The 2012 Iditarod sled dog race begins today!

The 2012 Iditarod sled dog race gets underway this morning with the ceremonial start taking place on the streets of Anchorage, Alaska. The annual event, dubbed the “Last Great Race,” pits some of the best mushers in the world against one another on a course that stretches for nearly a thousand miles across remote wilderness before eventually ending in Nome.

This morning the 66 men and women who have entered the competition will set out on the first leg of the race – an 11-mile run that ends at nearby Campbell Airstrip. From there they’ll pack up their dogs and sleds and be transported by motor vehicle to the town of Willow, where the race will officially get underway tomorrow. Ahead of them is a 975 mile course — which is slightly shorter than previous years — that will test both their physical and mental endurance.

Amongst the contenders for this year’s race are defending champ John Baker and Iditarod veteran Hugh Neff, who is coming off a big win at last month’s Yukon Quest. Legendary mushers Lance Mackey and Jeff King are back as well and both are always a threat to finish first in Nome. Former champ Mitch Seavey has returned for another run too, as has his 74-year old father Dan and 24-year old son Dallas.

The fastest sled dog team is expected to reach the finish line in approximately eight to ten days depending on weather and trail conditions. Unlike many of the lower 48 states, Alaska has actually had quite a bit of snow this year which could slow down some of the teams that will be breaking trail. Still, covering 975 miles of remote wilderness during winter in less than two week’s time is an impressive feat.

Good luck to all the competitors.

[Photo credit: Zeledi via WikiMedia]