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They’re off: Mushers begin trek to Nome; one Iditarod racer seeks record

Sled dogs on the team of musher Ryan Redington run through newly fallen snow in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, on Saturday, March 5, 2022, during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The competitive start of the nearly 1,000-mile race will be held March 6, 2022, in Willow, Alaska, with the winner expected in the Bering Sea coastal town of Nome about nine days later. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

WILLOW, Alaska (AP) — The 50th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race started Sunday with 49 mushers setting their sights on Alaska’s western coast.

The race will take the mushers across Alaska’s untamed and unforgiving terrain, including two mountain ranges, the frozen Yukon River and the unpredictable Bering Sea ice.

The winner is expected to cross the finish line in the western Alaska coastal community of Nome about nine days after the start.

For the first time ever in 2021, the race did not finish in Nome because of the pandemic. Instead, the race started in Willow, went to the ghost town of Iditarod and then doubled back to Willow.

Dallas Seavey won the 2021 race, matching musher Rick Swenson for the most wins ever with five apiece. Swenson, 71, last won in 1991 and hasn’t raced the Iditarod since 2012.

Seavey is looking to make history by becoming the first musher to hold six titles. Seavey has said he will likely take a break after this year’s race to spend time with his daughter.

There are two four-time champions in the race with Martin Buser and Jeff King. Buser is running in his 39th Iditarod, and King stepped in just days before the race started to run musher Nic Petit’s team after Petit said on Facebook he contracted COVID-19. Also in the race are 2018 winner Joar Leifseth Ulsom and 2019 winner Pete Kaiser.

Fifteen mushers signed up but withdrew from the race before it started, including Petit and the 2020 winner Thomas Waerner of Norway, who wasn’t able to secure travel documents to the U.S.