On Saturday, The Last Great Race begins on a crowded, snow-covered street in Anchorage, Alaska. And nearly 1000 miles later, in an isolated town on the Bering Sea, mushers will guide their team of dogs under the burled arch in Nome.
The 2013 Iditarod, the 41st running of the sled dog race, opens with its traditional start in on 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage at 2 p.m. ET. The mushers travel just 11 miles as part of the ceremonial first leg to Campbell Airstrip. The race then begins in earnest on Sunday, with the official restart set for 6 p.m. ET in Willow.
This year's edition of the Iditiarod will follow the southern route (used in odd-numbered years), meaning the race will visit Iditarod, a lonely ghost town that once boasted a population of 10,000 people in 1910, thanks to the discovery of gold.
Map via Iditarod.com
Alternating between the northern and southern routes, a decision made in 1977 (previously only the northern route was utilized), serves three purposes:
The northern villages of Ruby, Galena and Nulato only had to deal with the large group of mushers, press, and volunteers every other year. The second effect was that the race was able to pass through the actual ghost town of Iditarod. Lastly, the villages of Shageluk, Anvik, and Grayling were able to participate in the race.
It's at the split point of Ophir where one could argue the race really begins. The distance from there to Kaltag -- where Friday's high was 0 degrees -- is roughly 300 miles, taking mushers through some of the most desolate, inhospitable land the Alaskan wilderness has to offer.
Jan Newton will serve as the Honorary Musher and start the festivities on Saturday in Anchorage. Martin Buser, a four-time Iditarod winner, will be the first official musher to start the ceremonial run.