Iditarod race starts with pageantry and focus on preventing disease spread

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) – With snow falling evenly and crowds of spectators packed along the sidewalks of downtown Anchorage, 57 mushers and their pet dog teams started out the 48th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday.

Musher Sean Underwood, a canine handler who became a past-minute substitute for 4-time winner Jeff King following the latter had crisis operation, greets the staff inside King’s puppy truck in downtown Anchorage at the get started of the 2020 Iditarod Path Sled Doggy Race, Alaska, U.S. March 7, 2020. REUTERS/Yereth Rosen

The 11-mile trot via Alaska’s largest metropolis was just ceremonial, intended as a low-tension event in which mushers could mingle with Iditarod supporters. Timed competitiveness for the 1,000-mile race is set to start Sunday afternoon from a frozen lake in Willow, a neighborhood north of Anchorage, and the winner is predicted at the end line in Nome about 9 days just after that.

For racer Sean Underwood, Saturday’s pageantry was just about anything but regimen.

Underwood, a 28-calendar year-aged from Atlanta, is a puppy handler doing the job for four-time winner Jeff King. At the begin line on Saturday, he discovered himself in his boss’s snowboots. King was knocked out of opposition Monday evening by emergency surgical treatment for a perforated intestine Underwood, who had been setting up to race his initial Iditarod following year, bought specific authorization to run King’s team to Nome.

“It’s been a really wild 7 days,” claimed Underwood, whose Saturday morning preparations were being interrupted a number of moments by reporters trying to find interviews.

He mentioned the deep snow on the path this 12 months is probable to slow the speed and give plenty of prospects for rest, but he has several anticipations over and above that.

“I’ll determine that out in about 10 times,” he mentioned. “I truly feel like I’m about as geared up as you can be with five days’ recognize.”

Yet another unpredicted attribute of this year’s race is a unique focus on avoiding the distribute of condition, which the race supervisors are endeavor as the novel coronavirus epidemic spreads. Though no situations have been described however in Alaska, race officers have acquired distinctive briefings from condition officers.

In at the very least 1 Native village alongside the race trail, Koyuk, residents had been worried about Iditarod crowds bringing in the coronavirus, stated 4-time winner Martin Buser.

“Once we get there, hopefully, their fears of spreading the virus have ebbed a minimal bit,” he explained.

Running drinking water and wastewater-cure products and services are not constantly accessible in some sections of rural Alaska, but Buser stated he tries to display superior cleanliness as significantly as attainable along the Iditarod Trail.

“You will see me carrying out dishes anyway, any where there is working drinking water,” he stated. “I will continue executing that, not just for myself but for the persons looking at.”

Worries about communicable diseases are portion of the record of the Iditarod Trail. The race, which has been operate given that 1973, commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that sent everyday living-preserving diphtheria medicine by sled-pet dog relay to Nome.

Between this year’s discipline are mushers from Norway, like 2018 winner Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Italy, Canada and Denmark.

The winner will receive a prize of about $55,000 and a new pickup truck. The financial prize is more compact than in previous several years the Iditarod has lost quite a few corporate sponsors, a pattern for which animal-legal rights activists get credit rating. Teams these as Individuals for the Moral Treatment method of Animals have condemned the Iditarod as cruel.

There was a group of regional PETA activists holding protest indications at the race get started line on Saturday. There was also a counter-protest. Anchorage mural painter Richard “Ziggy” Zeigler, carrying a significant fur hat, stood in entrance of the PETA team and repeatedly known as out: “Support the Iditarod! Inquire PETA to go house!”

Reporting by Yereth Rosen Modifying by Daniel Wallis

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