The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ended last year for 2004 champion Mitch Seavey when he nearly sliced off one of his fingers while opening a bale of bedding straw for his dogs.
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If the 52-year-old veteran Iditarod musher runs into trouble on the trail this year, he can count on family. His father. 74-year-old Dan Seavey, ran in the first Iditarod in 1973 and can provide inspiration.
Mitch’s 25-year-old son, Dallas, can provide a competitive push if he can catch him, which remains to be seen.
"My goal is to win the Iditarod," Mitch Seavey said.
Those three generations of Seaveys are in the 40th running of the nearly 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, which began with the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday. Sixty-six teams took to the Iditarod Trail in Willow on Sunday for the official race start.
Aliy Zirkle held a slight lead Tuesday night as a large pack of mushers closed in on the checkpoint at McGrath, 329 miles from Anchorage. The Two Rivers, Alaska, musher, finished 11th last year.
Mushers on the trail between Nikolai and McGrath included defending champion John Baker, four-time Iditarod champ Jeff King, and Mitch and Dallas Seavey.
Dan Seavey is running in his fifth Iditarod to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail. His trip to Nome is being sponsored by the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance to highlight the rich history of the trail.
The Iditarod Trail was designated by Congress as a National Historic Trail in 1978. The winter trail between Seward and Nome served a string of mining camps, trading posts and settlements founded between 1880 and 1920 during Alaska’s Gold Rush era. By the early 1900s, there were four major trails in Alaska used by dogsled teams in the winter. The longest, running from Seward to Nome, was called the Iditarod.
During this year’s race, Dan Seavey will be making special presentations at more than a dozen communities along the trail.
"I’m excited to get on the trail," Dan Seavey said before the race. "I love to travel by dog team."
Dan Seavey and his wife, Shirley, moved to Alaska from Red Wing, Minn. in 1963 and settled in Seward, where Dan worked as a high school teacher. Seavey bought his first Alaskan husky within a few months of arriving in Alaska. As dogs were added, it became time to put the children to work.
Mitch Seavey said he remembers helping care for the dogs and using his wagon to carry food and water in two buckets to the dog lot. Before he got his own proper sled, he hooked up a small dog team to a toboggan. By the time he was 4 years old he was mushing his own small team.
Mitch Seavey said he grew up saturated in Iditarod culture. His father was one of three people to plan the first Iditarod and finished third out of 34 teams. Dan Seavey finished fifth in 1974. He was 35th in 1997 and 44th in 2001.
Mitch is running his 19th Iditarod. Dallas, who in 2005 was the youngest musher ever to run the Iditarod, is in his sixth race and finished in the top five last year.
Three of Mitch Seavey’s sons have competed in the shorter Jr. Iditarod.
"It is an understatement to say it has been a great thing for our family," he said.
Dan Seavey said he’s not running a competitive race. His goal is to give himself and his dog team a good experience getting to Nome. Dan Seavey was in last position on Tuesday.
Mitch Seavey and Dallas Seavey are in the race to win it.
Mitch said he expects his "fiercely competitive" son to do well but not beat him to Nome.
Mitch Seavey was in sixth place by midday Tuesday. His son was in 10th.
"Realistically my team is better than his," Mitch Seavey said before the start. "And, I have more experience."
One thing is certain. The Seavey family pulls as a team.
"We wish always the best for each other," Mitch said.
"If I’m not first, I hope my dad is the one ahead of me," Dallas said.
The first 30 mushers to reach Nome will share in a $550,000 purse. The winner will receive $50,400 and a new truck.