Cheered by thousands of fans lining Anchorage streets covered with snow trucked in because of unusually warm weather, 68 teams dashed out of the Alaska city Saturday to start the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Defending champion Martin Buser was the first musher out of the chute to begin the 1,161-mile trek across some of the world's most remote and unpredictable terrain. Other mushers, most driving the maximum 20 dogs, followed at two-minute intervals.
"Let's hit the trail and get there," said Buser, a native of Switzerland, before beginning his bid to win back-to-back titles. He set the race record last year by finishing in 10 days 19 hours and 17 minutes.
Chances of breaking that record this year were made more difficult by a rule change that mandated 10 additional hours of rest for the dogs. The rule was urged by animal-protection groups that have been monitoring the Iditarod since 1991.
The race, begun in 1973, commemorates a sled-dog relay of lifesaving diphtheria serum to Nome during a 1925 epidemic.
Most of the contestants are from Alaska, with seven other states and three other countries represented.