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With little fanfare, a field of 46 mushers begins the 49th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: March 7
  • Published March 7

Rookie Brenda Mackey of Two Rivers, drives her dog team on the Susitna River during day one of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Sunday. (Bill Roth)

This story has been updated with an expanded article and more photos.

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Original article:

With little of the usual fanfare, Canada’s Aaron Peck led a field of 46 mushers who took off Sunday from Deshka Landing for the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The sky was blue and the sun was shining, but few people other than race personnel were on hand to watch teams begin their 852-mile journey on the historic wilderness trail.

It’s the shortest race in history, and one of the smallest fields too.

Pete Kaiser begins his 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Deshka Landing, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Rookie musher Sean Williams of Chugiak scratched on Sunday morning because of “a non-COVID-19-related family health concern,” the Iditarod reported.

COVID-19 mitigation plans rerouted the race to keep it out of communities on the Yukon River and the Norton Sound coast. That means dog teams won’t see the burled arch on Nome’s Front Street, where every other race has finished.

It also means the race won’t be 1,000 miles long this year -- and that Deshka Landing, a popular boat launching site near Willow, will serve as both start line and finish line.

The field of 46 is the smallest since 39 teams began the 1978 race. A field of 66 signed up, but 19 have dropped out, including defending champion Thomas Waerner of Norway, who said pandemic-related travel restrictions derailed his plans to return.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will follow an altered out-and-back route for 2021 due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of racing from Willow to Nome, mushers will leave Deshka Landing near Willow and head to the ghost town of Flat, where they'll turn around and mush back to Deshka Landing in an 860-mile loop.

The race marks the return of a champion and the final race of a fan favorite.

Dallas Seavey of Talkeetna, a four-time champion, is back for the first time since 2017, when four of his dogs tested positive for a banned substance, launching more than a year of controversy for Seavey and the Iditarod.

Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, a three-time runnerup, is making her 21st race her final Iditarod appearance. She finished second three years in a row from 2012-14 -- twice to Seavey and once to Seavey’s dad, three-time champion Mitch Seavey.

The field of 46 includes 12 rookies,13 women and four past champions -- Seavey, four-time winner Martin Buser, 2019 champion Pete Kaiser and 2018 champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom. Mushers range in age from 23 (Dakota Schlosser) to 69 (Cindy Gallea).

Ryan Redington leaves the Iditarod Sled Dog Race start area at Deshka Landing on Sunday. (Marc Lester / ADN)

From Deshka Landing, teams head north to the Alaska Range and beyond. Once they reach the ghost town of Iditarod, they make a short loop in the old Iditarod Mining District before heading south for the return trip to Deshka Landing and a second, unprecedented crossing of the Alaska Range.

Here’s the start order and the bib numbers for this year’s mushers:

Iditarod start order

2) Aaron Peck, Grande Prairie, Canada

3) Pete Kaiser, Bethel

4) Kristy Berington, Knik

5) Jeremy Traska, Two Rivers (R)

6) Richie Diehl, Aniak

7) Jeff Deeter, Fairbanks

8) Dennis Kananowicz, Tolsona

9) Ramey Smyth, Willow

10 Nicolas Petit, Girdwood

11) Gunnar Johnson, Duluth, Minn.

12) Hal Hanson, Kenai (R)

13) Anna Berington, Knik

14) Ryne Olson, Two Rivers

15) Brenda Mackey, Two Rivers (R)

16) Riley Dyche, Fairbanks

17) Matt Hall, Two Rivers

18) Chad Stoddard, Anchorage (R)

19) Christopher Parker, Fairbanks (R)

20) Ryan Redington, Skagway

21) Brent Sass, Eureka

22) Joanna Jagow, Fairbanks (R)

23) Dallas Seavey, Talkeetna

24) Jessie Royer, Fairbanks

25) Wade Marrs, Willow

26) Michelle Phillips, Tagish, Canada

27) Will Troshynski, Fairbanks (R)

28) Mille Porsild, Denmark

29) Matt Failor, Willow

30) Joshua McNeal, Fairbanks (R)

31) Susannah Tuminelli, Willow (R)

32) Aliy Zirkle, Two Rivers

33) Travis Beals, Seward

34) Martin Buser, Big Lake

SCRATCHED 35) Sean Williams, Chugiak (R)

36) Aaron Burmeister, Nome/Nenana

37) Cody Strathe, Fairbanks

38) Lev Shvarts, Willow

39) Dakota Schlosser, Willow (R)

40) Dan Kaduce, Chatanika

41) Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Norway

42) Paige Drobny, Cantwell

43) Larry Daugherty, Eagle River

44) Jessie Holmes, Brushkana

45) Rick Casillo, Talkeetna

46) Cindy Gallea, Wykoff, Minn.

47) Sean Underwood, Talkeetna (R)

48) Victoria Hardwick, Bethel

(R) denotes Iditarod rookies

Iditarod Coverage