Scenes from the 2016 Iditarod Ceremonial Start in downtown Anchorage.
In getting in close with the dogs and the mushers, it was immediately clear that I had entered a private, quiet, single-minded world. The dogs are there to work, to run. The riders are shy and busy. All human action is focused on calming, moving, feeding, and loving up the dogs. The dogs are the elite athletes here, though none looks the part. Iditarod sled dogs are outwardly unremarkable, chosen for their muscle, heart, and drive, not looks. With so many miles under their belts this winter, the teams are clearly in good shape and the gear systems are well squared away. The air is buzzing with energy and confidence. I was impressed by how well both the dogs and the riders handled the crush of people and cameras and noise and swirling nonsense. I suppose the months of isolated training and toil leading up to race day make the few hours of public recognition tolerable, maybe even a little fun. All of this goes away tomorrow, when racing begins.