March 4, 2012 - The Iditarod Begins

"The Last Great Race"

Ready, get set, go!

Yesterday, on 4th Avenue and D Street in Anchorage, Alaska, was the Official Start of the 2012 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. But that was just a ceremony. The real race starts today at 2 p.m. (Alaska time) in Willow, about 40 miles away from Anchorage.

Can you imagine being there? Each musher and his or her team of 12 to 16 dogs must cross more than 1,000 miles in the course of the race. It takes days—the fastest anyone has ever done this during the race is 8 days and 19 hours, and for many mushers it takes 12 to 15 days—so it is a huge endurance test. The dog sled teams often face blizzards, whiteout conditions, and gale-force winds as they travel on a trail that runs up the Rainy Pass of the Alaska (mountain) Range down to the Bering Sea, across the tundra and through the spruce forests, even crossing rivers!

A Golden Harness is awarded to a worthy dog—and not necessarily the lead dog of the winning team. (In 2008, for example, the mushers voted to award the coveted Golden Harness to Babe, who was the lead dog of the third-place team. She was 11 years old, competing in her ninth Iditarod.) Cash prizes are awarded to some of the top finishers, and a red lantern is awarded to the last-place finisher, in honor of his or her perseverance. The winner gets the most money, of course, and a brand new pickup truck.

Check out the official website for Musher Tracking, Insider Videos, and exclusive race coverage.

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