‘Mardi Gras with dogs:’ Iditarod sled race nears finish line
NOME, Alaska (AP) — The party atmosphere surrounding the Iditarod in Nome, Alaska, is often called “Mardi Gras with dogs.” This year, you can probably throw St. Patrick’s Day into the mix.
The winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is expected early Wednesday morning.
Nome, a city on Alaska’s western coast, has been preparing for the first musher to come off the frozen Bering Sea ice and mush the last few blocks of the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) race down Front Street, where revelers streaming out of bars may still be toasting Tuesday’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
The Iditarod, which started in 1973, commemorates a run by sled dogs in 1925 to deliver lifesaving diphtheria serum from Seward to Nome.
Defending champion Dallas Seavey was the first to leave the checkpoint at Koyuk on Monday. He had arrived at the village, 123 miles (198 kilometers) from the finish line in Nome, three minutes ahead of Aaron Burmeister.
Four checkpoints remain for the mushers as they brave the hard-packed trail and chilling North Pacific winds of the Bering Sea coast.
Dallas’ father, Mitch Seavey, was in third place, Aliy Zirkle in fourth and Jessie Royer in fifth Monday evening.
Warm weather and poor trail conditions south of the Alaska Range forced the competitive start further north to Fairbanks from Willow. Mayor Denise Michels said it’s been a warm winter in Nome, too, but that changed in time for the race.
City crews erected the burled arch over the weekend. On Monday, crews helped install the finish banner over the arch, and set up the sound and light systems. Among the last details will be trucking in snow for a few blocks along Front Street to give mushers a smooth ride once they come in off the ice. Michels said that will happen later Tuesday so it doesn’t get mushy before the dog teams start coming in.
Stan Hooley, the Iditarod’s top official, said Nome residents embrace the race “in ways that anyone would be envious of.”
“They just turn themselves inside out to make the end of this race very special for us,” he said.