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2 Minnesota mushers join forces for their first Iditarod sled dog race

2 Minnesota natives competing head-to-head in 52nd Iditarod
2 Minnesota natives competing head-to-head in 52nd Iditarod 02:50

MINNEAPOLIS — The 52nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race kicks off this Saturday in Anchorage, Alaska.

Two Minnesota native mushers are competing in the world-famous 1,000-mile race for the first time.

The rookies are taking on the challenge through Alaska's unforgiving wilderness.

"As soon as I ran my first race in Minnesota I was hooked," said Anna Hennessy, a musher and Red Wing Native.

"Those dogs take you on some wild adventures (laughs)! You have to know how to hang on," said Erin Altemus, musher and owner of Saw Tooth Racing in Grand Marais.

MORE: A ride along with Silent Run Adventures, a Monticello dog sledding team

Hennessy and Altemus are among 39 mushers who will travel the roughest yet most awe-inspiring terrain over roughly 10 days.

Hennessy's road to the Iditarod was paved by a few years with Altemus and her husband at their kennel in Grand Marais.

"Working with them is what got me into racing, and I completely fell in love with the sport," said Hennessy.

Hennessy moved to Alaska to pursue her dream. After qualifying, the timing seemed perfect for the two to run together.

"I just signed up. I could do it with a friend. I thought that seemed more feasible, more fun," said Altemus.

The obstacles can be daunting.

Anna Hennessy and Erin Altemus WCCO

"Blizzards (laughs), possible moose encounters," said Altemus. "Sleep deprivation."

"Windstorms," said Hennessy.

But the dogs don't mind.

"They live to run, truly. They love it," said Hennessy. "To do it at this level though, to be able to run a thousand miles takes seasons of training."

Altemus and her dogs have been in Alaska since January after the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon was canceled.

"It was such a relief to get here and find winter," said Altemus.

MORE: Monticello wedding caps off story of love on the sled dog trail

Their amazing race is now just days away. It's an experience few get the chance to take part in, let alone with great friends, human and canine.

"I feel super lucky to be able to travel across Alaska with dogs, like with my best friends," said Hennessy. 

When asked what they'll do after they finish the grueling race, they mention simple comforts.

"Put the dogs to bed and then put myself to bed (laughs)!" said Altemus.

"Exactly. Feed the dogs a meal, maybe eat a hamburger myself (laughs) and then take a nap, a long nap," said Hennessy.

The Iditarod begins with a ceremonial start on Saturday, March 2 in Anchorage. A day later, an official start in the village of Willow.

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