeffer, 17, edged Chandler Wappett of Fairbanks by 52 seconds. She finished with nine dogs in 17 hours, 25 minutes, 23 seconds. She won a $6,000 scholarship.
Wappett, 17, finished in 17 hours, 26 minutes, 15 seconds and earned a $4,000 scholarship.
Third place and a $2,500 scholarship went to third-place Colby Spears, a 15-year-old from Wasilla. Spears, last year's runner-up, reached the finish line nine minutes after Schaeffer with nine dogs.
Rookie-of-the-year honors and a $2,000 scholarship went to Grace Nolan, 16, who placed fourth. She and her nine dogs finished at 2:08 p.m.
This year's race started at Knik Lake and featured seven checkpoints. All mushers took a mandatory 10-hour layover at Yentna Station.
The Junior Iditarod dates back to 1977, and so far none of the winners have gone on to win the Iditarod. Several have notched top-10 finishes, including Ramey Smyth and Tim Osmar and Cim Smyth.
Two Seaveys have combined for three Junior Iditarod titles, but neither of them are named Dallas. Conway Seavey won the race in 2014 and 2012 and Tyrell Seavey won it in 2001.
Dallas, a four-time Iditarod champ, ran the Junior Iditarod four times. He finished second twice.