Alaska's Iditarod sled dog race starts with a barking circus

ANCHORAGE, Alaska _ It's a dog-and-pony show without the ponies. A squealing, barking circus before the Iditarod begins for real on Sunday in Willow.

But Saturday's ceremonial start in Downtown Anchorage _ most fans' best chance to see mushers and their dogs up close before they disappear into the Alaska wilderness _ still has the power to send chills through the saltiest veterans.

Reigning Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Lance Mackey described what it feels like behind the sled: "People everywhere, loud. High-fiving me. Rooting me on. Just cheering for me."

"It brings tears to your eyes. ... And I had some all day today," he said.

The race clock starts ticking today with a staggered restart at 2 p.m.

But first, thousands of fans lined Anchorage streets and trails to watch 71 mushers wind 11 miles from Fourth Avenue to Campbell Airstrip. Tons of snow, trucked-in for the race, paved the street. Kids stretched through wooden fence posts to touch howling dog teams as the smell of reindeer sausage steamed from curbside vendors.

"I'm telling people my team is like a Toyota. It has unexpected bouts of acceleration," said Dubois, Wyo., musher Billy Snodgrass.

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